The end of the year is quickly coming, and that only means one thing. Well, two things, if you count holiday shopping for you rabid MMA fans. Other than that, it also means end of the year awards, and what better place to start than with the company who just wrapped up their season not that long ago, Bellator FC!
2011 has been a huge year for Bellator, who have made waves across the fighting world as well as the business world when Viacom announced their investment into the promotion. Whenever I see Top 10 year-end lists, Bellator often gets unjustly stiffed, despite putting on consistently solid shows and building their stars from the ground up. The only course of action was giving them exactly what they deserve on this site, a countdown of their very own. So, let’s take a look at the top ten fights from “Bellator FC” in 2011!
10. Richard Hale VS Nik Fekete
MMA fans everywhere rememeber the amazing inverted triangle choke from when Toby Imada fought Jorge Masvidal. Who would have ever believed that the same stunning submission would happen twice in the same company, but with light-heavyweights? At Bellator 38, Fekete shot in for a takedown that proved to be his undoing, as Hale moved like a Yoga master, wrapping his legs around his opponent’s body and locking him into a tight triangle choke. Fekete did not last long, as he soon slumped to the floor unconscious, earning Hale the submission of the night, and possibly submission of the year in the sport.
Hit the jump for the rest of the top ten best fights from Bellator in 2011!
9. Eduardo Dantas VS Ed West
Bellator 55 continued the bantamweight tournament, as Eduardo Dantas met Ed West in Yuma, Arizona. This match would make anyone who is not a fan of “The little guys” change their mind. West and Dantas landed stiff shots from one end of the cage to the other, and even showing off some of their ground skills in the second round that would impress the most discerning fan.
After three extremely close rounds, Dantas took the decision, leading him towards the finals where he would eventually beat Alexis Vila at Bellator 59 to claim the top spot in the Bellator bantamweight division and earn a shot at the champ, Zack Makovsky. You can check out the highlights from this bout in the video above.
8. Patricky “Pitbull” Freire VS “Razor” Rob McCullough
It’s never easy doing anything in the shadow of your brother, take it from Patricky Pitbull. His brother, Patricio Pitbull, made a name for himself in season four of Bellator, and paved the way for Patricky to rock the boat. Leave it to Bellator to not make it easy for the dude, as his first fight in the company was at Bellator 36 against former WEC lightweight champion, “Razor” Rob McCullough.
The two fighters battled for three rounds, until the middle of the third when Patricky landed a demolishing knockout punch that crumbled McCullough. Patricky continued on in the tournament, knocking out Toby Imada with a picture-perfect flying knee, and losing to Michael Chandler in the finals. Since then, he has rebounded with another KO, this time at Bellator 59 against UFC veteran Kurt Pellegrino.
7. Marcin Held VS Phillipe Nover
Speaking of Bellator 59, “The Ultimate Fighter” season eight finalist, Phillipe Nover, made his Bellator debut against Polish lightweight, Marcin Held, in New Jersey for the season-finale. Held was defeated by Michael Chandler earlier in the year, and was not brought back to the company until months later for Nover to fight.
The pair of fighters put on a tremendous grappling display, utilizing so many leglock attempts that even a Japanese fighter would cheer wildly for the bout. The fight went the distance, leading to a controversial split decision victory for Held. Unfortunately, there is no video from this fight online at this time, so you will have to take my word for it.
6. Alexis Vila VS Joe Warren
From Bellator 51 in Canton, Ohio, Vila and Warren kicked off the Bantamweight Tournament Quarterfinals with a bang. Vila was undefeated leading up to his Bellator debut, and was thrown to the wolves against former featherweight champion Joe Warren, who decided to shift weight classes and become a champ in two divisions. It took only 64 seconds for Vila to prove that he could hang with the big boys, and dropped Warren out cold early in the first round, making for a stunning highlight-reel worthy knockout.
5. Waachiim Spiritwolf vs. Jaime Jara
At Bellator 35 in Lemoore, California, two veterans of the game met in the Bellator cage. Jaime Jara and Waachiim Spiritwolf went three rounds, leaving both men a bloody mess by the end of this affair. This could be the equivalent of the UFC’s Bonnar VS Griffin, a brawl between two fighters who are so full of heart that neither man’s body is willing to quit, even if they are being beaten senseless. There were no titles on the line, simply pride and the desire to say that they went the distance and never gave up, even when many others would have in that same position.
4. Jay Hieron VS Ben Askren
Jay Hieron is the king without a crown in MMA. Despite his great athleticism and awesome skills, Hieron has yet to wear a title around his waist since his IFL days in 2007. Hieron stringed together a seven-fight winning streak since his last loss in 2007 as he entered Bellator, and continued his winning ways leading him into the championship match against undefeated Ben Askren.
The see-saw match went a full-five rounds at Bellator 56 in Oklahoma, and ended with a highly controversial split-decision win in favor of the champ. Hieron was dejected and angry, but he is far from done chasing that belt, and ready for a rematch at a moments notice. Check out the fight above and let me know who you think really won that fight!
3. Brian Rogers VS Alexander Schlemenko
At Bellator 54, Alexander Schlemenko continued on his warpath towards the middleweight tournament finals against Brian Rogers. The Russian knockout artist had racked up nothing but wins since his loss to Hector Lombard back at Bellator 34, and wanted nothing more than to get revenge on the champ, but he had to first get through Rogers to make it into the finals.
Both men put their best muay thai skills on display, throwing serious leather and dropping some hurting bombs. In the end, Schlemenko decimated Rogers with a series of knockdowns that Rogers fought as hard as he could to resurrect himself from, but the Russian storm was too much for him. Schlemenko continued on to the finals against Vitor Vianna, who he won, and now awaits his second shot at the Bellator middleweight title.
2. Zak Jensen VS Neil Grove
This fight from Bellator 47 from Ontario, Canada, might hold the promotion’s record for craziest first round ever in a match. Former TUF alumni met the finalist from last year’s heavyweight tournament, Neil Grove, in his first fight back since losing to Cole Konrad. To say that fireworks were set off would be an understatement, as these two men fired off the heavy artillery from the start!
As soon as both men reached the middle of the cage, hard leather flew back and forth from these two head-hunters. It did not take long for one man to drop, but the fight did not end there, as Jensen nailed Grove with a wild punch that sent him on his knees. Grove recovered, and managed to toss Jensen on his back, eventually going for a leglock on his opponent. The most obvious defense to a leglock is to punch your opponent in the face, and that’s just what they both started to do. Grove soon gained the upper hand and managed to win a hard-earned TKO at two minutes into the first round.
Truly an incredible fight, so what match could top that?
1. Eddie Alvarez VS Michael Chandler
Eddie Alvarez was the Ace card up Bellator’s sleeve. The Philadelphia-native had not tasted defeat since he was submitted by Shinya Aoki way back in 2008, and he seemed unstoppable once he won the Bellator lightweight championship. Unfortunately for him, someone forgot to tell season four tournament winner, Michael Chandler.
Chandler quickly took control of the fight right out of the gate, chasing Alvarez around the cage and dropping him early with a grazing blow. The challenged dominated the champion for the first two rounds, until the light switch turned on for Alvarez who turned the tides in the third round. However, all that effort seemed to make Chandler try harder, who took the reins back from Alvarez, and finished him at 3:06 in the fourth round with a dramatic rear-naked choke finish. Bellator had a new lightweight champion, and possibly the greatest upset of the year in the sport.
The bar has been set high this year by Bellator, with no one sure just what to expect from them in 2012 now that Viacom has taken a serious interest in them. With Strikeforce on life support and the UFC busy with their own devices, the time for Bellator to strike and become the next big thing in the sport is near, and hopefully the promotion will get the respect that they have deserved for so long from the rest of the MMA world.