By 5pm CST, the arena stood at half-full. While the newcomer may notice nothing noteworthy of the audience and time combo, for those who have seen near empty arenas in Las Vegas up until mere minutes before the main card of any professional combat sport, something special was already forming. To those who had followed Legends and Locals alike, the level of energy as the clock tolled five bells was unusually high. Settling into media row, I knew that I had been fortunate to have been chosen to experience this event. At times, it can seem that the Universe, itself, can lay waste to the greatest of plans and erase the hours spent on meticulous detail as if to snicker at our futile attempts to establish order amidst the chaos. But on this day, the MMA Gods had vowed that Bushido was the ruling religion for the night, and I had been granted a front row seat at history in the making.
The press conference two days prior had been light and jovial. Even the stoic Fedor managed to crack a smile at times. And, aside from the brash youth of Dillon Danis, all of the fighters had remained both respectful and well spoken. It was clear that Bellator 198 was going to be fought not just with athletes, but with highly intelligent martial artists.
The preliminary card began with very little spectacle. Two men walked quietly to the cage and started fighting. The first two bouts of the evening went the distance.
R’Mandel Cameron def. P.J. Caligas via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Asef Askar and Andrew Johnson walked away with a majority draw
Then, just as a faint echo of grumbling could be heard bouncing around the arena walls, lightning struck.
Joey Diehl def. Nate Williams via triangle choke submission at 0:54 of the first round.
Eric Wisely def. Morgan Sickinger via armbar submission at 1:12 of R1
Mark Stoddard submits Dan Stittgen via triangle choke at 4:43 of R1
After 3 quick submissions, the remaining fights on the undercard went nicely with the lone exception of the leak in the Heavy Weight’s gas tank.
Adil Benjilany def. Corey Jackson via unanimous decision
Robert Morrow def. Adam Maciejewski via unanimous decision
Sultan Umar def. Tom Angeloff via unanimous decision
The grumble demons momentarily attempted to ruin everyone’s good time, but The MMA Gods stopped the grumbling cold by blessing James Bennet.
James Bennet scores a first round TKO over Dustin Stusse
The music seemed to get a little louder, the lights seemed to shine a little brighter. There was commotion in and around the cage. Mauro Ranallo and Big John were staring into what looked like two bright white stars (I hope their insurance has a vision plan… JEEZ!!). The Bellator ring girls were walking back and forth on the catwalk, stopping momentarily to pose, followed by a brief conversation with the cameraman, then repeat back to the catwalk. I knew it was here. The main card was about to begin and the chatter in the crowd was electric.
Dillon Danis walked to the ring with the same confidence and swagger that he had held all week in press conferences and interviews. Danis submitted Walker in the first round just as he predicted, however, it was far from a flawless performance. Walker, a 2-4 journeyman going into the fight, managed to land some heavy rights upstairs. In the post-fight press conference, Danis said the shots did not bother him and went on to proclaim that “any other jujitsu fighter would have crumbled under those shots.” I’m not sure if he was trying to say that he is tougher than everyone else who practices jujitsu, or that jujitsu fighters usually cannot take a punch, or something else altogether. It is difficult to get into the mind of a child so new to the game. His jujitsu is definitely amazing. However, I think that by calling out Ben Askren after his first MMA win in a match were a journeyman put a look of caution in his eyes with a right hand, he gained more laughs than respect. Perhaps Danis doesn’t care what his fans think and just wants to rule the division with his jujitsu prowess. Having been overheard at the post fight press conference saying, “I’m tired of answering their stupid f*cking questions” in a reply to Jon Kavanaugh, who had simply asked him if he was ready to go, I quite imagine that it is going to be a long and torturous career in a sport filled with fans and the media. Fight 1??
Dillon Danis def. Kyle Walker via toehold submission at 1:38 of R1
Javier Torres showed some decent ground defense in round one. But, it was soon evident that the jujitsu of Neiman Gracie was just too much for him this night.
Neiman Gracie def. Javier Torres via arm triangle submission at 3:18 of R2
Gerald Harris came into the bout with Rafael Lovato Jr. as a late replacement. Earlier in the week he had joked about lying on his couch eating donuts when his phone rang with an offer from Bellator. Harris came into the fight with a clear and determined mind and was looking to make this the first step toward reigniting his career. Rafael had other plans. In just a little over a minute, Rafael had transitioned quickly and smoothly into an armbar forcing Harris to tap.
Rafael Lovato Jr. def. Gerald Harris via submission (armbar) at 1:11 of R1
Emmanuel Sanchez vs Sam Sicilia was billed as a war. When the fight started, they both came out ready to prove that they would be the best fight of the night. It was a burst of quick action, then Sanchez caught Sicilia in a standing side choke. Sicilia attempted to struggle and escape, but it was in too tight.
Emmanuel Sanchez def. Sam Sicilia via submission (arm triangle) at 3:52 of R1
The Main Event
The arena was equally deafening for both Mir and Fedor. The crowd booed neither at any point. All the noise was positive. The energy was positive. The fighters had both been positive all week! Two legends, both considered to be “thinkers” and “true martial artists” by the die-hard fans. I had never felt this much positive energy at a professional fight. Something special was about to happen, and everyone sensed it. The fighters were greeted with more cheers and applause as they were announced to the crowd at Allstate Arena just outside of Chicago. Then it began…
Boom! Mir seemed to catch Fedor early and attempted to pressure him against the cage and continue to work his striking. Fedor hooked a modified whizzer and tossed Mir into the air and onto his back with a text-book-perfect Sambo style hip toss. They quickly get back to their feet. The crowd is screaming! Fedor clips Mir and then follows up with a short uppercut. Mir drops down and Fedor immediately pounces to the side of his back and continues to rain down heavy shots onto Mir and slips in some vicious shots between Mir’s arms on the ground. The ref waves his arms and Fedor stands up stoic and calm. The building literally shook with the eruption of the crowd. History had been made. The MMA Gods had spoken. The Myth and Legend that is Fedor will live on and move forward in the Bellator Tournament. Fedor. Fedor. Fedor is back.
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