Brian Rogers (right) celebrates after knocking out Vitor Vianna in the opening bout of the Bellator season six middleweight tournament. Photo via Bellator.
Bellator 61 continued the Bellator Fighting Championship's sixth season last night (March 16, 2012) from the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana. The original main event, a heavyweight finale between Thiago Santos and Eric Prindle, was pulled on little more than 24 hours notice (read the reason right here).
Thankfully, the debut of the Bellator season six middleweight tournament provided plenty of entertainment in its place.
The new main event -- a middleweight battle between former UFC fighter Maiquel Falcao and French savate striker Norman Paraisy -- had both men pick up where they left off after a heated weigh-in staredown from the night before.
Both men had trouble containing their emotions, landing late strikes after the bell in all three rounds. In terms of actual strikes during the bout, it was Falcao who was on the better end of them throughout the fight with his strong ability to mix up his attack.
After landing a series of extremely powerful leg kicks, Falcao went high and had Paraisy on the ropes with a huge right hand in round two, but perplexingly decided to taunt the Frenchmen like a cat playing with his food rather than put him away. Paraisy would hold on to the end of the fight, but it was clear that Falcao was the better man, regardless of his strange strategy and he was announced the victor via unanimous decision.
The remainder of the main card featured plenty of wild and crazy moments as well.
Bellator season five veteran Victor O'Donnell earned another crack at a tournament slot with his strong performances against top competition outside the promotion and by brewing controversy from his defeat in the quarterfinals last year against Brian Rogers in which he complained about an early stoppage.
He more than got the benefit of the doubt against top Russian prospect Vyacheslav Vasilevsky. After a very close first round which could have potentially gone to the Cincinnati native due to aggression and a pair of takedowns, Vasilevsky completely took over, dropping O'Donnell with a left jab and pummeling him on the canvas, doing more than enough damage from top position to potentially stop the fight.
The referee allowed it to continue, however, and O'Donnell soldiered on, taking a heavy beating in the third round as well, this time both in the stand-up and on the canvas. In the end, Vasilevsky was awarded a unanimous decision in one of the most lopsided 29-28 fights you'll ever see.
In a battle of prospect versus veteran, 24 year old Brazilian Bruno Santos outlasted the 40 year old submission wizard Giva Santana in a fight which was largely contested on the feet. Santana started strong, actually outstriking Santos early on, but he could never take the fight to the ground where he wanted it.
In the second round, the passive Santos began to make his mark, landing a crisp right hand and a series of powerful leg kicks which began to slow Santana down. He would also put "The Arm Collector" into the clinch whenever the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt would put forth any threatening offense.
By the third round, Santana was fading and Santos completely took over, even gaining the confidence to take the fight to the ground on occasion without fear of being submitted. It was more than enough to earn him a unanimous decision victory, his 10th straight win via decision.
The biggest fireworks of the night occurred in the opening bout, a one round affair between season five middleweight finalist Vitor Vianna and season five semifinalist Brian Rogers. Both men were stopped in their tracks by Alexander Shlemenko last year and both seemed fueled by revenge for this tournament.
Rogers started strong, but he was cautiously aggressive, seeming concerned about being put on his back by Vianna in case he was out of control with his striking. After a bit of a feeling out process in which "The Predator" fended off a series of Vianna's attempts to put him on the canvas, even mixing in a slick judo toss of his own, Rogers stunned Vianna with a very nice right hand during an exchange.
When Vianna moved straight backwards on wobbly legs, Rogers capitalized by exploding forwards with a thunderous flying knee which cracked the world champion Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt on the jaw and sent him reeling to the canvas completely unconscious.
Rogers didn't even have to follow up with ground strikes, instead raising both arms victoriously in what will clearly be pegged the "Bellator 61 moment" on YouTube and will be a contender for Knockout of the Year when it's all said and done.
At the post-fight press conference, it was announced that Falcao will face Vasilevsky while Rogers will battle Bruno Santos in Rogers' hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. It will be the same night that Eddie Alvarez rematches Shinya Aoki.
For complete Bellator 61 results and detailed round-by-round commentary of all the televised fights click here.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Was Rogers' flying knee one of the best KOs of 2012? Who's your favorite to take home the tournament this season after watching each man in action last night?