A few observations from Bellator 44, which I attended live (and watched the replay on my couch – yes, I’m compulsive like that).
-Alexander Shlemenko throws spinning techniques (backfists and kicks) as if he gets paid by the volume. But if we didn’t know it from when he won the last middleweight tournament, Brett Cooper sure gave us a reminder: someone with crisp boxing is going to fire off faster straight punches and light him up. Cooper ultimately wasn’t that guy, but we’ll see who Bellator stacks the next middleweight tournament with.
-At first it was a huge letdown that Anthony Morrison failed to make weight (by 11.5 pounds!), but in the end Giedrius Karavackas and Sam Oropeza more than made up for it. The venue was packed with about 1,200 people, and about 1,100 of them were staunch Oropeza supporters complete with “Sammy-O” t-shirts. From the outset it seemed like the Pennsylvania-based fighter was going to wreck the Lithuanian judoka with his striking – and he very nearly did – but Karavackas rallied, and showed Oropeza the “judo business” like nobody’s business. And the beauty of his subsequent submission of the American, who was so thoroughly kicking his butt just minutes before, was how it rendered the cheering, rabid Oropeza fans mute with shock. Those are the kinds of comeback performances that make attending live shows worth it.
-Yes, Hector Lombard is tough and he’s got thrilling knockout power, but if Falaniko Vitale had simply zigged when he was supposed to zag, we’d all be talking now about how Lombard is the most boring fighter ever.
-With his high-level jiu-jitsu and explosive striking, I thought for sure that Patricky Freire was going to murder Michael Chandler. Boy, was I wrong. Chandler – using the same blueprint Frankie Edgar had laid out against BJ Penn – outworked and outwrestled him. It was clear the Brazilian was getting frustrated (nutshots notwithstanding), and by the final minutes of the bout, you knew Freire had no rabbits to pull from his hat. Chandler had done his homework. He deserved to win that tournament. And when he faces Eddie Alvarez, Alvarez is going to kill him.