There is always drama, forever storylines emanating from the great hall in Manhattan that has housed fights for over one hundred years. It was no different last night when Bellator 222 housed another classic at Madison Square Garden replete with narratives which will resonate for the second half of the year.
Rory MacDonald had to dig deep to defeat Neiman Gracie and retain his welterweight crown in the headliner. He will now rematch Douglas Lima, whom he beat early last year to claim the 170lb belt, in the welterweight tournament final in the fall, a grand prix that has played out over the course of a year.
The Canadian thwarted the Brazilian’s submission attempts with great physicality, proving that he has more in the tank, after expressing doubts about “wanting to hurt” opponents after his last fight with Jon Fitch, just six weeks ago. MacDonald eased to a points victory over five hard fought rounds.
Chael Sonnen, now a fighter and commentator, and one of the sport’s biggest personalities, retired at the age of 42 after a long career, stopped by another fight sports legend in Lyoto Machida. He finished with a 31-17-1 record, and over the course of his last dozen fights, ten of his opponents had held UFC titles. His career was tainted, though, after he had tested positive for banned substances.
Indeed, the fluid Machida, who twice dropped Sonnen with knees as the American attempted the takedown, called for Bellator to take an event to Brazil, where Lima, Patricio Pitbull, champion at featherweight and lightweight, and himself would provide the fulcrum for a fine main card. “It would be very well received if Bellator took an event there,” Machida told me.
Conversely, Scott Coker, president of Bellator, announced as the events concluded that the great heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, of Russia, has signed a multi-fight deal and will end his career with the fight league.
There was drama as local fighter Heather Hardy suffered defeat to Taylor Turner, who gained top control on the ground and beat the former world boxing and kickboxing champion into a referee stoppage triumph. There was another demoralising defeat for Aaron Pico, much fancied but also much targeted, who dropped to 4-3 after being hurt by a knee to the chin in the second round against Adam Borics. But it was that sort of night.
Californian Juan Archuleta banjoed Brazilian Eduardo Dantas and moved to 18 straight fights undefeated and called for a title shot against Kyoji Horiguchi, who defeated Darrion Caldwell, and retained the Bellator bantamweight crown.
There was concern for Brazilian Dantas who was knocked out and landed heavily from Archuleta’s huge overhand right in the closing seconds of the second stanza.
There was also a notable victory for Dillon Danis, jiu jitsu savant and team-mate of Conor McGregor, who completed a trademark armour submission over Max Humphrey, to move to two fights undefeated. Danis had faced an enforced time away from the sport for his involvement in the post fight brawl between McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov’s teams in Las Vegas last October.
Women’s flyweights Valerie Loureda and Larkyn Dasch brought the house down with a toe-to-toe thriller with the former taekwondo fighter Loureda picking her opponent apart to win by a unanimous decision on the cards.
The Bellator fighting bandwagon now moves on to London and Wembley’s SSE Arena, with a huge card of nineteen fights, which will be spread across two broadcasters – Sky Sports and terrestrial Channel 5 – as the fight league continues to spread its wings in Europe.
“We are virtually doing two cards in one night, which I don’t believed has been done before,” president Coker told The Telegraph. “When I took over the running of Bellator four years ago, I looked down the roster and I thought I had 90 per cent to go to get it to be where I want it, and we are on the way now with established stars at the top, and so many rising stars coming through…
“But we still have so much work to do. We are ambitious and we will keep growing the brand and our roster of fighters.”
Bellator 222 results — MacDonald vs. Gracie Main Card:
Rory MacDonald (20-5-1) vs. Neiman Gracie (9-0) (49-46, 48-47, 48-47)
Lyoto Machida (26-8) defeated Chael Sonnen (30-17-1) via TKO (punches) at :22 of round two
Dillon Danis (2-0) defeated Max Humphrey (3-3) via submission (armbar) at 4:28 of round one
Patrick Mix (11-0) defeated Ricky Bandejas (11-3) via submission (rear-naked choke) at 1:06 of round one
Juan Archuleta (23-1) defeated Eduardo Dantas (21-7) via KO (punch) at 4:59 of round two
Kyoji Horiguchi (28-2) defeated Darrion Caldwell (13-3) via unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46)