The former Bellator MMA middleweight champion recorded his ninth win in 10 appearances and set his sights on a rematch with current 185-pound titleholder Rafael Lovato Jr., as he eked out a split decision over Machida in the Bellator 228 headliner on Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Scores were 29-28 and 30-27 for Mousasi, 29-28 for Machida.
Mousasi (46-7-2, 4-1 Bellator) -- who lost a unanimous decision to “The Dragon” under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner in February 2014 -- outpaced his counterpart in the sequel, answering kicks with lightning-quick counters and working behind multi-punch bursts. Machida (26-9, 2-1 Bellator) made his last stand in the third round, where he connected to the body, head and legs with kicks before trapping “The Dreamcatcher” in a tight guillotine choke in the closing seconds. Mousasi weathered the submission attempt and avenged one of his seven professional defeats.
The co-main event saw Patricio Freire outstrike and outmaneuver Juan Archuleta across five rounds, as he retained his 145-pound title with a unanimous decision in the first round of the Bellator featherweight grand prix. All three cageside judges scored it for Freire (30-4, 18-4 Bellator): 49-46, 50-45 and 49-46. He will meet Pedro Carvalho in the tournament quarterfinals in March.
Archuleta (23-2, 5-1 Bellator) put up admirable resistance but found himself outgunned in virtually every phase of the fight. Freire countered effectively with both hands, handled the former King of the Cage champion in the clinch, drew blood with an elbow strike on the ground and threatened him repeatedly with guillotine chokes. The only real damage inflicted upon “Pitbull” resulted from an accidental headbutt in the fifth round, which sliced open a significant cut under his right eyebrow. Otherwise, the Brazilian was in control for virtually all of the 25 minutes.
The setback was Archuleta’s first since March 28, 2015 and halted his 18-fight winning streak.
Meanwhile, blossoming Team Bodyshop superstar A.J. McKee wiped out Georgi Karakhanyan with punches in the opening round of the Bellator featherweight grand prix. Karakhanyan (28-10-1, 6-8 Bellator) met his end eight seconds into Round 1, as the 34-year-old suffered his second straight defeat.
The undefeated McKee (15-0, 15-0 Bellator) unleashed an overhand left that leveled the former Tachi Palace Fights and World Series of Fighting champion, leaving him dazed and defenseless. He advanced on the downed Karakhanyan and cut loose with a short burst of standing-to-ground punches to draw the curtain.
McKee will confront Derek Campos in the tournament quarterfinals in December.
Elsewhere, onetime NCAA wrestling champion Darrion Caldwell closed the book on a two-fight losing streak with a successful but otherwise pedestrian performance, as he pocketed a unanimous decision against Henry Corrales in the opening round of the Bellator featherweight grand prix. Caldwell (14-3, 11-2 Bellator) swept the scorecards with 29-27, 30-27 and 30-27 nods from the judges. He will lock horns with Adam Borics in the tournament quarterfinals in January.
Corrales (17-4, 5-4 Bellator) did virtually nothing of note. Caldwell did stellar work in the first round, where he executed a takedown and hammered away with punches and elbows, cutting the former King of the Cage titleholder above his left eye. He was on auto pilot for the next 10 minutes -- referee Blake Grice warned him for timidity -- and seemed content to either grind away in the clinch or circle aimlessly on the perimeter. Corrales failed to capitalize on his opponent’s lack of aggression, perhaps spellbound by the threat of a takedown.
The defeat ended Corrales’ run of consecutive victories at five.
Finally, sublime takedown defense, a steady jab and effective counters carried former M-1 Global champion Daniel Weichel to a unanimous decision over Saul Rogers in the opening round of the Bellator featherweight grand prix. All three cageside judges scored it for Weichel (40-11, 9-3 Bellator): 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28. He will lock horns with Emmanuel Sanchez in the tournament quarterfinals in February.
Weichel dazed the Hard Knocks 365-trained Englishman with a straight right-left hook combination in the waning seconds of the first round and staggered him again with an overhand right in the third. In between, he piled up points with his jab -- he doubled up on the punch at times -- and intermittent leg kicks, staying out of harm’s way and keeping Rogers (13-3, 1-1 Bellator) at a manageable distance.
The win snapped a two-fight losing streak for Weichel.
In other action, Leandro Higo (19-5, 2-3 Bellator) submitted Shawn Bunch (9-4, 5-4 Bellator) with a guillotine choke 4:32 into the second round of their bantamweight scrap; Antonio McKee (30-6-2, 1-0 Bellator) made a triumphant return to the cage at the age of 49, as he dispatched William Sriyapai (13-9, 0-1 Bellator) with punches 1:17 into the second round of their catchweight contest at 167 pounds; Ava Knight (1-0, 1-0 Bellator) chopped down Shannon Goughary (4-4, 0-1 Bellator) with a punch to the body 1:46 into the third round of their women’s strawweight match; A.J. Agazarm (2-1, 2-1 Bellator) took a unanimous decision from Jonathan Quiroz (3-4, 0-1 Bellator) in a three-round featherweight tussle, earning 29-28 marks from all three judges; Johnny Cisneros (13-7, 3-5 Bellator) was awarded a technical knockout due to an ankle injury suffered by Mike Jasper (13-6, 0-2 Bellator) 4:28 into the second round of their catchweight confrontation at 175 pounds; Weber Almeida (3-0, 2-0 Bellator) put away Castle Williams (4-3, 0-1 Bellator) with punches 20 seconds into the second round of their featherweight encounter; Joshua Jones (9-4, 2-2 Bellator) submitted Dominic Clark (14-9, 0-1 Bellator) with a guillotine choke in 2:39 into the first round of their lightweight tilt; and James Barnes (13-4, 3-3 Bellator) submitted David Duran (8-6, 1-3 Bellator) with a rear-naked choke 1:51 into the second round of their catchweight pairing at 133 pounds.