Bellator Fighting Championships made its long awaited debut on Spike TV last night (Jan. 17, 2013) with a pair of title fights and the kickstart of the season eight light heavyweight tournament. The de facto main event of the evening was the lightweight title fight between champion Michael Chandler and season six tournament winner Rick Hawn.
Most expected the fight to be a stand-up war with Hawn's Olympic caliber judo skills cancelling out Chandler's All-American wrestling.
But it wasn't even close.
After some initial opening salvos from both combatants, Chandler shot in, wrapped up a double leg, lifted Hawn into the air and slammed him to the canvas. While he wasn't able to dish out a significant portion of damage with his top control, the message had been sent loud and clear that Chandler was going to control where this fight took place.
Even when Hawn got to his feet, he couldn't make much happen, whiffing with a judo throw of his own near the end of the first round.
In round two, Chandler didn't waste any time, again closing the distance and dragging the fight to the canvas. This time, however, he worked to advance position and when Hawn tried to get back to his feet, he pounced like a hungry lion, leaping on Hawn's back, sinking in both hooks and grabbing an extremely tight rear naked choke all in a matter of seconds.
By the time Hawn knew what hit him, the hold was already locked in and Chandler was arching his back to really add some nasty leverage which forced "Ghengis" to tap or risk going to sleep in front of a national audience.
This dominant victory for Chandler in a bout that many felt was going to be competitive, proved without a doubt that he belongs in consideration among the elite 155-ers in the world.
The promotion didn't waste any time last night either, opening the main card with a featherweight title fight between champion Pat Curran and challenger Patricio "Pitbull" Freire. The Brazilian contender hadn't fought in 20 months, but he didn't show any signs of rust, quickly taking the initiative with heavy punches and kicks to keep Curran on the defensive.
Known for his passive but extremely effective defensive style, Curran started to loosen up in the second round, finding a serious home for his jab and bloodying up "Pitbull's" nose in the process.
Both men got their licks in, trading rounds all the way to the fifth and final frame where the bout would be decided. Freire had found success with his leg kicks and his combinations of hooks and punches whenever he got on the inside while Curran's strength was on the outside with body kicks, straight punches and his beautiful jab, which he often doubled and even tripled up. Both combatants also mixed in some serious body work as well, capping off combinations by dropping to the gut or liver whenever it was exposed.
The biggest storyline of the fight was the damage on both men's faces as Curran was relatively unscathed while "Pitbull" had two swollen eyes, a cut on his cheek and a very bloody nose. As Freire slowed down in the championship rounds (the first time he'd ever been there), Curran seemed to get stronger, winning the final two frames and eventually successfully defending his title via split decision with 48-47 scores across the board.
No word yet on whether this bout will potentially be the first to use Bellator's intriguing new "rematch clause."
Also earlier in evening were three of the first four bouts in the season eight light heavyweight tournament.
Much ballyhooed 205-er Renato Sobral made his Bellator debut against unheralded Russian Mikhail Zayats in a very strange fight that saw repeated clinch attempts from the Brazilian veteran, a hard right hand and not much else out of "Babalu."
When the former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion let his guard down, Zayats stunned him with a lightning quick spinning back fist and then swarmed him with heavy round hands before finishing Sobral with significant hammer strikes on the ground.
The final fight of the broadcast was a light heavyweight affair between former UFC combatant Seth Petruzelli and rising prospect Jacob Noe. Petruzelli was basically fighting on one leg after injuring his knee a week ago and he proceeded to tear it completely during a takedown attempt.
Noe took advantage of the situation, taking top control and then raining down punches until the referee was forced to intervene and put a halt to the proceedings.
Last but not least, Emanuel Newton advanced to the 205 pound tournament semifinals by weathering the early storm from Atanas Djambazov, firing back with shots of his own and then choking out his exhausted opponent in the second round with relative ease.
So what did you make of Bellator's debut on Spike TV, Maniacs?
Did the promotion get off to a good start in your eyes? What are your prospects for continued success in 2013?