Phil Davis Stymies Yoel Romero, Wins Split Decision in Bellator 266 Headliner

By: Tristen Critchfield
Sep 18, 2021

In a matchup of strength vs. strength, Phil Davis was too much for Yoel Romero to handle.

“Mr. Wonderful” gradually imposed his will on the Olympic silver medalist en route to a split-decision triumph in the Bellator 266 headliner at the SAP Arena in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday night. Judge Michael Bell had it 30-26 and Ron McCarthy saw it 30-27 — both for Davis — while Jerin Valel submitted a curious 29-28 scorecard in favor of Romero. It was Romero’s first light heavyweight appearance since a knockout loss to Rafael Cavalcant at a Strikeforce event in 2011.

“He’s a monster,” Davis said. “I felt that power more times than I wished I had tonight. He’s an incredibly powerful fighter.”

After a tentative opening round from both fighters in Round 1, the action picked up in the second frame. There, Davis began to find a rhythm connecting with his jab and straight right hand, including a one-two combination that prompted a yell of acknowledgement from Romero. Davis punctuated the round with a takedown in the last 30 seconds, which was a preview of things to come.

The former Bellator light heavyweight king completely dominated the third stanza, taking Romero down repeatedly while landing solid ground-and-pound and knees to the body. All told, Davis landed five of seven takedown attempts in the fight, according to statistics provided by the promotion. By controlling the end of the fight with his wrestling, Davis made sure there would be no final salvo from his notoriously explosive opponent.

“I’ve got to use wrestling,” said Davis, who was a four-time NCAA Division I All-American at Penn State University. “God bless wrestling, best sport in the world.”

The 44-year-old Romero, who was competing for the first time since a loss to Israel Adesanya in a middleweight title bout at UFC 248 in March 2020, has lost his last four professional outings. Davis, meanwhile, has won four of his last five fights within the California-based organization.

Meanwhile, Neiman Gracie showed Mark Lemminger that he is more than just a submission specialist in the co-main event, as he scored the first technical knockout victory of his professional career. The Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu product put Lemminger away with a barrage of strikes 1:27 into Round 1 of the welterweight bout.

“I don’t need to take people down to win fights anymore,” Gracie said. “I can do it all.”

Gracie (11-2, 9-2 Bellator) set the stage for the finish when he buckled his foe near the fence with a right uppercut to the chin. Lemminger (12-4, 2-3 Bellator) was little more than a punching bag at that point, and Gracie unloaded with nearly 20 unanswered blows — including a wicked standing elbow — to put his adversary away. Only the fence kept Lemminger upright, but finally referee Jason Herzog decided he had seen enough.

Earlier, DeAnna Bennett halted a three-bout losing streak with a unanimous decision victory over former flyweight title challenger Alejandra Lara in a featured catchweight clash. The former Invicta FC talent received scorecards of 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26 from the cageside judges. The bout was originally supposed to be contested at flyweight, but Bennett tipped the scales at 129.2 pounds on Friday.

Bennett (11-7-1, 1-1 Bellator) was at her best in the opening stanza, when she took Lara’s back following a slip by her opponent. From there, Bennett secured back mount and battered the Colombian with punches to the head before threatening with a rear-naked choke. Lara (9-5, 3-4 Bellator) was able to survive, but she wasn’t the same for the rest of the fight.

“I wanted that first-round finish so bad,” Bennett admitted. “But Alejandra, she’s so tough. You can’t have a good fight with one person, you have to have two good fighters to put on a show.”

Over the final 10 minutes, Bennett confounded Lara with superior footwork and movement while consistently landing her left jab and straight right hand. When Lara scored a takedown late in the fight, Bennett punished her with an upkick to the chin as the Combat Training Club representative attempted to dive in with punches from above. Lara was unable to mount any significant offense from top position in the bout’s waning moments.

Lara has lost back-to-back fights for the second time in her Bellator tenure.

Elsewhere, Saul Rogers relied on takedowns, ground-and-pound and positional control to capture a unanimous decision triumph over former World Series of Fighting champion Georgi Karakhanyan in a matchup of former featherweight grand prix competitors. All three cageside judges scored the 155-pound bout in favor of “The Ultimate Fighter 22” cast member: 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26.

Rogers (15-4, 2-3 Bellator) appeared to enjoy a significant size and strength advantage against his veteran adversary, as he grounded Karakhanyan in each frame. From there, “The Hangman” made Karakhanyan (31-12-1, 1 NC, 9-10 Bellator) carry his weight while landing punches to the head and body. Rogers was pleased with his performance upon moving up one division.

“I’ve been killing myself trying to cut down to 145,” Rogers said. “Now that I’ve moved up, I feel stronger and I feel more dominant.”

Karakhanyan had his best moment in the second frame, when he used a guillotine attempt to return to his feet and rocked Rogers with a jumping knee and flurried with punches. “Insane” attempted several more jumping knees during a brief, furious sequence before Rogers was able to dump him on the canvas and end the threat.

In the evening’s opening main card bout, Ben Parrish defied the odds with a shocking knockout of the previously-undefeated Christian Edwards in a light heavyweight affair. Parrish (5-1, 1-0 Bellator), who was the largest betting underdog on the card, brought the show to a close just 38 seconds into Round 1.

Edwards (5-1, 5-1 Bellator) looked to utilize his significant reach advantage in the early going, but the Jackson-Wink MMA standout was made to pay for his aggression in relatively short order. Parrish caught and dropped his adversary with a perfectly-timed counter right hand and then pounced for the finish, landing approximately four follow-up hammerfists before referee Jason Herzog intervened on Edwards’ behalf.

“It feels good to shut a lot of people up, that’s all I’m going to say,” Parrish said.

In preliminary action: Alex Polizzi (9-1, 3-1) handed Grant Neal (6-1, 5-1 Bellator) his first career defeat, winning a split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28) in a grueling light heavyweight affair; two-time Dana White’s Contender Series competitor Anthony Adams (9-2, 1-0 Bellator) relied on his superior reach and a varied striking arsenal —including a steady diet of kicks — to capture a three-round verdict (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) over UFC and Fight Nights Global veteran Khalid Murtazaliev (15-3, 1-1 Bellator) at middleweight; Robert Seronio (1-0, 1-0 Bellator) took a unanimous decision triumph ((29-27, 29-26, 29-26)) against Socrates Hernandez (0-1, 0-1 Bellator) at bantamweight; Abraham Vaesau (6-3, 3-1 Bellator) scored a technical knockout against Albert Gonzales (2-3, 1-2 Bellator) 2:17 into the opening round of a 175-pound catchweight affair; Shane Keefe (2-0, 1-0 Bellator) outpointed (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) Rhalan Gracie (0-3, 0-1 Bellator) at welterweight; Edwin De Los Santos (1-0, 1-0 Bellator) dispatched Jonathan Adams (0-2-1, 0-2-1 Bellator) with a body kick and follow-up punches 3:29 into the opening round of their flyweight scrap and two-time NCAA Division I national wrestling champion Jesse Delgado (1-0, 1-0 Bellator) earned a unanimous verdict over Joshua Dillon (1-2, 0-1 Bellator) at a 130-pound catchweight.
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