Bellator Fighting Championships returned for round six on Spike TV last night (Feb. 21, 2013) with a featherweight tournament final and the season eight light heavyweight and welterweight tournament semifinals with what was almost certainly the most violent main card in the promotion's 90-event history.
The main event was capped off with a highly intriguing featherweight tournament final between top Russian striker Shahbulat Shamhalaev and American wrestler Rad Martinez in a bout that had been delayed over two months after Shamhalaev had fallen ill on fight night last December.
Everyone knew going in that Shamhalaev had the striking advantage while Martinez held the grappling edge and whoever could impose their will was almost certainly going to win the fight.
That proved to be true as early on, Shamhalaev was in complete control, scoring with repeated low kicks and landing his overhand right with power in a slow-paced stand-up fight, but Martinez turned the tables with a big takedown in the final two minutes, keeping the striker on his back and dropping occasional elbows to come close to evening out the round.
In the second, however, Martinez never found an opening to shoot in for a takedown and after he was hurt from a big punch from the Russian, he never fully recovered. As Martinez staggered and worked to regain his bearings, Shamhalaev poured it on with knees and short punches on the feet, eventually putting the Utah native down for good with a huge overhand right followed by a vicious strike on the ground to punch his ticket to a title shot as well as $100,000.
In the most talked-about fight of the evening, former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal attempted to advance to the Bellator season eight tournament finals against Emanuel Newton, a 29 year old Californian and former MFC light heavyweight champ in his own right.
Lawal entered the fight confident, perhaps too confident, as his guard was low and he was repeatedly caught with swift strikes from the fleet-footed Newton, who worked quick combinations and found a home for his left jab and leg kicks.
When "The Hardcore Kid" got comfortable, he pressed the action and started working in power strikes as Lawal countered, with both men landing heavy blows on the inside.
Then it happened.
Lawal attempted to counter off of a Newton combination with a heavy strike of his own, but he was exposed and Newton caught him completely by surprise with one of the most perfectly timed spinning back fists which caught him square on the button and sent the part-time TNA fighter slumping in a heap to the canvas, knocked completely out cold.
In one instant, Lawal's dreams of winning a Bellator title were briefly dashed while Newton's never looked brighter.
Earlier in the evening, the Bellator welterweight tournament semifinals took place and former tournament winner Douglas Lima put on an incredible display of skill, having his way with a noticeably tentative Bryan Baker via powerful leg kicks early before headhunting with his heavy hooks.
The aggressive strategy paid off as "The Phenom" clocked Baker with a nasty overhand right that send "The Beast" to the cage floor in a heap. The fight was as good as finished with one big blow, which has become a trademark of Lima in his tournament runs.
Also on display was Muay Thai specialist Ben Saunders who completely dominated Raul Amaya in a rematch of their season six fight. The last bout had gone to a decision but Saunders was out for blood this time around, attacking with a wide range of strikes including his patented knees in the clinch.
After landing a few low kicks, Saunders finally went high and caught Amaya completely off guard, clipping him in the top of the head and putting his lights out.
Saunders will now face Lima in a rematch of the Bellator season four tournament finals.
Lastly, the opening bout of the evening featured a light heavyweight tournament semifinal between RusFighter Mikhail Zayats and American Jacob Noe. The tone for the fight was set very early as Zayats dropped Noe with one of his first big strikes, a beautiful right hand that was timed perfectly.
After slowly and steadily improving his position on the canvas, Zayats finally advances to mount and dove on an armbar during a scramble. After putting up some initial resistance, Zayats finally extended Noe's arm and forced a quick tap to secure the first round submission.
Zayats will now face Emanuel Newton in the season eight light heavyweight tournament finals. Both men hold notable wins over standout 205-ers Babalu Sobral and King Mo (both finished via spinning back fist as well) and this should be a fantastic scrap.