The Bellator MMA cage was in New York City on Friday where Madison Square Garden played host to Bellator 222: MacDonald vs. Gracie. The 18-fight card featured two title fights with one champion retaining his belt and another relinquishing his.
MacDonald established his jab in the opening round while Gracie targeted the legs of the Canadian with kicks. In the second round, the fight went to the ground for the first time. Gracie attempted to put MacDonald on his back but in the scramble that ensured MacDonald gained top position. He was able to connect with some hard elbows and easily won the round.
In the third frame, MacDonald's right hand was finding a home. Gracie made a desperate attempt to get the fight to the ground but ended up being put on his back. MacDonald postured and dove back into Gracie's guard with punches. Gracie made things interesting by sweeping MacDonald and briefly isolating an arm. MacDonald was able to get free and gain top control in the closing moments of the frame.
Gracie was able to take MacDonald down in both the fourth and fifth rounds, but MacDonald proved to be well prepared for any grappling exchanges. He found himself with Gracie on his back at one point and was mounted by Gracie in the final frame. MacDonald worked his way back to full guard and defended a heel hook attempt to end the fight. The judges scored the bout unanimously for MacDonald.
"I feel pretty good. It's such an honor to be able to compete in an arena like this in New York City. I truly feel blessed to come so far in career to be fighting for a world championship in Madison Square Garden," said MacDonald following his title defense.
With the win, MacDonald retained his title and advanced to the finals of the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix. He'll face former champion Douglas Lima next in a rematch with a big payday on the line. MacDonald defeated Lima by unanimous decision in January 2018 to capture the 170-pound belt.
"I'm looking forward to it because it was a close fight (the first time), and I'm not surprised to meet him in the finals. He's a true champion and a gentleman and it's an honor to compete with a guy like that," he said about the upcoming rematch with Lima.
Sonnen came out aggressive looking to get the karate specialist to the ground. Machida proved difficult to take down and nearly finished the fight in the opening frame. As Sonnen dipped his head to the left to throw a right hand, Machida jumped into the air with a flying knee that connected and sent Sonnen crashing to the canvas. Machida followed "The American Gangster" to the ground, sensing a finish. Sonnen held on and made it to the end of the round.
In the second frame, the same situation presented itself and Machida seized the opportunity. Sonnen tried to close the distance and dipped his head to the left and Machida dropped him with another flying knee. Machida didn't left Sonnen off the hook this time, though. He unleashed a flurry of punches until the referee had seen enough.
"I felt really good tonight," said Machida after the win. "I didn't expect Chael to make it (after the knee in the first round). He made it. He's really tough because I put my knee really strong but he took it really nice."
Following the loss, the 42-year old Sonnen announced his retirement from fighting. He made his professional debut in 1997 and amassed a 31-17-1 record in 22 years of competition.
"I've got one thing to say, I had a hell of a lot of fun. I had a good run. Scott Coker (Belletor president) gave me a five-fight deal. He let me honor all five fights and ladies and gentlemen, I'm walking out. I appreciate the memories and goodbye," said Sonnen to the New York crowd.
The bantamweight title was on the line to kick off the event's main card. Darrion Caldwell put his belt on the line in a rematch against Kyoji Horiguchi. The two previously fought on New Year's Even with Horiguchi defeating Caldwell by submission in the Japanese fight promotion Rizin.
Caldwell got off to a good start by quickly grounding the smaller opponent. From top position, Caldwell trapped an arm and delivered elbows to the head of Horiguchi. He won the opening frame with top control while inflicting damage.
In the second round, Caldwell was able to secure takedowns but did nothing from top position except maintain control. Horiguchi peppered Caldwell with short punches and elbows from the bottom. In the third frame, Horiguchi began stuffing Caldwell's takedown attempts. In the fourth round, Horiguchi secured a takedown in the closing seconds to potentially tip the round in his favor.
The final frame played out with Caldwell taking Horiguchi down like he had throughout the bout. Once on top, Caldwell only held position while Horiguchi worked off his back landing short punches and elbows. In the end, the judges scored the fight for Horiguchi and Bellator crowned a new 135-pounch champion. Horiguchi holds both the Bellator MMA and Rizen bantamweight titles.
"I do apologize for it being a lack of action fight," said Horiguchi after the win. "The plan was to conserve energy at the beginning and finish strong."
Dillon Danis, Conor McGregor's Jiu-Jitsu coach, improved his record to 2-0 with a first-round submission win over Max Humphrey in a catchweight bout. Danis dominated the fight with his superior grappling ability. He quickly took Humphrey down and took his back. He landed punches and hammer fists before locking on an armbar that forced Humphrey to tap out.
"I've said this before, I'm the f---ing best in the world. I've said that already, and I say it again. Let's see who gets in here and stops me," he said following his second career win.
Bellator 222 Fight Highlights
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Bellator 222 Full Results
- Rory MacDonald def. Neiman Gracie by unanimous decision (49-46, 48-47, 48-47)
- Lyoto Machida def. Chael Sonnen by TKO (knee and punches) at 0:22, R2
- Dillon Danis def. Max Humphrey by submission (armbar) at 4:28, R1
- Patrick Mix def. Ricky Bandejas by submission (rear-naked) choke, at 1:06, R1
- Juan Archuleta def. Eduardo Dantas by KO (punch) at 4:59, R2
- Kyoji Horiguchi def. Darrion Caldwell by unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46)
- Brandon Polcare def. Brandon Medina by submission (guillotine choke) at 4:33, R1
- Kastriot Xhema def. Whitney Francois by TKO (punches) at 3:17, R2
- John Beneduce def. Kenny Rivera by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
- Taylor Turner def. Heather Hardy by TKO (punches) at 3:53, R1
- Ádám Borics def. Aaron Pico by KO (flying knee and punches) at 3:55, R2
- Valerie Loureda def. Larkyn Dasch by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
- Lindsey VanZandt def. Rena Kubota by submission (rear-naked choke) at 4:04, R1
- Haim Gozali def. Gustavo Wurlitzer by submission (triangle choke) at 4:02, R1
- Mike Kimbel def. Sebastian Ruiz by split decision (28-29, 30-27, 30-27)
- Robson Gracie, Jr. def. Oscar Vera by submission (armbar) at 3:15, R1
- Marcus Surin def. Nekruz Mirkhojaev by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-27, 29-27)
- Phil Hawes def. Michael Wilcox by TKO (doctor stoppage) at 5:00, R1