TWO legends delivered in Milan as Bellator continues to bludgeon its fight brand and roster into global prominence. It has been some year for the fight league, with developments aplenty, and the mixed martial arts brand leader, its president Scott Coker, told The Telegraph yesterday that 2019 has been a year of momentum and resonance.
On Saturday night, Melvin Manhoef and Alessio Sakara had delivered with devastating finishes in their respective contests on a night of passionate Milanese intensity as the Italian mixed martial arts and kickboxing community showed why there is a growing, knowledgeable base for the sport in that country.
Manhoef, in defeating Britain's Yannick Bahati, announced his retirement after twenty-five years in the sport but there is the sense that he could yet be coaxed back for one last foray with that technical, vicious and berserker style that has made the Dutchman one of the most popular fighters ever. If Bellator were to head to Amsterdam, or Copenhagen in 2020, for which there are plans, it would be a great sight to see Manhoef's raised knee dance to the cage once more.
Sakara, too, with his spiritual calling from ancient Rome as a fighter, and his service as a servant to modern Roman mixed martial arts, completed his part of the deal in poleaxing Canaan Grigsby with body, head shots (and a low blow), in a fast and visceral finish to delight the home crowd.
There was one other great legend of the sport present in Milan on Saturday night, namely Fedora Emelianenko, cornering Vadim Nemkov, one of his young proteges, having returned from Japan forty-eight hours earlier where he had been present at the announcement that the Russian heavyweight would meet mano a mano Quinton Rampage Jackson in a New Year extravaganza in Tokyo. Back to their old haunting ground, back to where it all began.
Coker, the president of Bellator, who had made the journey himself from Tokyo to Lombardy for the news conference and then Saturday's fight night, explained to The Telegraph yesterday that the fight league could not have wished for a year of greater development in 2019, from European growth, to the increased roster, to the success of the tournament format which is becoming part of the lifeblood of its annual schedule.
There are still major events to come this year, of course. Rory MacDonald re-matching Douglas Lima in the final of the Welterweight Grand Prix on October 26, events in Tel Aviv, London, and the return to Hawaii, where Ilima-Lei Macfarlane will defend her flyweight world title against the Briton Kate Jackson. In another women's classic, Cyborg Santos, newly-signed, is set to clash in a challenge for the featherweight belt against Julia Budd on January 25 at The Forum, Inglewood.
"It all started in Hawaii (in December 2018," reflected Coker, having taken a major fight league there for the first time in a decade, "That Hawaii event kind of kicked off the momentum for us for the year. We had an amazing year. We've had some great business and we’re set for another big year. I think some of it is luck, honestly."
"You never know what’s going to happen in fights, but we’ve had some great fights that have delivered for us. Hawaii was a special moment and from there we went bang, bang and bang. It’s going to be a great year in 2020.”
Japan, insisted Coker, which was the spiritual core of the modern form of MMA, and where he once worked within the incredibly popular K1 outfit, is always a return home. “It was unbelievable this week, Japan is a bucket list place. I was there in it’s heyday when the greatest mixed martial arts fighters fought in Japan. Between 1995 to 2005. It all started there. That was the Mecca. When we decided to do Fedor versus Rampage, I said we had to do it in Japan. This is Fedor’s last fight. He’s excited to be there, Rampage too. The Japanese fans are excited we’re coming. I’m excited for the Rizin vs Bellator fights.”
There has been an outpouring, moreover, from Bellator fighters wanting to be on that December 29 card. “You’d be surprised how many fighters come to me and say they want to fight in Japan. They love it there. It’s their bucket list item. We’re going to do as much as we can to keep our fighters fighting there. So far the relationship [aligning with RIZIN] has been good," added Coker. "We’ll continue the relationship.”
“As we expand into Asia, we’re talking Japan, Korea and China," added the fight league leader. "We’ll break into those regions eventually. Right now we have our hands full with the European series. We have our hands full with the US fights and we want to go to Latin America. Japan is a big step for us in the Asian market. We are super excited. You have no idea what it was like for me to be there personally. It was old school. Amazing.”
Full Bellator results in Milan.
Bellator 230: Carvalho vs. Nemkov Fight Card:
Vadim Nemkov (11-2) defeated Rafael Carvalho (16-4) via submission (rear-naked choke) at 3:56 of round two
Dragos Zubco (3-1) defeated Hesdy Gerges (0-2) via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Kirill Sidelnikov (12-6) defeated Domingos Barros (6-1) via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Walter Pugliesi (5-2) defeated Andrea Fusi (8-5) via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
Nicolo Solli (3-0) defeated Dan Cassell (4-4-1) via submission (triangle choke) at 3:15 of round one
Bellator Milan: Manhoef vs. Bahati Fight Card:
Melvin Manhoef (32-14-1, 2 NC) defeated Yannick Bahati (9-5, 1 NC) via KO (strikes) at 2:29 of round one
Alessio Sakara (24-13, 2 NC) defeated Canaan Grigsby (8-8) via TKO (strikes) at 0:23 of round one
Stefano Paterno (13-3-1) defeated Ashley Reece (8-2) vis unanimous decision (30-27, 29-27, 29-27)
Rafael Macedo (10-4, 1 NC) defeated Kane Mousah (12-3) via split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)
Bellator Kickboxing 12: Varga vs. Faustino Fight Card:
Gabriel Varga (18-6) defeated Cristian Faustino (31-12-2) via unanimous decision (50-45 x3) to retain Bellator Kickboxing featherweight title
Chingiz Allazov (60-3, 1 NC) defeated Sudsakorn Sor Klinmee (287-53-4) via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
Luca Cecchetti (24-5) defeated Alex Avogadro (46-6-3) via TKO (doctor stoppage) at 2:09 of round one
Shan Cangelosi (35-10-1) defeated Kevin Ross (33-12) via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Yuri Bessmertny (45-20-2) defeated Giuseppe De Domenico (51-10) via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Jade Jorand (1-0) defeated Silvia La Notte (66-18-4) via KO (kick) at 0:12 of round two
Endy Bonat (32-10-1) vs. Kebrom Neguse (33-2-2) ruled a majority draw (28-28, 28-28, 29-28)
Taras Hnatchuk (12-0-1) defeated Giacomo Licheri (7-1) via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
Luca Mameli (9-2) defeated Pawel Szymanski (15-14-2) via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)