Wednesday, June 28, 2017

View From The Hawks Nest : Bellator NYC

View from The Hawks Nest
An event review from a fan's perspective
By Matthew “MMAHAWK” Hawkins






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On June 24th Bellator MMA traveled to New York City for the first time. On paper the event was loaded with something for every fight fan; prospects, current champions and a few of the most noticeable legends in fighting history. The event was so stacked even the Big Apple couldn't contain it to just one show. Instead, it was a double header event opening with the classic numbered show on Spike, Bellator 180, which lead into the PPV card, Bellator NYC. It would mark their second move into the pay per view market but the first under long-time promoter Scott Coker. Any fan of the sport that has watched for any decent amount of time knows that MMA events can be very unpredictable. When the lights go down, craziness can start to take place and on this night it sure did!

Before I get into a few of the event's highlights, I want to explain the general experience of attending it. First off, just like my trip to MSG for UFC 205 last year, for a long time combat sports fan there is something special about walking into the arena that so many huge boxing events have been held in the past. While several arenas across the country have some unique traits, the iconic look of the inside of Madison Square Garden is something every fan should get the chance to see. Since this a Bellator show, the first thing you notice upon entering is the huge fighter entrance ramp. To me, this is something that separates them from the current UFC events and really gives the impression you're in for not only a fighting event but witnessing a bit of a spectacle as well.

The overall feel of a Bellator event is different from any other promotions in the world. Just walking around the concourse prior to the show you see several booths set up for fan interaction. Whether it's measuring the power of your punch, having a photo taken in front of a blue screen for a souvenir, or meeting the real fighters at an autograph signing. The fans seemed to really enjoy these added features of the Bellator experience. On this night it would be Roy Nelson and Rory MacDonald taking over the concourse with a line that had to be cut off due to a number of people looking to get a photo with the Big County and Red King. The overall feeling of their events is similar to the old school feel when events like early King of the Cage and the original Indian reservation shows when fans and fighters often mingled together throughout the night. The friendly atmosphere and the fans accessibility to fighters is always is top notch at Bellator. On this night the star power was at record levels with more stars than I've ever seen in and around the arena at the same time.


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MMA Great Renzo Gracie 

Now for the MMA fans that know me or have seen some of my previous posts on forums like themmacommunity.com, you would’ve seen me mention most of the tickets I purchase are the cheapest ones that I can come by. Unfortunately, for events at MSG that really doesn't exist. While prices for this show still were only a quarter of the cost of the previously mentioned UFC 205 event, I still paid $150 for Chase bridge rafters seats. Now again, those that have seen previous articles or posts of mine also know I've been incredibly lucky to be at the right place at the right time. At countless events, I've managed to sit in seats 10 times the price I paid for my actual seat. So as we headed up the several levels of escalators and entered the Chase Bridge, another MMA miracle happened. As our group of six approached the usher, we asked if we could sit in the unnumbered bar's seating and enjoy a beer and some eats. Then, like Moses splitting the Red Sea, the words, “I can do much better than that” came out of his mouth. He reached into his pocket and handed us a new group of six tickets. Not only better seats, but directions on how to get down to our new view in roughly the $500 section! So now, not only would we be witnessing the action, we would now get to feel the atmosphere of the biggest event in Bellator history.

After the early prelims came to an end it was time to kick of the Spike TV portion of the event, Bellator 180. Unfortunately, and even a bit predictable, the main event would turn out to be a slow uneventful bout between Champion Phil Davis and newly signed free agent Ryan Bader. It was a rematch of a forgettable bout held in the UFC a few years prior. This time, the nod would go to Bader who was crowned the organization's new light heavyweight champion. So it was not the championship fight that was the show stealer but instead the debut of 20-0 female boxer Heather Hardy. She would be facing off with the always tough Alice Yauger in the opening bout of the card. The exciting bout exhibited heavy punches, lots of blood, tremendous heart, and a late third round TKO finish for the newcomer shortly after a clash of heads left a large cut over her right eye, the doctors were brought in to review the damage. A few moments after being cleared to continue, an energized Hardy swarmed her opponent against the cage landing several big punches that lead to referee Big John stopping the bout. A tremendous fight that may have given Hardy much-needed experience and adversity that will serve her well in her future.

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Heather Hardy Celebrating a victory at Bellator 180

Along with Hardy another young fighter also continued to move up the ladder. The undefeated Irish man James Gallagher continued early career domination. He disposed of a very dangerous striker in Chinzo Machida, the older but less experienced brother of Former UFC champion Lyoto. Early in the first round, Gallagher managed to get his opponent to the mat and quickly taking his back. From here he would land several strikes, eventually locking in a rear naked choke getting his bloody opponent to tap out in the first round. With his charisma, talent, and a large Irish following behind him, the future seems very bright for Gallagher.

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James Gallagher working towards the finish

It was now time to kick off the pay-per-view portion of the event, Bellator NYC.The card that would be featuring two title fights, kicked off with the much-anticipated bout between welterweight champion Douglas Lima defending against another recent acquisition in “The Monsoon” Lorenz Larkin. While the bout had its moments it fell short of the expectations. Lima used his surprising speed and power advantage to win a five round decision to retain his world title. A certain bout with fellow top welterweight Rory Macdonald seems to be next up for the dangerous striker.

In what would turn out to be the shocker of the evening, the much hyped and decorated wrestler and boxer Aaron Pico was set to make his debut as well as a name for himself in the MMA world. Unfortunately, he ran into the unappreciated fighter Zach Freeman, who after landing a devastating uppercut, followed Pico to the mat. From there he locked in a choke and 24 seconds later Freeman would be climbing the cage celebrating an incredible performance in front of a shocked New York audience. I look very much forward to seeing if Freeman can build on this momentum. I’m also curious if Pico can bounce back and deliver on his future potential.

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Zach Freeman lands a huge uppercut

After the Freeman upset it was time to move on to the second title fight. Defending champ and all around warrior Michael Chandler would face off with the undefeated challenger Brent Primus. This bout had fireworks written all over it. To the shrieks of the crowd, Chandler took a misstep backward severely damaging his ankle. Primus continued to attack as Chandler continued to fight back on one leg. It, however, became evident after a short time that the damage was too much as his ankle continued to fold under him. The doctor was called into the cage to evaluate the situation and despite Chandler’s plea to continue, the bout was disappointingly halted only one round into the five scheduled.

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It was now time for the fight that most came to see, the follow-up to a previously canceled bout between the legend Fedor Emelianenko and the heavy-handed Matt Mitrione. In my previous article, I explained my fandom for Fedor. The man has given me more nights of entertainment and brought my friends together to enjoy MMA more than any other fighter in 23 years of watching this sport. Tonight was no different. Unfortunately for us Fedor fans, tonight would end in brutal fashion for our hero. Shortly into round one, both fighters landed huge simultaneous right hands. The result sent both fighters down hard to the canvas. In the immediate aftermath, Mitrione was able to recover quicker than the legend and followed up with some brutal ground and pound that left Fedor flat in the center of the cage, a victim of a knockout. It was something I’d wished to not have to see happen in person, but fight fans know the heartbreak that can occur at any time, especially as fighters age. While the loss hurts, Matt is nothing but pure class. His post fight speech praised Emelianenko as well as asked fans to contribute to the son of Tim Hague, the former UFC fighter that died in a boxing ring the previous weekend. If I was to have to watch the potential career end of The Last Emperor, there are not many people in the fight game that could defeat him and make it bearable. One of them is Mitrione and I look forward to watching him fight and rooting for him in the future.

While hard to recover from the previous bout there was still two more fights to come. In a swing bout added to the main card after time got tight on the 180 portion of the night, the legendary Gracie family sent Neiman Gracie into the cage against Dave Marfone. After a few minutes trying to get Marfone to the mat, the jiu-jitsu ace secured his opponent’s back and successfully locked in a rear naked choke forcing his opponent to tap out. Perhaps a new Gracie is ready to move into the spotlight and carry the families’ torch.

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Dave Navarro performs the US national anthem 

After 13 bouts it was now time for the scheduled main event.

In the main event, we would see the return of the "The Axe Murderer" Wanderlei Silva facing off with Chael “The American Gangster” Sonnen. This fight is a grudge match from The Ultimate Fighter series when the two men coached against each other. The intrigue for me was the chance to watch Silva fight again for the first time in 4 years. As many of us fans knew, Sonnen’s wrestling style was a bad matchup for the wild striker. However, with Chael coming off of a performance where he was outwrestled and submitted by Tito Ortiz a few months prior in only a matter of minutes, there was hope for an exciting fight if Silva could avoid Chael’s ground game. Unfortunately, outside of a few moments that would not be the case and as a result we were given a classic Sonnen performance. To the disappointment of the crowd, nowadays that is, pretty much, to hold his opponent down, sit in their guard and throw an occasional punch or elbow. It appears if there’s to be an entertaining Sonnen fight in 2017 he needs to be on the losing end. That seemed to be the case in the 3rd round as many fans began to head for the gate before the final bell. In the end, Sonnen won a unanimous decision and the fight ended the night a bit anti-climatically. Even though I'm all for fighters making money and I really enjoy the entire Bellator experience each and every time, when it comes to Chael he’s simply grown old to this fan. He is no longer entertaining enough in the cage to warrant listening to all of his nonsense out of it. As for Bellator the promotion, hopefully, shows like this continue the positive momentum they've gained and continue to help build the great sport of MMA.

All photos by Matthew Hawkins