Brazilian Douglas Lima defeated Britain’s Michael Page with a brutal second round knockout here in the first semi-final of the Bellator welterweight tournament, the Londoner suffering his first loss in mixed martial arts.
In the main event, Patricio Pitbull became the featherweight-lightweight champion when he stopped Michael Chandler in 61 seconds, but the debate raged that the stoppage was premature.
There was little argument from the vanquished 155lb king Chandler, but there were questions over the Illinois Commission insisting on local referee Rob Madrigal taking charge of the bout, with far more experienced referees such as Mike Beltran sitting on the sidelines.
In a stand-off shoot-out between the pair, Pitbull pounced and landed to the back of the ear, Chandler fell, and the Brazilian went beserker with the defending lightweight champion taking unanswered shots. The crowd, and indeed social media, went into fierce debate. Experts in the arena were split. Was Chandler saved from more punishment ?
Or should the fight have gone on ? The truth most probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Pitbull is unlikely to defend the 155lb title as he will go into the Bellator featherweight tournament which begins in September. Two other featherweights on the card – AJ McKee and Tywan Claxton – also won, and look certainties to be in the 145lb tournament which will start in September.
But this will be a night remembered for Lima’s violently luxurious denouement. In the welterweight semi-final, the big Brazilian had been patient behind a high guard in the first round as Page danced as he knows, attacking from range and moving in and out with dexterity and fluidity.
Lima’s face was a study in concentration, and had hands on the Briton just after two minutes, taking him to the ground. But it was a beautiful dance to that point.
Once on the ground, there was little action, hands on wrists on hands on wrists, but Lima had taken control of the contest. Page survived any onslaught from the bottom, but Lima had blunted the form of the underdog.
When they came out for the second, Page seemed to have wobbled Lima with a right hand, and as he came in to press home an attack, the former welterweight champion chopped his foe to the floor with a leg kick to the crutch of the knee, spinning the Briton, buckling him.
As Page tried to regain his feet, Lima chopped with a short right hand which knocked his rival out cold. Down pounced Lima, landing two hammer fists as referee Beltran dove between them.
“I respect Michael Page, I just want to go on and get my belt back now,” said Lima, who will face the winner of either Rory MacDonald, the incumbent champion, and Neiman Gracie, who fight off in the second semi-final at Madison Square Garden, New York, on Friday June 14. The final is expected to take place in September.
“I made a mistake, I know I had Lima hurt [in the second round],” said Page. “I got reckless when he caught me with the leg kick, I got up and left myself open. I am fine, I move on and come back.”
Lima, meanwhile, removed any doubt in his mind that Page is “legitimate” at this level. Lima told me afterwards. “Man, let me tell you, he was hard to work out and I knew I needed to stay patient. I knew the opportunity would come and I took it.”
Overall, the events was replete with storylines, the Allstate Arena buzzing On a night of thrilling fights, with many of MMA’s legends in attendance, including Royce Gracie and Fedor Emelianenko, who joined Bellator president Scott Coker at cageside.
Earlier, McKee, the rising standout from Los Angeles, maintained an unbeaten 14-fight winning streak with a superb victory over the former Bellator 145lb champion Pat Curran.
Southpaw McKee dominated the 31-year-old in the opening stanza, aggressive with strikes and kicks, and although taken down in the second, showed the shift in generations in the sport. Curran had no answer to McKee’s fluid movement and attacks in the third round.
Speed, superior footwork and ambition made McKee, for me, a clear 30-27 winner. The judges had it 30-27, 30-27, and 30-26.
Elsewhere, former WWE star Jack Swagger, aka Jake Hager, moved to 2-0 in his MMA career with a submission of TJ Jones, a former professional boxer, in the opening round of their heavyweight bout.
Referee Beltran was unhappy that Swagger had held onto the choke for a few seconds afterwards.
“You have to make me stop to get the victory,” explained Hager. The crows booed the pro wrestler. He riled the audience. “You aren’t in here, you can boo me all you like. I don’t care.”Hager will come again. But so too, most likely, Jones, who wants to fight against soon and has earned a legion of followers this week, even though he returns to the meat-packing factory he works at, to support his six children between the ages of 3 and 9.
That’s fight sports for you. As real as it gets.