At worst, Bellator knows how to put on one hell of a show.
At best, the UFC has reason to be concerned.
Bellator Dynamite 1 featured a four-man, one-night light heavyweight tournament geared toward providing the promotion with its next title contender at 205 pounds. It certainly didn’t go as planned (or maybe it did, if you were convinced something had to go wrong), seeing as the tournament’s first winner, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, suffered an injury and could not continue on with the tournament. Still, there was something about watching Phil Davis find the sort of success rarely offered to him inside the Octagon. He may not be fighting the Anthony “Rumble” Johnsons and Ryan Baders of the MMA world, but it’s still entertaining to watch.
Then you move onto the main event, watching Liam McGeary’s star rise to new heights as a result of his first-round submission win over Tito Ortiz. The world may have wanted Ortiz, but they’ll be just fine watching McGeary defend his crown against a game “Mr. Wonderful” in the coming months.
Lest we forget the night’s biggest announcement: Fedor Emelianenko — arguably the greatest fighter in the history of the sport — once again decided to side with Scott Coker, leaving Dana White and the UFC hanging out to dry for the second time in the last six years. We’ll likely never know how serious of a contender the UFC was in the Fedor sweepstakes, but you can’t help but acknowledge what games he played in the process.
There were four finishes in the five main-card mixed martial arts bouts at the SAP Center in San Jose, but there were only four winners. Here’s how we ranked them:
4. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal
“King Mo” Lawal knew a shot at the light heavyweight champion’s crown was at the end of a four-man, one-night tournament. Having defeated Linton Vassell via unanimous decision in the first semifinal bout of the tournament, Lawal was halfway there.
But as is a staple concern to tournaments of this nature, injuries began to surface.
In the end, Lawal’s hampered body would afford him no opportunity for a title shot, forced to watch the tournament’s final round take place on a television screen instead of within the cage. Even then, it’s hard to imagine anybody could have defeated Phil Davis Saturday night. Maybe he’s better off injured backstage than out cold on center stage.
3. Josh Thomson
The San Jose native came into his Bellator debut against Mike Bronzoulis having lost four of his last five bouts. On paper, that might tell you Bellator snagged a past-his-prime 36-year-old lightweight.
Paper doesn’t quite tell it all in mixed martial arts, though.
You take a look at the first of those losses, a split-decision loss against then-Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. The second also came via split decision, this time against former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. And the third? You guessed it: a split-decision loss to Bobby Green. By nature, each of those split decisions could have easily gone in “The Punk’s” favor.
Based on all that, you probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see Thomson easily work his way past an unproven opponent in Bronzoulis.
What the future holds for Thomson is uncertain. He certainly has the skills to be one of, if not the, best in Bellator’s lightweight division, but his age and lack of victories inside the Bellator cage might derail what sort of potential he has in proving it against the man holding the lightweight title.
2. Liam McGeary
It’s hard to believe too many people expected anything different from Liam McGeary on Saturday night. He was the younger, more dynamic fighter facing a legend whose most recent legendary performance came about a decade ago.
This was a fight he was supposed to win. Not one to foil his own plans, he did just that: He won.
Even in moments of apparent despair, McGeary persevered. A takedown from Tito Ortiz leads to bad things for most, but not the champion — not during his first title defense. McGeary took advantage of an overeager Ortiz, wrapping one of his long limbs around his neck to scare all of Ortiz’s screaming fans for a long 10 seconds. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” escaped the guillotine attempt, only to nearly get submitted via armbar about two minutes later. That didn’t happen.
But just as the round came to a close, McGeary snuck his legs past Ortiz’s guard, locking in a triangle choke from the bottom. That did happen.
McGeary’s a dangerous fighter from just about every position available in the sport, which makes his next matchup all that more exciting.
1. Phil Davis
A change in scenery and suddenly Phil Davis is able to shed himself of that “on the cusp” status as a title contender in mixed martial arts. He’s nowhere near the cusp in Bellator. The cusp is gone. He’s a bonafide title contender at 205 pounds in the Bellator cage. That’s what he proved, at least, by defeating both Emmanuel Newton and Francis Carmont in the four-man (technically five, if you think about it), one-night tournament.
But we’re not just talking about sheer victories inside of a vacuum here; Davis took out the promotion’s former 205-pound champion with ease, forcing him down to the canvas multiple times before doing something that not even the current champion could do: He finished Newton. And he did it fairly quickly, too, forcing the unorthodox striker to tap out in just under five minutes.
Just as we thought the timid version of “Mr. Wonderful” — you know, the one who kind of just stood there against Anthony Johnson, Rashad Evans and Ryan Bader — had returned to rear his ugly head inside the Bellator cage, we saw him earn his first ever knockout victory. What a wonderful night for “Mr. Wonderful.”