Bellator Fighting Championships returned for the Summer Series on Spike TV last night (July 31, 2013) in Rio Rancho with a pair of tournament finals in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions plus two title fights at both welterweight and lightweight.
Headlining the main event was a title bout between Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler and Bellator season eight tournament winner David Rickels. Rickels possessed an "every-man" quality and a scrappy attitude, promising to fight Chandler tooth and nail, but he didn't get much time to showcase it as Chandler stepped inside and blasted him with a right hook early.
With Rickels in trouble, another right hand sent him tumbling to the canvas and some follow-up strikes on the ground put his lights out completely, ending the fight inside the first minute and further cementing Chandler's status as Bellator's top-ranked star.
Next up for Chandler will be season seven tournament winner Dave Jansen once his knee is healed up.
In welterweight title fight action, champion Ben Askren looked to defend his belt against dangerous Russian striker Andrey Koreshkov but in the classic grappler vs striker match-up, the grappler once again proved superior.
Koreshkov fended off Askren's initial takedown, but the "Funky" champ stuck to him like glue, eventually dragging him down to the ground. Once there, Askren systematically broke his opponent down with repeated guard passes, dominant position and a constant barrage of soft strikes which accumulated throughout the course of the fight.
By round two, it was apparent that Koreshkov's only chance was a Hail Mary strike in the opening seconds of each round and Askren rubbed it in by riding him in backmount and starting up a "USA" chant with the crowd.
Despite promising he would never break, Koreshkov was completely spent by the third round of trying to fight out of Askren's clutches and he had nothing left to threaten the champion, who continued to pound on him with pitter-patter blows.
Finally, by the fourth round, Askren was in full mount and then backmount, dropping shots and looking over to the referee, who eventually relented and gave the champion a mercy stoppage in his most dominant performance to date. Askren outlanded Koreshkov 248-3 in total strikes, the largest disparity in MMA history.
Next up for Askren will be the upcoming Douglas Lima vs Ben Saunders 2 winner, which will likely take place later this year.
In light heavyweight tournament action, former Strikeforce champion Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal dropped the hammer on rival Jacob Noe, avoiding early striking exchanges and taking him down on multiple occasions. Noe valiantly tried to get back to his feet but he was no match for Lawal's continuous pressure, takedowns and heavy left hands on the ground.
Eventually, Lawal took the will to fight out of Noe, who could do no more than stagger to his feet at the beginning of the third round. "King Mo" landed some big strikes on the feet and then finished the bout with some heavy ground and pound to force referee intervention.
Afterwards, Lawal called out Emanuel Newton, the man who knocked him out of the season eight tournament with a highlight reel spinning back fist, although he's going to have to wait for the winner of Newton's title fight against Bellator champion Atilla Vegh first.
The heavyweight tournament finals continued the night's action as unbeaten Russian prospect Vitaly Minakov faced a stiff test in Ryan Martinez. Minakov controlled the early action with a takedown, superior strikes and some inside work from the clinch, but Martinez managed to get his licks in, landing a few flush left hooks.
The second round was slower going, but things got interesting when the referee took a point away from Minakov for a knee to the groin without previously warning him. The Russian came out with a sense of urgency in the final round, taking advantage of the fading Martinez and scoring a solid trip takedown along the fence.
Once Minakov had Martinez where he wanted him, he unleashed a torrent of strikes, passing to full mount and pounding away until the ref put a stop to it.
Minakov will next face fellow countryman Alexander Volkov for the Bellator Heavyweight title.
Last but not least, the main card was opened by a featherweight bout featuring former tournament winner Patricio Freire against gritty prospect Jared Downing. Downing was tough as nails, but he was no match for Pitbull, who blasted him with a right hand in the opening seconds and tried to finish the fight with a guillotine choke early on.
Downing gutted through the submission attempt, but he was at Freire's mercy on the feet and the Brazilian pushed him to his limits. When Downing survived the opening frame, Freire punished him with a nasty blitz of right hands, dropping him three times in the opening minute of the second round, the last of which forced the referee to put a stop to the action.
Pitbull will next see action in the season nine featherweight tournament opposite UFC and WEC veteran Diego Nunes.
For complete Bellator 97 results and detailed round-by-round commentary of all the televised fights click here.