On Friday night at the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, PA, Bellator MMA concluded their fall season with two tournament finals and a middleweight title fight. The televised part of the card on Spike TV kicked off with a featured welterweight matchup between Terry Etim and Patrick Cenoble. That fight and the Will Brooks and Alexander Sarnavskiy lightweight tournament finals battle were one-sided three round decisions with Etim and Brooks emerging with the wins. With his win Etim will probably get a shot at the next welterweight tournament, and Brooks now gets his shot at the title.
After the domination in the first two fights had the crowd restless – the co-main event welterweight tournament final between Rick Hawn and Ron Keslar got them fired back up. Hawn had already won the lightweight tournament for Bellator MMA, only to get submitted by then champion Michael Chandler in the second round of their title fight in January of this year.
Hawn had originally dropped to lightweight after his loss to Jay Hieron back in May of 2011. He had success at lightweight going 4-0 with 2 KOs until the Chandler fight. Despite the success decided to move back up to welterweight after his loss to Chandler. In the first round of this fight, especially in the opening two minutes it was not looking like a good decision for Hawn. Keslar is a big welterweight and he was just overpowering Hawn at the beginning of the fight.
Keslar came into the fight with a six fight win streak and it looked like he was going to add to it in the opening hairy seconds of the fight. He caught Hawn with a couple of uppercuts that had Hawn backing away. As he was getting set just before he reached the cage Keslar came forward and landed a nice knee to the body. It backed Hawn up into the cage and Keslar used it and the momentum to push Hawn down to the ground.
At first Keslar unleashed a flurry and landed some good shots and then settled in on top of Hawn in half-guard. He then methodically got him pinned against the cage and landed several left hands and elbows. They scrambled, and Keslar came out on top and raining down blows. Finally, Hawn was able to get back to his feet with three minutes left in the round. They were in a clinch and Keslar went to work landing several knees to the body. It looked very similar to the first two fights and it seemed like we were ending towards another one-sided affair. Keslar looked like he was too big for Hawn, who was able to punch his way out of the clinch.
With a little less than half of the first round left Hawn went to work with his boxing. In particular his jab. He is a member of Tristar Gym and had head coach Firas Zahabi in his corner for this fight. The Tristar team has some of the best jabs in MMA today and Hawn’s looked very good in this fight. Despite giving up three inches in both height and reach Hawn fought better from a distance than Keslar. He used his jab to control the rest of this fight and consistently get off first.
That is the simplistic version of what he did in this fight but that is just not my style. Time to get a little nerdy fight style because it was just not the jab. It was how he used it, and the way he mixed in lead right hands and left hooks to keep Keslar off-balance. Hawn would one time triple up on the jab. Then he would lead with a right uppercut, or a straight right. Other times it would be a right hook or an overhand, or one to the body. He used single jabs, double jabs and even the triple jabs. Then he would mix in some lead left hooks to the head and body. He would rarely throw a single strike, utilizing combinations to pick Keslar apart, but he added just enough to keep Keslar guessing. He was also throwing the jab while moving so it was constantly in Keslar’s face throughout the fight.
It was not just the hands but also his footwork and movement that helped Hawn control the fight and get the knockout. He used excellent footwork to get in and out, cutting angles, setting up his strikes and avoiding Keslar’s. He rarely moved in a straight line and he was able to slip inside of Keslar’s jab repeatedly to land his own strikes and effectively negate Keslar’s reach and height advantages. He also stayed very balanced and that allowed him to do things like throw jabs and other strikes while moving.
As the second round played out Keslar’s face got progressively redder. In particular his right eye was getting peppered by Hawn’s jab. By the end of the round the fight might have been even on the scorecards but Hawn had seized the momentum and control of this fight. Keslar had no answer for the jab and seemed to tire more than Hawn. The one time Keslar was able to get inside and initiate a clinch he could nothing more than land a couple of weak knees before the referee separated them due to lack of action. During the last-minute of the second round Keslar was punching like Mr. Anderson to Hawn’s Neo.
During the fight, commentator Jimmy Smith reminded us that Hawn had lost his one punch knockout power when he moved back up to welterweight. In the third round Hawn disposed that idea, slightly. Technically the KO came on one punch but it was set up by the barrage of punches Hawn had landed throughout the fight.
It was just thirty seconds into the third when Hawn caught Keslar flush with a hard step-in lead right hand that rocked him. Recognizing that Keslar was hurt, Hawn grabbed him by the neck with his left hand and started to pump right uppercuts. One two five seven eight nine ten – they blurred into Keslar’s face. Keslar tried to clinch up but Hawn broke away. They exchanged simultaneous jabs. Then Hawn feinted one, and threw one right behind the feint that just touched the chin. It was like the a laser targeting punch for him because the right hand followed it landing on the chin and rocking Keslar. Hawn landed another right that wobbled Keslar even more and Hawn just missed with a left. He then grabbed Keslar’s head again with his left hand and started blurring in more right uppercuts. This time a battered Keslar broke off the clinch and back against the cage. Hawn just picked his shots. Step-in right uppercut BANG! Left hook Boom! Jab jab jab Kerpow! Finally the right hand came crashing in Keslar crumbled backwards and the fight was over.
Hawn wins his second Bellator MMA tournament in a second weight class. He now will face Douglas Lima the winner of the last welterweight tournament for the vacated Bellator MMA welterweight title. That will be another exciting fight between two talented warriors.
In the main event middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko successively defended his title against Doug Marshall with a first round TKO. He did it with some nasty body work that was as fast an efficient as Earl Scheib back in the day. It was the violent end courtesy of strikes that we expected going into this fight.
Marshall brought 12 KO wins into this fight including one over heavyweight Lavar Johnson back in 2004. With knockout power in both hands and his Muay Thai style shorts there is little subtly and deception to what he wants to do. He earned his nickname of The Rhino by epitomizing the wading and trading style of fighting. He is almost feint proof because he will happily eat some of your punches to hit you. This leads to fairly predictable outcomes as he has been KO’d in 6 of his 7 losses.
While Shlemenko shares Marshall’s love of knocking out people, he has only been stopped once by strikes in his career and that was back in 2009. Since then has gone 18-1, the lone loss being a five round UD to Hector Lombard. Racking up 9 of his 29 career KO’s during that stretch. There was a little intrigue going into this fight as they both had fought Brett Cooper this year. Shlemenko taking a five round UD in September. While Marshall had knocked him out in the first round back in April.
The early part of the round was closely fought. Shlemenko was winning the round with his takedowns and the more effective striking. Marshall landed a couple of nice solid shots that Shlemenko was able to weather. With two minutes left in the round he went to work on Marshall’s body. He had landed a couple of punches, kicks and knees throughout the round but nothing like the onslaught he unleashed to close out the fight.
It started with a left knee and right knee combo at the 1:52 mark of the round. They came in the clinch and Shlemenko pushed Marshall back against the cage and landed a left hand to the body as the broke off the clinch. Then back into the clinch and left knee, right knee and left hand to the body. Marshall was absorbing the shots and targeting the head landing a couple of decent shots but nothing solid and a solid right uppercut in the clinch. This broke up the clinch and Shlemenko backed up then planted and landed another solid left to the body as Marshall was coming in.
Moments later Marshall landed a solid inside leg kick to Shlemenko’s right leg and countered with another thudding left to the body. Then he grabbed the back of Marshall’s neck with his left hand and BAM! Right to the body. Switched up and with his right hand around the neck Thud! Thud! left hands to the liver. Bang! Right knee. They grappled against the cage and right knee to the body right hand to the head. KaBoom! Marshall counters with an uncorked right uppercut that snapped Shlemenko’s head back. He covered and Marshall unloaded with a couple of more solid head shots. They were blocked but still had him rocking back and forth from their impact. They separated and BANG Shlemenko stepped forward with a perfectly timed and landed liver shot. Marshall was stepping in for another uppercut which left him wide open for the left hand to the body.
To his credit Marshall did not drop. There are a lot of fighters that would have from that shot, but Marshall is old school tough. He did visibly start to crouch over in pain but righted himself. Shlemenko did not give him a chance to recover and launched a kick to the body. They ended up again in the clinch against the cage and Shlemenko landed anotherr right left to the body with fifty-four seconds left in the round. It was sheer toughness that was keeping Marshall on his feet. Kerpow! another left to the body right hand to the head. Still Marshall refused to go down and a partially blocked left kick to the body from Shlemenko.
Marshall gamely launched a right head kick that just grazed Shlemenko’s head. He followed that up a clubbing right hand that was mostly forearm but did land on Shlemenko’s head. It was as he was throwing a left-hand uppercut that Shlemenko countered with a left-hand to the liver. Shlemenko got there quicker and Splatt! Marshall collapsed to the ground in pain and the fight was over.
It was an impressive performance by Shlemenko to retain his title and a great way to end an exciting season for Bellator MMA. He will defend it next against Brennan Ward who won this season’s middleweight tournament. Will Brooks will have to wait a little while before he gets his shot at lightweight title holder Eddie Alvarez who is busy with Michael Chandler next. While Douglas Lima and Rick Hawn will battle for the welterweight strap.
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