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Bellator 97: ‘Chandler vs. Rickels’ Main Card Rewind

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Bellator wrapped up their Summer series this past Wednesday night inside of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Santa Ana Star Center with two title fights, two tournament finals, and an exciting KO from Patricio Pitbull. It was another night of entertaining action from Bellator MMA on Spike TV.

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The TV card kicked off with an action filled fight from Pitbull (17-2) and Jared Downing (9-2). Credit first off has to go out to Downing for stepping up on three weeks notice to take on a lethal opponent like Pitbull. He also stepped into the cage to fight, he Pitbull in the center and started throwing down straight away. Downing was tough but got knocked down five times in the fight. Four times he bounced back up quickly. It was the fifth one early in the second round that stopped the fight. It was an another impressive win for Pitbull.

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The first tournament final fight was the heavyweights; Vitaly Minakov (11-0) taking on Ryan Martinez (10-2). This was a fight that was closer than it should have been and it was a direct testament to Martinez’s heart that this fight went into the third round. It was clear early in the fight that Minakov was a little sharper and cleaner with his techniques. You have to respect Martinez for continuing to throw until he was stopped via TKO in the third. He also had enough power to keep the fight interesting. Minakov was equally tough but a little more well rounded, and his slightly better cardio allowed him to control the fight before the stoppage. This included getting deducted a point in the second round for a knee to the nut sack. There was no warning, it did not look intentional, but none the less cost Minakov the second round. Fortunately that became a non-story when Minakov got the TKO win. He will now face fellow Russian and current champion Alexander Volkov (19-3) for the Bellator Heavyweight title during Season 9. That will be a war.

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Next up was a grudge match of sorts between Jacob Noe (12-2) and the dynamic King Mo Lawal (11-2) to determine who would get the next shot at the lightweight heavyweight belt. This fight was all about King Mo and his tribute to wrestling. Early in the fight, after an easy takedown for King Mo, Sean Wheelock informed us that he had, “worked extensively on his boxing with Jazzy Jeff Mayweather, uncle of Floyd Mayweather Jr. But, still, that wrestling base is phenomenal.” Jimmy Smith added that King Mo was also a, “Division 1 All-American at Oklahoma State University.” It was also the night that Spike TV debuted the PSA for Save Olympic Wrestling and King Mo wanted to highlight his wrestling for this fight. This is exactly what he did, he used his wrestling to win this fight via a third round TKO.

It made sense for him to use his wrestling. In a standup fight Noe is a real threat. He is a big light heavyweight and he has knockout power on his feet. On the ground King Mo was able to control him and the fight. He took Noe down at will and continued to punish him on the ground. Noe’s face started to show the effects of the blows from King Mo as the fight wore on. Noe was game and threw fists and elbows from the bottom but could not do any real damage. Meanwhile he continued to absorb a lot of punishment from King Mo until the end of the fight.

It was a brutally efficient and dominate victory for King Mo. He controlled the fight right from the start. There was never a moment that he was in any real trouble. He is an evolving MMA fighter and will be more dangerous as his stand up continues to improve. When that is combined with his strong wrestling base and he can control the fight and make sure it is fought where he has the advantage. King Mo now awaits the winner of the current light heavyweight champion Attila Vegh (29-4) and Emanuel Newton (21-7). You might remember Newton as the man who landed the spinning back fist that knocked out King Mo. You can bet King Mo remembers it.

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The first title fight of the night was champion Ben Askren (11-0) taking on the Russian welterweight challenger  Andrey Koreshkov (13-0). If you watched the the special on Spike TV from Bellator MMA on “The Russians,”  then you were probably excited about this fight. It looked like Koreshkov might be a legitimate threat to  .  That quickly went out the window when as Koreshkov was making his entrance and Wheelock and Smith  informed us that he did not bring any wrestlers into his camp. They quoted him as saying, “It is an MMA fight.”  That is a great line but it will get you put on your back against a wrestler on the level of Askren. That was  exactly what happened in this fight.

It is not like he can go out a find a couple of guys to emulate Askren. That is the big problem when you face him in the cage. What he does and how he does it, is so unique. He had Wheelock verbally tied up trying to keep up with and identify all the different holds and positions he created. The way he is almost constantly flowing and controlling the opponent at the same time is unlike anything any other fighter does on the ground. He is like a jazz be-bop wrestler. He has put in the hours in practice so he is ready for the chaotic improvisation that unfolds during the fight. He will try holds and positions other fighters cannot see.

It was clear early in the first round that Koreshkov was in a lot of trouble and his only hope was catching Askren before he could get a hold of him. Once Askren got his hands on Koreshkov the fight went to the ground and Koreshkov was just getting beat up. The fight went to the ground early in every single round. From there Askren dominated and there were boos from the crowd.

When it comes to the boos Askren does not care. He will continue to fight his fight. If you do not like his style I get that but the booing is confusing. He did not take down Koreshkov and just lay on top of him trying to lay and pray his way to the win. No, he was in constant state of perpetual motion. Koreshkov looked like he was unaware that this could ever happen inside of the cage to him. Essentially Askren mauled him into a fourth round for a TKO win and title defense.

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The last fight of the night featured the lightweight champion Michael Chandler (12-0) and tournament winner David Rickels (13-1) for the belt. Rickels had looked impressive in winning his way into this fight. He followed up two UD’s with a nice TKO win over Saad Awad. In the Awad fight he weathered an early onslaught from him and came back to get the stoppage. The champ, Chandler, is another one of those fighters that is special and operates at a different level. He is also a finisher with five wins by submission and another five via TKO/KO in twelve fights.

It was fortunate that Wheelock informed us that Rickels had spent much of his time working on his wrestling to prepare for this fight with Chandler. If they had waited until the fight we may never have learned that fact. Apparently while he was working his wrestling Chandler was improving his standup to a whole another level.

They came out to open the fight exchanging some punches and kicks. Rickels was doing a good job of circling and moving, not allowing Chandler to settle in. One thing that is clear is that Rickels is a much bigger lightweight but Chandler is lightining quick. His head movement was sharp and he did a good job of landing and getting out of danger. Then, when they merely forty seconds into the fight, when Rickels was circling to his right, Chandler moved with him snapping off two left jabs at the same time. Rickels planted and threw a left hook that clipped Chandler who threw a right hand that landed cleanly. It dropped Rickels to the canvas and Chandler followed up with a right uppercut as Rickels was trying to get to his feet. Then a flurry and seconds later Rickels is on his back. The ref moves in and Chandler nets the impressive first round TKO to retain his title.

It was a night with two dominant performances by the undefeated lightweight champion Michael Chandler and undefeated welterweight champion Ben Askren. They did it differently but they both looked scary for future contenders. It has been discussed that some fighters were dropping from welterweight to avoid the beast that is Askren. For those fighters like Rickels they found out tonight that there is an equally frightening monster waiting at lightweight for them in Chandler.

Article via Dwayne Wolff. Follow him on Twitter @DwayneWolff1

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