Bellator 97 took place Wednesday night at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M., just outside of Albuquerque. It proved to be one of the biggest nights in the company's history.
Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler, and welterweight titleholder Ben Askren both successfully defended their belts, while Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal won the promotion’s abbreviated Summer Series Light Heavyweight Tournament final.
Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler has been nothing short of spectacular since claiming the belt from Eddie Alvarez in late 2011. He added his third defense of the belt on Wednesday night, which was perhaps his most impressive finish yet.
Chandler’s hand speed advantage over David Rickels was evident from the champion’s opening punch, and he didn’t give the challenger any time to adjust. He danced away from Rickels’ leg kick attempts and then dropped him twice in a matter of seconds.
The second knockdown put out the lights, Chandler making quick work of Rickels.
“I’m just blessed to keep getting better every single day,” said Chandler after the fight. “I love my job.”
Chandler will next defend the belt against Dave Jansen, who had to pull out of a planned challenge at Bellator 96 in June due to injury.
Welterweight champion Ben Askren has often been criticized for not being a finisher, but he has countered those claims in his last two outings, successfully defending his belt from the formerly undefeated Andrey Koreshkov.
Askren, as promised, employed his distinct wrestling style from the start, taking Koreshkov to the mat and aggressively working for submissions throughout the opening round.
In round two, he continued with the takedowns and positioning, but caught Koreshkov in a crucifix position, pummeling him with punches and elbows. He kept up the ground and pound assault, nearly finishing with a head and arm choke early in the fourth round, but finished the fight when he mounted Koreshkov and continued punching until the referee had no other choice but to stop the fight.
“Andrey said he’s never been broken,” Askren stated after the fight, before adding, “Well, snap, crackle, and pop!”
After falling in the semifinals of his first light heavyweight tournament, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal wouldn’t allow an upset in the shortened Summer Series tournament.
Lawal took the fight to Jacob Noe from the opening bell, constantly taking him to the mat and punishing him with his ground and pound attack. Noe never mounted much offense. Lawal kept him on the mat and punished him until finally finishing the fight with a flurry of punches to a battered and bloody Noe midway through the final round.
The victory earns Lawal a shot at the light heavyweight title, but champion Attila Veigh first has a defense lined up with Emmanuel Newton, the man who upset Lawal in the Season 8 tournament.
Vitaly Minakov kept his unblemished record intact, defeating Ryan Martinez in the heavyweight tournament final.
Martinez clocked Minakov several times in the fight, but the Russian kept a much higher pace, and controlled where the fight went the majority of the bout.
He wore on Martinez in the opening rounds, pressing him and the fence and tripping him to the mat, all the while catching him with knees and punches. Minakov took him down and eventually finished Martinez with a relentless barrage of punches late in the final round.
Minakov now moves on to face heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov later this fall.
Patricio “Pitbull” Freire failed to take the Bellator featherweight championship from Pat Curran earlier this year, but he made an impressive first step towards another title shot by taking care of Jared Downing on Wednesday night.
A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Pitbull used his powerful striking game to beat Downing to the punch throughout, dropping him several times in the second round before he scored the fight-ending TKO stoppage just 54 seconds into the frame.
It was a solid performance for Pitbull before he enters the Season 9 Featherweight Tournament.
Bellator 97 Results
Main Card Bouts:
-Michael Chandler def. David Rickels by KO at 0:44, R1
-Ben Askren def. Andrey Koreshkov by TKO (Strikes) at 2:58, R4
-Muhammed Lawal def. Jacob Noe by Verbal Submission (Strikes) at 2:51, R3
-Vitaly Minakov def. Ryan Martinez by TKO (Strikes) at 4:02, R3
-Patricio Freire def. Jared Downing by TKO (Strikes) at 0:54, R3
Preliminary Card Bouts:
-Bubba Jenkins def. Mike Barreras by TKO (Strikes) at 1:05, R2
-Anthony Leone def. Frank Baca by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 1:07, R3
-Rafael Silva def. Rodrigo Lima by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 2:03, R3
-Will Brooks def. Cris Leyva by TKO (Strikes) at 2:20, R3
-Jeremy Kimball def. Keith Berry by KO at 1:45, R2
-Shawn Bunch def. Russell Wilson by Split Decision
-Donald Sanchez def. Cliff Wright by Split Decision
-Adrian Cruz def. Felipe Chavez by TKO (Strikes), R2
-Javier Palacios def. Richard Jacques by Unanimous Decision