Roger Huerta moved a step closer to a shot at the Bellator Fighting Championships lightweight tournament title Thursday night with a convincing victory over the previously undefeated Chad Hinton in front of an adoring crowd at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
The action-packed fight was the high point of Bellator 13, which marked Bellator’s Season 2 debut and its first live, nationwide broadcast on FOX Sports Net. The near-capacity crowd included Academy Award nominated actor Mickey Rourke and Super Bowl winner and NFL superstar Jeremy Shockey, who both came to cheer on Huerta in his first appearance under the Bellator banner.
In the night’s other tournament bouts, Joe Warren and Carey Vanier advanced into the semifinals of the featherweight and lightweight divisions and Georgi Karakhanyan advanced to the semifinals at featherweight with a highlight reel knockout of Bao Qauch.
But the night’s most talked-about fight will most certainly be the stirring match-up between the heavily-favored Huerta and Hinton, a 38-year-old Cincinnati native who refused to go down easy.
Hinton started strong and held his own during round one, but the momentum shifted early in round two when Huerta took Hinton to the ground and began rotating between ground-and-pound and a series of crushing hammer fists. Hinton was able to escape the round, but lasted only 56 seconds into round three when he was locked into a Huerta knee-bar.
"Chad Hinton was no joke," said Huerta, who improved his record to 21-3-1. "And that’s part of why I love Bellator. Just because a guy like Chad hasn’t been publicized and hasn’t been on TV before doesn’t mean he’s not a great fighter. It was an honor to be out there with him and an honor to fight for Bellator. I’m happy to be back."
Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney, who announced Huerta’s signing last month, called his return to the cage "great to watch."
"Roger Huerta is back and he’s going to pose a big threat to all the other fighters at 155," Rebney said. "He showed us a full arsenal of everything that he has to offer tonight and it was very impressive."
In the night’s other highly anticipated fight, Warren, the former world champion Greco-Roman wrestler and NCAA all-American improved his record to 3-1 with a unanimous decision over 17-3 Eric Marriott in the quarterfinals of Bellator’s eight-man featherweight tournament.
Warren took the fight to the ground just 20 seconds into the first round and kept it there for all three rounds, switching between half mount and full mount and wearing Marriott down with a series of blows to the head. The fight wasn’t without its scary moments for Warren, however.
Roughly four minutes into round one, he was able to narrowly escape a Marriott armbar. The crafty Marriott then immediately shifted into a triangle choke, but Warren was able to hold on until the end of the round.
"I give Eric Marriott a lot of credit – that was a tight, tight triangle," Warren said. "It was great technique and the bell definitely saved me. But I got out and I won and I’m excited to move on to the next round."
In the first televised tournament fight of the night—a quarterfinal matchup in Bellator’s eight-man featherweight tournament—Karakhanyan (13-1-1), a former pro soccer star, dominated MMA veteran Quach from start to finish, connecting with a variety of high leg kicks before finishing him via TKO with a brutal knee to the head 4:05 into round one.
"My corner was telling me to circle around and take my time and I capitalized and knocked him out," Karakhanyan said. "As soon as we clinched, I started throwing my knees and I connected and finished the fight. I’m excited to move on."
In the night’s fourth and final televised tournament bout, Vanier (8-2) made an impressive case that he is a fighter to watch in the lightweight tournament, finishing former Army Ranger and Purple Heart honoree Joe Duarte (5-2) via TKO at 4:14 in round three.
"It was a really good fight for me," said Vanier, a former all-American wrestler at Minnesota’s Augsburg College said. "It went exactly the way my camp and me thought it would go … We stuck to our game plan and it turned out well."
All four tournament fights will re-air this Saturday night during special late-night highlight shows on NBC and Telemundo. Thursday night’s event also included four Local Feature Fights between up-and-coming fighters from South Florida.
The results are as follows:
- Chris Manuel (7-3-2) def. Ralph Acosta (5-5) via guillotine choke (10:35)
- Mikey Gomez (10-8) def. Moyses Gabin (4-3) via unanimous decision
- Edson Diniz (10-3) def. John Kelly (4-1) via knee bar (4:36)
- Vagner Rocha (4-0) def. Francisco Soares (3-2-1) via TKO (7:07)