Bellator match-makers have a fun few weeks ahead of them following the weekend’s London card. Let’s break it down…
Surprising, yes. An upset? No.
Several notable ‘winners’ walked out of the SSE Wembley Arena, but none bigger than 32-year-old Rafael Lovato Jr.
Fight week waters were placid between the jiu-jitsu savant and his opponent, the unflappable Gegard Mousasi. The calm gave media and fans the chance to play fortune-teller, and to some extent, a familiar narrative won the day; jiu-jitsu is the pound-for-pound king of MMA. But the fight and end result offered a few more points to consider:
- Mousasi’s relaxed style cannot, and should not be mistaken for lack of motivation. In fact, his composure under Lovato Jr.’s relentless pressure highlights just how good his ground game is, and prevented the Brazilian from getting the finish.
- Lovato Jr. can strike. For the first three rounds at least, he happily engaged Mousasi on the feet and showed a higher standard than most gave him credit for in the pre-fight narrative.
- A BJJ world-champion has crossed over and won the title from one of the sport’s most decorated grapplers. Alarm bells are ringing. Garry Tonon, Dillon Danis, Rodolfo Viera; if these guys establish a stand-up game, current champions will fall. We could be seeing the start of a completely new era in the sport.
A Dutch Dual?
Betting on Manhoef and Kauppinen going the distance would have earned a nice wad of cash; not that the fight was disappointing, rather entertaining and occasionally surreal. Securing the unanimous decision win, Manhoef landed the higher percentage of significant strikes with patented intensity, knocking down Kauppinen on several occasions. Sporting only boxer-shorts after the 15-minute bout, Manhoef still showed the game we’ve marveled at over his storied career. But it’s no secret, it’s nearly over.
“25 years of fighting, there’s a time to come and there’s a time to go. I have to accept that,” he shared during last week’s media day. “I want to finish off my career in Amsterdam and if a title fight happens, that would be good but if it doesn’t happen it’s okay, you can’t go on endlessly.”
A title fight in Amsterdam as his swansong doesn’t make much promotional sense. A third outing with Rafael Carvalho doesn’t either, despite Manhoef feeling embittered towards the results (the first he believed he won, the second he fought with a broken jaw).
The paint is still wet from Mousasi’s loss, but even before Saturday night, he too floated upcoming retirement. A showdown with Manhoef in Amsterdam would be an almost too-perfect tribute to the Dutch legends, assuming Mousasi is not fussed with an immediate Lovato Jr rematch…
James Gallagher – A word of caution…
Jeremiah Labiano was criminally overlooked coming into this fight, but again wakes up after fight night to a decision loss. From the get-go, he came forward looking for the walk-off KO but was unable to maintain sufficient distance to let his hands go fully, with Gallagher dictating the majority of the fight to take place on the ground and in the clinch. In victory, Gallagher seemed emotional; like a huge weight suddenly lifted. Sure enough, he revealed in the post-fight scrum that two weeks prior he almost pulled out due to anxiety attacks so was incredibly proud to get the win. A brief message to Bellator:
- Let’s not rush this. Play it smart in looking for his next opponent. He’ll bring in big numbers for September’s Dublin card, regardless of opponent; learn from Aaron Pico’s situation.
- You now have two high-profile fighters (Chalmers being the other) coming off big wins discussing mental health issues. What a great opportunity to bring media attention to one of the sports big taboo problems.
The Edwards Experiment
With Leon Edwards finally getting some promotional respect, it’s time to pay the same dues to Fabian. Last night’s win over Jonathan Bosuku (7-5) was dominant, if not slightly underwhelming. “The Mutant”, now 8-0, didn’t look particularly troubled at any point over the 15 minutes, perhaps even slightly bored at times. And in all honesty, can you blame him?
Aside from his terrible placement on the card, he was vocal in the lead up to Saturday’s bout that Bosuku was a mismatch; preferring a grudge match with the then-undefeated Mike Shipman. Two highly-ranked, homegrown talents at Bellator’s marquee UK event didn’t seem to make sense to the matchmakers though…
But now they have a chance to make things right. It’s time to give Edwards a real challenge; a spotlight to prove himself against an opponent trying to do the same. That opponent is Costello Van Steenis; whose knockout of Shipman on Saturday night solidified his divisional contendership.
Shipman’s loss to Van Steenis on Saturday will only make him better, and a clash with Edwards is destined to happen down the line. But a Van Steenis, Edwards collision now has headliner potential, particularly on a European card (cough cough, Amsterdam). Dare to dream, but this currently-fictional Dutch card is a corker.
An honorable mention goes to Aaron Chalmers who advanced to 8-1 with a second-round submission win over Fred Freeman. Wanting to stay active, Chalmers looks to maintain momentum and fight at least twice more in 2019, a fact Bellator Europe will, I’m sure, be more than happy to oblige.
Rhodri Morgan is a combat sports writer based out of London, England. When not covering MMA, he can be found roaming the halls of a south London Wholefoods, finding a dog to befriend and rolling in the doomed pursuit of the perfect kimura.