Bellator 223 and Bellator London: “Mousasi vs. Lovato Jr.” took place June 22, 2019) at SSE Arena in London, England. Middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi (45-6-2) put a lifetime of experience and his title on the line against Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace and undefeated MMA fighter Rafael Lovato Jr. (9-0) in his first shot at Bellator gold headlining the “London” card.
Lovato was very strong in the first five minutes, mounting the majority of the offense on the feet and then taking Mousasi down to the ground halfway through the frame with a knee pick. Mousasi’s defense held up with his butterfly guard and ability to sense submission attempts, but Lovato took a 10-9 first round against the champion.
The second round is much more arguable due to the fact that Lovato got the takedowns but didn’t do much offensively with it, while Mousasi was starting to show improved striking on the feet in the last 90 seconds. In the third round Mousasi turned it completely around by turning on top when Lovato had mount and busting open his left eye with a hard right.
Lovato’s lack of championship round experience showed in the fourth as his gas tank seemed to falter and he purposefully fell to his behind trying to bait Mousasi into jumping on top. Mousasi refused and forced Leon Roberts to stand Lovato up over and over then punished him with strikes, evening up the fight with his second 10-9 round.
Neither man finished the fight in the fifth round so it would be up to the judges to determine the winner. The good news for Lovato is that he scored a takedown 30 seconds in and stifled any offense from Mousasi, riding on the champion whenever he hoped to spin out on top, holding a tight body triangle late to not let him escape. Would it be enough to crown a new world champion? A 10-8 fourth for Mousasi could’ve made it a draw.
By the thinnest of margins Lovato became the new champion 47-47 and 48-47 X2 for a majority decision. Lovato was crying as he spoke to Josh Thomson afterward.
“We did it! This was a dream. I want to thank Mousasi for the opportunity. I know everyone is here cheering for him. He is a warrior, he is a legend, and it was an honor to fight him. London where are you at? This is amazing. You guys are sharing the best moment of my life with me. It’s incredible. I’m just surrounded by love, by my family, by inspiration — we did this together. This is a dream come true. Oh my God.”
Also on the main card was Dutch kickboxing and MMA legend Melvin Manhoef (30-14-1, 2 NC) vs. rising Middleweight Kent Kauppinen (11-4) facing his idol from childhood.
Kauppinen was ahead in the first frame, having rocked Manhoef at least once with a right hand, but “No Mercy” responded with an even harder shot that dropped Kauppinen to his knees and swung the round back his way. Here’s a bit of Kauppinen’s handiwork.
Manhoef started to slow down in the second round, but once again managed to land the hardest power shot with a head kick that left Kauppinen wobbled. It wasn’t until the third round that his age and weight finally caught up to him, as Manhoef was left flat footed and eating Kauppinen’s left hand on jab after jab.
The judges returned a verdict of 29-28 unanimously for Manhoef. Despite being featured so prominently on the main card, Manhoef received no post-fight interview.
Rounding out the “London” card was reality TV show star Aaron Chalmers (4-1) paired up with a scrub named Fred Freeman (2-2) at 160 lbs. Chalmers landed the better strikes and got a takedown in Round 1, but Freeman was able to stall for large periods of time in clinch on the fence.
That didn’t work for Freeman in round two when Chalmers sprawled to block a takedown and smoothly transitioned to the triangle choke for a submission at 4:05. After the victory Josh “The Punk” Thomson spoke to Chalmers about his improvements in MMA.
“I just learned to be as calm as I possibly could. So I’ve moved to SBG and I’ve been doing some wrestling and I’m listening to Alex a lot. Alex said if I finish this submission then I get a stripe on me belt.”
Turning to Bellator 223, “Semtex” was set to explode in London as Paul Daley (40-17-2) faced the equally exciting Erick Silva (20-10, 1 NC) in a fight seemingly destined for fireworks.
Silva edged out the first round by taking Daley down and hitting him with multiple left hands against the fence, then taking his back and fishing for good positions to strike. The only way Daley could defend was to hold and trap Silva’s arms. 10-9 opener for Silva.
It only took 17 seconds in round two for the legendarily heavy hands of Daley to find a home and wobble Silva with an uppercut. A spinning elbow was equally brutal. Daley rocked Silva so many times that in the last two minutes Silva just clung to Daley from the bottom for dear life hoping to survive... and he did. It was a 10-8 round for Daley though.
Silva has one of the most incredible chins I’ve ever seen. Despite getting pummeled with a number of lefts, several of which left him more wobbly than drinking a whole bottle of 50 Cent’s champagne, Silva survived the round but didn’t win the war. Daley earned a 29-27 X3 unanimous decision to close the Bellator 223 card.
After returning to his winning ways at Bellator 217 earlier this year, “Strabanimal” James Gallagher (8-1) was back on the road toward Featherweight gold. The more experienced Jeremiah Labiano (12-6) hoped to be more than just a bump in said road.
To be honest this was an underwhelming fight. Gallagher won the first round with a takedown, top control and effective (but not overwhelming striking). Labiano won the second by sweeping from a takedown and hitting some nice elbows while on top. Gallagher had a third round like the first, Labiano tried to give up his back to sweep on top, but Gallagher trapped an arm and nearly got an armbar late — too late to finish before the bell. He won a 29-28 X3 unanimous decision and there was no post-fight interview.
@StrabanimalMMA stayed calm, cool and collected through a scrappy #Bellator223 fight to earn another victory on his record— Monster Energy (@MonsterEnergy) June 22, 2019
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀#MonsterEnergy #MMA #Bellator | @BellatorMMA pic.twitter.com/RW2P6stCT7
They wound up sharing the Bellator 223 spotlight with Fabian Edwards (7-0) vs. Jonathan Bosuku (7-4) at Middleweight. Edwards won the first round. Bosuku just couldn’t find the range and Edwards patiently circled on the outside looking to land his hands and head kicks. Bosuku narrowly avoided being finished by a flying knee early.
Second verse, same as the first. Bosuku couldn’t close the distance and the crowd actually booed Edwards for not doing more to take advantage of his opponent. He responded by throwing a perfectly timed head kick late in the round when Bosuku dropped his defense. To Bosuku’s credit he took it and kept coming. To his deficit he was down two rounds. Edwards dominated the third and took a 30-27 X3 unanimous decision.
Speaking of Middleweights, Mike Shipman (13-1) vs. Costello van Steenis (11-1) was also on the exceptionally loaded card. After a first round which was almost evenly split between the nearly undefeated fighters, van Steenis turned the tide in clinch when Shipman had him against the fence by cracking him with two vicious elbows for a knockout at 1:34 in R2.
Surprisingly with plenty of time available on the broadcast no post-fight interview followed.
Also on the bill was a fight featuring SBG Ireland prospect Charlie Ward (6-3) against Justin Moore (7-2) in yet another Middleweight tilt. Moore had the bigger build coming in and used that strength to impose his will in round one, but when he ran out of gas in round two Ward got on top and smashed him with lefts and rights until Leon Roberts stopped it at 3:23.
Ward gave this assessment of the fight to John McCarthy.
“He was strong as a fucking horse (but) I’m known for getting out of everything.”
For complete Bellator 223 results and coverage click here.