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Bellator Dynamite 1: How Good is Liam McGeary?

Kristian Ibarra, Today's Knockout

If Liam McGeary was the UFC light heavyweight champion, we would be singing his praises as the best 205-pound fighter on the planet. There would be media dogpiles and fan expos, as McGeary paraded around with an efficacious grin and a gold plate wrapped around his shoulder.

But he isn’t in the UFC.

Bellator is definitely on the move and doing big things in MMA, but their roster doesn’t bolster the UFC’s talent. Each weight class typically features one big fish in a small pond. McGeary looks to be that guy as the reigning Bellator light heavyweight champion. That could obviously change with the recent acquisition of former UFC contender Phil Davis, but we’ll get to that later.

McGeary, the undefeated English champion, defended his title for the first time at Bellator Dynamite 1 on Saturday against UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz. It was the biggest fight in McGeary’s career against a 40-year-old fighter well past his prime.

Ortiz looked fairly decent on the feet early in the first round, effectively pawing on the outside with a jab before moving in and securing a takedown.

McGeary has the makeup of a physical specimen at light heavyweight. He has a similar build to former UFC champion Jon Jones, but his overall skills aren’t nearly as bountiful or technical. For all of his physical attributes, McGeary is primarily a ground wizard with decent striking. He doesn’t mind being taken down because the brunt of his confidence lies in his submission game.

The John-Danaher taught Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt’s submission skills in MMA are sublime. He is apt in tying seasoned veterans into pretzels and forcing them to cry uncle, which is exactly what happened to Ortiz. The decision to put McGeary on his back led to the legendary fighter being submitted by an inverted triangle choke.

An inverted triangle from bottom in MMA is so rare that some folks like to consider it the “million dollar” submission. We know it’s out there, but most of us have never actually seen it. Ortiz tapped almost immediately when the submission was applied.

McGeary, who turns 33 in October, is a talented fighter who will only get better as he continues to get more experience competing against tougher opposition. However, there are foreseeable bumps in the road for the BJJ trickster.

In his fight with former Bellator champ Emmanuel Newton, McGeary struggled to keep the fight standing. He was put on his back at least once in all five rounds, but his ability to keep Newton in a defensive shell with his aggressive guard game convinced all three judges to grant him a close decision.

Solely relying on a good guard game is dangerous in MMA, especially when you start competing against upper-echelon talent. Styles make fights in combat sports, and McGeary’s kryptonite would likely be a competent striker with good wrestling and submission defense. UFC stars Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson would be significant favorites over McGeary at this point.

On the Bellator end, Davis looks like a key candidate to dethrone McGeary. His Bellator debut couldn’t have gone any smoother, as he soundly defeated Newton and Francis Carmont on the same night.

The former NCAA Division I wrestling champion would likely have no problems taking McGeary to the ground, and his hardened submission defense would make him tough to entangle. It has been a pretzel-free zone thus far in the career of “Mr. Wonderful,” who has successfully dealt with the likes of Lyoto Machida, Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and BJJ phenom Vinny Magalhães.

McGeary is a great talent, but he also looks like an unfinished product. We’re going to learn a lot about the King’s Lynn native when he defends his title against Davis, a legitimate top-10 light heavyweight talent.

We’ll soon see if the learning curve is too steep.

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