Ryan Bader punched his ticket to the Bellator MMA heavyweight grand prix final, and he took virtually no damage in the process.
Bader outclassed former NFL player Matt Mitrione over three rounds, taking him down whenever he wanted before dishing out a steady stream of ground-and-pound from start to finish. Mitrione (13-6) looked like a fish out of water on the canvas and was never afforded the opportunity to establish an offensive rhythm, as Bader cruised to victory in the Bellator 207 headliner on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Bader nearly submitted “Meathead” in the second round with a cross-body kimura. The joint lock elicited a shriek from Mitrione, but Bader (26-5) could not finish him off. Instead, the Power MMA fighter maintained a sustained attack until the end, winning nearly every frame by a 10-8 score. In the end, Bader was given the judges’ nod via tallies of 30-24, 30-25 and 30-25. He now awaits the winner of the Fedor Emelianenko-Chael Sonnen semifinal, which will headline Bellator 208 on Saturday in Uniondale, New York.
If Bader manages to win the heavyweight grand prix, the current Bellator light heavyweight titlist will be the first simultaneous two-division champion in the promotion’s history.
In a matchup of longtime heavyweight stalwarts, Pride Fighting Championships veteran Sergei Kharitonov ruled the roost in the co-feature. The Russian bomber took his share of lumps against former Ultimate Fighting Championship fan favorite Roy Nelson, but Kharitonov eventually delivered his trademark thunder and knocked out “Big Country.”
Kharitonov landed an illegal knee to the head of a downed Nelson (23-16) at the midway point of the first round and had a point taken away, but it wound up being a non-factor. Nelson could not consistently get inside of the larger Kharitonov’s reach and paid a heavy price. Toward the end Round 1, Kharitonov (28-6) wobbled the Las Vegan with right uppercuts to the jaw and then finished him with a flurry of punches and knees to the head. Nelson collapsed face first after a final knee connected, prompting referee Dan Miragliotta to end the drubbing with only a second remaining in the stanza.
Longtime veteran Lorenz Larkin was successful in vanquishing Romania’s Ion Pascu, as he earned a unanimous decision in an alternate bout for the Bellator welterweight grand prix. “The Monsoon” used his superior striking ability to pick apart Pascu on the feet, and whenever “Bombardierul” tried shooting in, the California resident stuffed him. Pascu (18-9) eventually took down the American in the third round, but it was a case of too little too late. All three judges favored Larkin (20-7), with scores of 29-28 across the board.
Kevin Ferguson Jr. hoped to continue his winning ways and looked good early on against Corey Browning, but his gas tank betrayed him. “Baby Slice” was aggressive in the first round and scored multiple takedowns, but his submission game was lacking and allowed Browning to escape with regularity. Browning (4-2) dropped Ferguson with a right to the head early in the second, survived a few scrambles, popped out of an arm-triangle and unloaded a barrage of punches. Browning kept throwing bombs on an exhausted Ferguson (3-2) until referee Bryan Miner pulled him off at 2:08 of the second round.
After nearly submitting Carrington Banks with a slick anaconda choke in the first round, unbeaten lightweight prospect Mandel Nallo ignited the crowd with one of the best knockouts of the year. Nallo (7-0) timed a Banks attack early in the second with a devastating right knee the jaw. Banks (7-2) was out cold on impact and fell to the canvas. The end came just 57 ticks into Round 2, kicking off the main card in highlight fashion.
The featured prelim started with a bang but ended with a fizzle. Australian prospect Janay Harding stood toe-to-toe with Ireland’s Sinead Kavanagh for most of the first round, and her decision paid off. “Hollowpoint” sliced open Kavanagh’s forehead with a slashing left elbow, which ultimately led to the SBG Ireland rep’s downfall. With blood spewing from the wound, the ringside physician opted to waive off the action in between the first and second rounds, bringing a premature end to a featherweight slugfest in the making. The technical knockout pushed Harding to 4-4, while Kavanaugh fell to 5-3.
Meanwhile, Portuguese contender Andre Fialho was just good enough in all aspects of his contest with fellow welterweight Javier Torres, as he eked out a majority decision. Just as Torres (10-5) managed to turn the tide with a powerful clinch game in the third round, time expired. One judge scored it a 28-28 draw. The others scored it 29-28 for Fialho (10-1).
The highlight of the prelims was a six-second knockout of Alex Potts, authored by the blistering hands of Mike Kimbel. The “Savage” exploded out of his corner, dropped Potts with a right hand and then finished the job with a single follow-up punch. Referee Todd Anderson pulled off Kimbel (2-0) and then had to defend himself against a woozy Potts (1-1), who was trying to fight the official on instinct.
In other action, flyweight Sarah Click (2-2) unanimously outpointed Kristi Lopez over three rounds; fellow flyweight Alexandra Ballou took out Lisa Blaine (2-1) with a series of elbows after a takedown at 3:28 of the third round; and welterweight Pat Casey (4-0) toppled Kastriot Xhema via unanimous decision.