Englishman Liam McGeary (10-0) kept his professional record unblemished, capping off a successful “British Invasion” and claiming the Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight title with a five-round decision win over former champion Emanuel Newton (25-8-1).
The contest served as the headlining bout of Friday’s “Bellator MMA: British Invasion” event at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
McGeary attacked from the start, as he used his lanky frame and incredible grappling to move from submission attempt to submission attempt in entertaining fashion. From triangle choke to kimura to armbar, McGeary was constantly on the move, but Newton showed capable defense and pulled free from each hold.
Despite the obvious danger on the ground, Newton continued to take the fight to the floor in the second round, working from his opponent’s extremely active guard. Once again, McGeary’s submission attempts were relentless, but Newton pulled free from each hold.
The remainder of the fight played out in similar fashion, with Newton able to take the fight to the floor with ease but forced to defend constant grappling attacks from McGeary. Both fighters could make arguments for the win, with Newton enjoying extended stretches in the dominant position. However, McGeary’s constant offense set the tone for the action. In the end, judges sided with McGeary, awarding him the win with scores of 48-46, 48-47 and 48-47.
McGeary remains perfect through the first 10 fights of his career.
Meanwhile, Newton sees a seven-fight winning streak come to an end.
“It was a close fight,” Newton said. “I was on the ground. I didn’t stop hitting and moving with triangle hits. That guy is so slippery and tough.”
In the night’s co-feature, light heavyweight contender Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (15-4) moved up to the heavyweight division and earned an impressive decision win over Cheick Kongo (22-10-2).
Facing a massive size differential, Lawal turned to his wrestling base rather than try and trade with the bigger man. The plan worked, as Lawal controlled the action in the clinch and racked up points with takedowns. While the crowd tried to entice Lawal to take a more risky approach, “King Mo” remained disciplined in his approach and cruised to what looked like a clear-cut decision win, though he had to settle for a split result, 30-27, 28-29 and 29-28.
“I don’t agree with the split decision at all,” Lawal said after the fight. “I won all three rounds. He knows he lost that fight. I got the victory and that’s all that matters. Wrestling works and it showed in this fight.
“I have a great coaching staff at American Top Team. I could’ve gone another two rounds. At the end of the third round, I knew he was gassed, so I just walked him off. I hope to get the chance to fight for a title next.”
In welterweight action, Brazilian veteran Andre “Chatuba” Santos (37-10) proved himself a game opponent against Paul “Semtex” Daley (36-13-2), but the British slugger ultimately cruised to a decision win.
In typical Daley fashion, he fired heavy punches on the feet, looking for the knockout. However, Santos proved resilient, answering with strikes of his own while also looking to work from the clinch. The action went back and forth for the opening two rounds before Daley took over in the third.
An early Daley knockdown set the tone for the final frame, and Daley worked hard for the finish. Santos, however, simply wouldn’t quit, and despite being dominated in the final round, he did survive until the final bell, where Daley was awarded a decision win.
“It feels good to be back in MMA; I was a little rusty,” Daley, who had been focusing on his kickboxing career, admitted after the win. “This guy was so tough. I caught him with heavy, wild shots, and normally I would’ve taken my opponent out in the second or third round, but he didn’t quit; he has a ton of heart. It was a great fight.”
Fighting for the first time since a failed bid for the Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight World Title, Linton “The Swarm” Vassell (15-4) scored a second-round TKO over Rameau “The African Assassin” Sokoudjou (16-13).
Vassell controlled the action from the start, taking Sokoudjou to the floor and scoring with ground-and-pound blows while hunting out opportunities to end the fight with a submission. That opening would come in the second round.
Again working hard to take the fight to the floor, Vassell refused to give Sokoudjou any room to work, scoring top position and utilizing superior grappling skills. Sokoudjou was unable to get back to his feet, and Vassell eventually unleashed a flurry of strikes that earned the stoppage at the 3:18 mark of the second.
“I wanted to finish him in the first round,” Vassell said after the win. “He held my arms and stopped me from taking him down.
“It feels great representing my country and to come here and fight in front of all the American fans is a great honor.”
In the night’s first main-card contest, welterweight Brennan “The Irish Bad Boy” Ward (10-3) made quick work of “Courteous” Curtis Millender (7-1), needing just 64 seconds to score a submission win.
The two went toe-to-toe on the feet to open, and it appeared Millender was getting the best of the initial exchanges. But after coming up short on a takedown, Ward scored a crisp two-punch combination that sent his opponent to the floor. Ward took advantage of the opening, hopping on his opponent’s back and sinking in a rear-naked choke, ending the fight at the 1:37 mark of the first round.
“You know me, man,” Ward said after the quick win. “I come straight at guys like always.”
In bouts shown on Spike TV, around the world on Spike.com, hometown fighters did not disappoint here at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT as Blair Tugman (North Haven), Matt Bessette (Hartford) and Dean Hancock (Danbury) all won their bouts in impressive fashion.
Tugman (7-5) started off the night with a dominating performance over Marvin Maldonado (2-4) of Latham, N.Y, scored 30-26, 30-27 twice, all in favor of Tugman.
“Felt great to get another win in Bellator against a tough opponent in Marvin,” said Tugman. “I was excited to fight in front of my home crowd. I have a great coach (Andrew Calandrelli) and training partners at Ultimate MMA Training Center in North Haven, CT. And was confident that if I implemented my game plan I would come out with the victory. I’m upset I didn’t finish Marvin but he’s a tough guy to finish. I hope my dominant performance shows Bellator I am ready for bigger fights.
Bessette (14-6), who was able to break free of Josh Laberge’s (9-5) attack by striking him with power punches and stuns to the jaw. “Everything went right tonight, I won,” said an ecstatic Bessette.” I was able to throw my power shots and did to him what he does to other people.
“I got the win, which is the most important thing. Josh [Laberge] gave me an awesome fight and I couldn’t be happier.”
In a swing bout, Hancock looked poised in his professional debut against Mike Mangan (0-3), despite early jitters. “It felt great coming out of the cage, the first few seconds were like a blur to me,” said Hancock. “Once I got my bearings I was able to go to work and do what I do best. It was a huge moment for me.
“I feel like I belong in Bellator, it was great to get my first professional win. I need to just keep moving forward.”
Also on tonight’s preliminary card
New York transplant Neiman Gracie did what Gracie’s do best: win via rear naked choke at 2:36 of round 1 over Massachusetts’s Bobby Flynn (4-3). With the win, Gracie keeps his unbeaten streak intact at 3-0.
Also from New York, Binghamton’s Tamdan McCrory (13-3) scored an armbar victory over Jason Butcher (8-2) at 1:06 of the first frame.
Emergency! Raphael Butler is now 9-1-1 after scoring a guillotine choke victory over Josh Diekmann (15-6) at 1:04 of round 1.