Bellator 44, which aired live from the Harrah's Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey last night (May 14, 2011), is officially in the books. The event will likely go down as one of the most exciting, action-packed shows in Bellator's short history.
The featured fight of the evening was the final "super-fight" of the fourth season as Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard looked to keep his 22 fight undefeated streak alive in a non-title affair against UFC, Strikeforce and IFL veteran Falaniko Vitale.
The bout was not very exciting through the first two rounds, as both men looked to counter punch, neither willing to make the first move. Occasionally, Lombard would lunge forward with a combination of powerful hooks but he couldn't land anything clean as Vitale continued to circle away.
Most of Lombard's damage in the first two rounds came from left body kicks and the crowd wasn't feeling it, mixing in several boos early.
Lombard finally gave them something to cheer about in the third, though, as Vitale, knowing he was likely needing a finish to win the fight, finally came forward with aggression. Lombard answered with a beautiful right hand that landed flush and dropped the veteran to the canvas. Vitale tried to get up but fell down again before the referee stopped the fight in one of 2011's finest knockouts.
The rest of the evening was just as exciting.
In the lightweight tournament finale, undefeated Xtreme Couture wrestler Michael Chandler surprised many by standing and trading with knockout machine Patricky Freire in the first round. Chandler held his own with "Pitbull" due to his wrestling credentials and Patricky's fear of the takedown early in the fight.
Both men scored big shots standing and by the end of the fight, both faces showed that they'd been in a war. Chandler was able to mix in takedowns once Patricky finally started to loosen up with his striking and when Chandler took Freire down, he was looking to hurt him.
The third round was all Chandler as he took the Brazilian down and beat him for five full minutes. Freire was simply too tired to offer much off of his back.
The final results was a unanimous decision for the Missouri native but his victory was marred by three accidental groin shots, one of which cost him a point in the fight. All in all, he still took the fight to "Pitbull" like no one ever had before and he'll look to do the same thing against Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez later this year.
Welterweights Giedrius Karavackas and Sam Oropeza were promoted to the main card after Anthony Morrison missed weight by over 10 lbs and had his fight with Bryan Goldsby cancelled. Karavackas was a big time judo practitioner from overseas while Oropeza was the hometown favorite and a Muay Thai striker.
Oropeza took the fight to Karavackas in the first two rounds, landing effectively standing and really turning it on with ground and pound that had the Judo specialist in trouble at the end of each round.
In the third, Karavackas finally turned up the heat, scoring a big takedown early, and trapping Oropeza's arm in the judo "head scarf" position. After several minutes of undefended ground and pound, the grappler reached his other leg over Oropeza's arm and stretched him like a pretzel until the Pennsylvania fighter was forced to tap.
The opening bout of the evening was a complete barnburner between Alexander Shlemenko and Brett Cooper as both men engaged heavily, trading huge hooks, head kicks, body kicks, and of course, some of Shlemenko's patented spinning back kicks and back fists.
Cooper refused to back down, slugging away with Shlemenko until the final bell in a bout that drove the fans wild and set the stage for what would go on to be on of the most entertaining nights in Bellator history. Shlemenko would go on to take a unanimous decision victory and qualify for the season five middleweight tournament.
For complete Bellator 44 results and detailed round-by-round commentary of all the televised fights click here.