What. A. Show.
For so many reasons, what a show.
Bellator 180 was hyped to the gills, with a card full of debuting future stars and the return of legends. The company debuted it’s new look broadcast team, with Mike Goldberg calling his first event since his his departure from UFC, and Mauro Ranallo making his return to a major US MMA promotion, with the two splitting the play-by-play duties on the TV and PPV cards, respectively. The greatest fighter of all time was due to make his return after a delay from the original fight.
They had the entire MMA world in their hands. UFC’s Fight Night card doesn’t seem to hold a candle to Bellator.
So what happened?
Well, nothing bad. The card went on as planned. Matt Mitrione was able to avoid kidney stones and went on against Fedor Emilianenko. Wanderlei Silva made his return to MMA after four plus years away. Chael Sonnen was talking people into the building as only he can do, and the debuts of Heather Hardy and Aaron Pico were drawing eyes as two big new stars with fantastic backgrounds looked to take the Bellator cage by storm.
It didn’t exactly go the way Bellator boss Scott Coker probably envisioned.
Let’s start this wild ride on the TV preliminary card.
The TV card opened with Heather Hardy vs. Alice Yauger in Hardy’s MMA debut. Hardy is 35 years old, and actually still holds the WBC International Female Featherweight title, so she looks to be switching back and forth between boxing and MMA. Yauger is a tough and underrated fighter, and she didn’t give Hardy an easy debut. The fight nearly ended in disaster when the two fighters accidentally headbutted each other and Hardy began to bleed pretty profusely. It was stopped, and the fight continued. Hardy knocked Yauger down and actually waited for Yauger to stand back up, a brief lapse back into boxing, but not a harmful one. Hardy finished Yauger late in the final round, and she seems poised to be the next Holly Holm, if she can become just a bit more well rounded.
The next fight was spent mainly on the ground, and ended in a submission. Chinzo Machida, brother of famous UFC fighter Lyoto Machida, took on the young Irishman James Gallagher. The 20 year old quickly found his way onto Machida’s back, and submitted him with a rear naked choke in short order. His post fight interview, combined with his tattoos, slight vocal resemblance, and training out of SBG Ireland has led many to call him the next Conor McGregor. He certainly shone in the cage and on the mic, and it does look like young Gallagher has no limit in sight,
The main event of the free TV card is where the first sign of trouble emerged. It wasn’t anything odd or weird, it was just an awful fight. Ryan Bader, making his Bellator debut, was poised to face Muhammad Lawal at this show, but Lawal pulled out due to injury. To add more drawing power to the TV card, Light Heavyweight champion Phil Davis was pitted against Bader with the title on the line. The fight began with the common “feeling out” first round, with not much action.
The problem came when the action never picked up.
The booing from the Madison Square Garden crowd quickly began, and never really stopped. Referee Dan Miragliotta audibly told them “You get paid to fight” during a verbal warning to both fighters for inactivity. The fight honestly didn’t have a clear winner. In the end, Bader won the title in his debut via split decision, with many saying that Davis was robbed. That’s up for debate, but the first sign of trouble had reared it’s ugly head.
It was only due to get worse.
The TV prelims were scheduled to be four fights, but the fight between Nieman Gracie and Dave Marfone was taken off the card, and on to the main show we went.
PPV Main Card
Douglas Lima (c) vs. Lorenz Larkin for the Bellator Welterwight title
The main show opened up with another title fight, as Welterweight champion Douglas Lima took on challenger Lorenz Larkin. This fight also went to the judges, where Lima retained via unanimous decision. However, the fight was much more active, with Lima and Larkin actively striking and going to the ground a few times. Lima broke his nose early in the fight, and managed to keep Larkin from opening the wound further, even though his nose was bleeding profusely in between rounds and the bridge of his nose was veering to the right very noticeably. Lima fought around his nose and retained in a fine fight.
However, the show started it’s big derailment in the next fight.
Aaron Pico vs. Zach Freeman
Aaron Pico is only 20, but he’s already won national championships in Greco-Roman, Freestyle, and Folkstyle wrestling. He’s also an accomplished Pankration practitioner, winning a national championship in 2008. Pico is also coming off the heels of losing in the finals of the US Olympic Qualifiers, where he was only defeated by former NCAA National Wrestling champions.
So to say he has a pedigree ripe for MMA is an understatement.
Pico was pitted against Zach Freeman, another Bellator newcomer coming off of a loss in an RFA title fight. More importantly, Freeman has been fighting for six years and was 8-2 coming into the fight. No one was giving Freeman any credit and assumed that Pico would demolish him quickly.
It was quite the opposite.
Pico charged in, attempting to get him on the ground, but Freeman quickly cinched in a guillotine choke, forcing Pico to tap out in 27 seconds. Freeman has made his name off of this, and is likely to be a player for Bellator going forward. Pico is young and is still full with potential, and maybe having the hype train slow down will help him continue to grow in his career.
If Pico getting demolished wasn’t enough to derail the card, the next two fights made sure of that.
Michael Chandler(c) vs. Brent Primus for the Bellator Lightweight title
The third of three title fights saw Lightweight champion Michael Chandler defend against Brent Primus. The bout looked to be promising, but a freak accident made this card go nearly completely off the rails.
Chandler was defending a leg kick from Primus, and planted his left foot behind him while also attempting to move backwards. His left ankle gave out as he placed his foot awkwardly, and Chandler went down, only to make a quick recovery. Chandler placed his back against the cage wall in order to brace himself, but still went down to one knee a few times. In fact, Chandler rocked Primus more than once, all while basically being on one foot.
At about two minutes into the fight, referee Todd Anderson, the same referee at the center of the Holly Holm/Germaine De Randaime controversy, called for the doctor to enter the cage and look at Chandler’s ankle. The rule book states that only an illegal blow, such as an eye poke or groin shot can cause a stoppage, but if a fighter is injured, as Chandler obviously was, then the fight is to be stopped immediately with no delay. However, it didn’t matter, as the doctor ruled that Chandler could not continue, and so Brent Primus won the Lightweight title on a TKO stoppage. Chandler, after the stoppage, stood up to protest, causing one of the ringside aids to pull his stool away. Chandler went to sit back down to allow them to finish examining his ankle, only to land directly on his backside. Talk about insult to injury.
A rematch seems to be in the works, as Primus seemed to offer one, and Chandler demanded one. Primus has been getting heavy criticism for celebrating after the end, both because of Chandler’s injury and because Chandler almost knocked him out more than once after his ankle gave out. Chandler seemed to be fine after getting off of his feet for a few minutes, so he’s likely to be back in the saddle soon.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione
The co-main event was up next, as Matt Mitrione took on the returning GOAT Fedor Emilianenko. The DirecTV feed was marred by a brief interruption just as the fight began, but it seems only the high definition broadcast was interrupted.
At just over a minute into the first round, Emilianenko and Mitrione threw absolute haymakers and connected at the same time, knocking each other down. Mitrione recovered and pounced on Fedor, forcing Dan Miragliotta to stop the fight. Fedor remained on his stool until the decision was announced, being tended to be doctors. Mitrione’s post fight interview was another rollercoaster, as he went from requesting a round of applause for Fedor to calling out the Golden State Warriors for not going to the White House to see President Donald Trump, to then calling for donations to be given to recently deceased UFC and boxing veteran Tim Hauge’s young son.
The crowd seemed dispondent, as even though Mitrione used to play for the New York Giants, Fedor got the loudest response from the crowd by far, and the air was sucked out of the room when the fight was stopped. It was at this point that Neiman Gracie and Dave Marfone had their fight, which had been rescheduled again. It was originally scheduled for the TV card, then was moved to after the PPV as a dark bout, but was then moved to the swing spot between main events as it would have been well after 1 A.M. in NYC by the time the show was over. Gracie submitted Marfone via Rear Naked Choke in the second round, with Royce Gracie watching from the front row.
Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva
The main event finally came, with Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva finally facing off after a long war of words. Sonnen came gunning for Silva immediately, taking Silva down for the first of many times in the three round fight. Overall, Sonnen dominated Silva on the ground, though Sliva did manage to trap Sonnen in multiple guillotine chokes, with Sonnen getting out of every choke in varying lengths of time. Tito Ortiz was cageside, screaming at Sonnen and giving Silva inaudible advice, leading the crowd to chant some choice profanities at Ortiz.
Sonnen claimed victory via unanimous decision, and cut a fantastic promo, calling out Fedor and getting shoved by Silva on his way out of the cage.
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) June 25, 2017
Fedor seemed to not take much offense to the call out, stating “We’re in different weight divisions” during the post show press conference. Fedor also stated that he wants to continue fighting, while Sonnen stated that he’d “never kick a guy when he’s down- I respect Fedor(…) That was my way of building him back up.”
All in all, it was worth the money and it drew a lot of new eyes to Bellator, but the card definitely didn’t go the way the Bellator brass and the MMA analysts thought it would.