Bellator Fighting Championship continued its seventh season last night (Oct. 19, 2012) with the lightweight tournament quarterfinals in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Russians had experienced tremendous success thus far in the promotion, and three Russian lightweights with a combined 33-1 record were featured on the main card.
With the amount of hype they were bringing to the event, it would be expected that at least one of them would advance to the semifinals, but that was not the case.
In the main event of the evening, former UFC fighter Rich Clementi took on unbeaten 20-0 prospect Alexander Sarnavskiy in what was Sarnavskiy's toughest career test to date.
Early on, it looked like Sarnavskiy would roll as he landed heavy punches and hurt Clementi with an extremely powerful knee, but he would give up his back standing in the process. For the next four minutes, Clementi would be glued to Sarnavskiy's back like a backpack, hunting for a rear naked choke and making him very uncomfortable.
In the final 30 seconds of the round, Clementi sunk in a rear naked choke which brought Sarnavskiy to the ground as he struggled to escape. Despite having the choke fully locked in, somehow, someway, "Tiger" held on until the bell sounded.
The second round was more of the same with Clementi shooting in for a quick takedown and immediately going to Sarnavskiy's back for four minutes, but again he couldn't finish and Sarnavskiy reversed him at the end of the round, landing some ground and pound and some heavy strikes on the feet.
In the third and final round, Sarnavskiy needed to go for broke and avoid the ground, but he couldn't do it. Clementi was exchausted and the Russian tried to capitalize, landing heavy strikes and even dropping him, but he followed "No Love" to the ground on multiple occasions and his offense was completely neutralized by the veteran's ground defense. Clementi would repeatedly drop to his back whenever any decent strike landed and Sarnavskiy couldn't even get close to the finish. In the end, the judges sided with Clementi for a well-deserved split decision victory that should have been unanimous.
WEC veteran Dave Jansen got all he could handle early from 14-1 Russian Magomed Saadulaev in the first round, getting outstruck and outgrappled throughout the first five minutes, but his conditioning and pace completely took over after that.
After Saadulaev won all the early scrambles, Jansen controlled the stand-up in the second round and Saadulaev's hands started dropping, eating big uppercuts from "The Fugitive" on the feet and Jansen closed the round strong with a takedown and heavy ground and pound from top position.
In the third round, Saadulaev pressed forward looking for a takedown, but Jansen turned the tables, latching onto his neck and sinking in a guillotine choke while jumping guard. After squeezing for a few seconds, the Russian was forced to tap out.
In one of the weaker fights of the night, Marcin Held and Murad Machaev, both grapplers, primarily kept the fight standing for all three rounds. Held was the busier fighter in the first round, but was not landing with much or any power on the feet to concern the Russian.
In the second round, Machaev finally found his range against his lankier opponent, repeatedly finding a home for his overhand left and his right hand. Machaev hurt Held on a couple of occasions but couldn't capitalize as Held would shoot in for takedowns to clear out the cobwebs.
The third round was ugly as both men were tired, but Held was the aggressor. Neither man landed anything significant, but Held worked a jab as Machaev seemed to be coasting, thinking he had won the first two rounds. That backfired as Held was awarded the unanimous decision victory when it was all over.
In the opening bout of the evening, two Brazilians went to war as Ricardo Tirloni took on Rene Nazare in a thrilling back-and-forth battle. Tirloni looked to have the better technique on the feet while Nazare was more aggressive and powerful, repeatedly forcing Tirloni to fight off of his back foot. Nazare worked for takedowns repeatedly in the first round, but he could never keep Tirloni down for more than a second before he would pop back to his feet and fire back with heavy knees in the clinch.
Tirloni's clinch offense helped him to take the first round, but it seemed to be all for naught early in the second when he got clipped and rocked by Nazare. With Tirloni reeling, Nazare charged in wildly and paid for it dearly. Off of his back foot, Tirloni scored with a heavy right hand that hurt Nazare and he pounced, attacking Nazare's exposed neck in his confusion and forcing the champion Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to tap out to a D'Arce choke early in the second round.
The semifinals of the lightweight tournament will be Dave Jansen vs. Ricardo Tirloni and Rich Clementi vs. Marcin Held.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Were you surprised that no Russians were able to advance considering the success they've had thus far this season? What do you think of the semifinal pairings? Who's your pick to win the whole thing now?
For complete Bellator 76 results and detailed round-by-round commentary of all the televised fights click here.