HENRY’S TAKE: A look at Bellator 180 in New York City a few weeks removed from their biggest event ever

By Cole Henry, MMATorch contributor

Bellator 180/NYC started off and it was clear that no money was wasted on the arena setup. Bellator sometimes has a pro-wrestling feel, and the stage here lived up to that. The commentating crew consisted of Jimmy Smith and the debuting Mike Goldberg, which proved to be an interesting combination. Mike Goldberg seemed to comment a bit more on the action than he usually did in the UFC, but still did his usual stuff and overall, I think this combination will work for Bellator. They also had a sort of side panel that commented on the fights, consisting of Josh Thomson, Brendan Schaub, and Mauro Ranallo, which was very effective. Brendan Schaub has a real talent for this sort of thing, he’s funny, and knowledgeable on the sport, and I think that Bellator should continue using this trio in the future.

Bellator 180 marked just the second time that the company has put on a pay-per-view in its nearly ten-year history. The card was stacked with big name fighters, and a quite a few interesting match-ups, not to mention three title fights, and the debut of top MMA prospect Aaron Pico. We saw perhaps the greatest heavyweight ever, Fedor Emelienenko, plus we finally got to see the outcome of the long talked about Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen fight. We will get started at the bottom.

The Bellator 180 card that was featured on Spike TV featured three fights that could have easily been on the main card if this was a different Bellator show…

First off, we Heather Hardy against a very game opponent in Alice Yauger. Hardy is a former pro boxer, who sported an undefeated record (20-0) at the time of her transition to MMA. Hardy has an interesting story, involving a sexual assault that led her to pursue combat sports. Yauger is lesser known, but made it clear from the start that she was not intimidated by Hardy’s notable striking skills, even going as far as to say that she planned to stand up with her. The fight itself was a good one, with lots of action, and we saw Yauger live up to her pre-fight claim. She stood with Hardy through-out most of the fight until finally succumbing to punches late in the 3rd round. It was a gutsy showing by Yauger, but Hardy showed that she is very capable of applying her boxing in an MMA fight, and she also showed some good kicks and takedown defense. Hardy seems like she can be a star in this sport, and after her debut performance it will interesting to see if she can have the same success against higher-level opponents.

The Bellator 180 Spike card continued with a fight between two top Bellator prospects. That aside, the two seemed to have very little in common. Chinzo Machida is the older brother of former UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion, Lyoto Machida, and shares the same Karate style that his brother helped make famous. Chinzo is relatively new to the MMA scene, having had just a handful of fights (5-3), despite that fact that he is 40 years old. His opponent, James Gallagher, is a young Irish fighter, and teammate of Connor McGregor. At 20 years of age, he is half the age of Machida, but just as violent. The fight had quite a bit of hype, but it the end Gallagher made quick work of his much younger older opponent, submitting Machida early in the second round after dominating all the action. In Gallagher we have a young, yet highly developed prospect, who seems like he could be around for years to come. He announced shortly after the fight that he would be dropping down to 135, to eventually become a two-division champion.

The Spike TV portion of the show ended with a main event that we have seen before. Ryan Bader and Phil Davis both rose to fame on the UFC roster, and fought each other there, with Bader picking up a decision in a tedious fight. In the rematch, the stakes were a bit higher. Phil Davis was looking for his first defense of the Light-Heavyweight Championship, while Ryan Bader was looking to pick up a win in his debut, as well as his first world championship. The second fight was much like the first, and it never really got out of first gear. These two seem to have such similar skill sets that they cancel each other out. This will no doubt be a tough loss for Davis to swallow, and with how boring his two fights have been with Bader, he must be wondering what it will take to get a third one. Bader did just enough to win, and probably didn’t do much in making the UFC regret letting him go.

Next came the pay-per-view portion.

Douglas Lima and Lorenz Larkin was my pick for fight of the night. Lima has looked like a top welterweight with his recent wins over Paul Daley and Andrey Koreschkov, but Lorenz Larkin to me presented the stiffest test of his career. If I am being honest this fight didn’t quite live up to my expectations, as far as excitement goes, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Lima has a fantastic performance against a guy in Larkin that has really turned some heads recently. Lima defended the Bellator name here, with this win, making sure that Larkin didn’t win the belt immediately after jumping from the UFC. He proved that he is a legit top five fighter, and will have a chance to prove even more when he defends his title against Rory McDonald. For Larkin, this is just a setback, and one that I am sure he will come back from. A fight with Paul Daley or Michael Page could be interesting for him.

Up next, we had something that we rarely see in MMA. Aaron Pico was very highly regarded coming into this fight, despite having never competed in so much as a single MMA bout. I won’t jump ship now that he’s lost, because I certainly bought into the hype. Pico trains at American Kickboxing Academy, with some of the sports top stars, all who vouched for the 20-year-old, California native. We had some signs leading into this that Pico was perhaps a bit overconfident. He made some comments pre-fight alluding to the fact that he considered himself more of a boxer than a wrestler, which in and of itself isn’t bad…but we have a guy here who has never had a fight, already talking about how he isn’t going to use what should be his strongest tool. Now I don’t want to look to much into this, because pre-fight talk is usually anything but a truthful, and is often filled with antics, and statements of over-confidence. Enter Zack Freeman, the anti-hero here in our story.

Zack Freeman was a little known 8-2 pro, and experienced BJJ competitor, coming into this fight as an underdog. It is not common for an 8-2 fighter to face one who is debuting, but again, Aaron Pico is not a normal debuting fighter. The hype was huge, and many lesser experienced opponents supposedly turned the fight down. It is a risk that Freeman will always be glad that he took. As the fight started, Pico rushed in quickly, with his chin a bit high, and got clipped with an uppercut that sent him down to the mat. Freeman attacked the neck, locking in a guillotine choke that forced Pico to tap less than a minute into the fight. Afterwards, Freeman spoke about having faith, and has surely earned himself a big fight in the future. Pico, on the other hand, will return to the drawing board, and hopefully his next opponent will be somebody with experience closer to his own.

Michael Chandler has been fashioned as a face of Bellator, and his recent success has shown that to be a good decision on Bellators part. But this sport is full of ups and downs, and unforeseen obstacles, and the way that certain fighters recover or get through these obstacles is often what makes them great. Michael Chandler was a heavy favorite going into his fight against the relatively inexperienced Brent Primus, but alas he was felled by his Achilles heel…or his ankle at least. Chandler started the fight off strong, but his leg seemed to give early in the first round, and while he continued fighting, the fight was eventually stopped and Primus was declared the winner. Not much of a fight, but still an interesting sequence of events that will surely lead to a rematch between these two. Hard to say what the issue was with Chandlers ankle, but it cost him the lightweight championship, and Brent Primus is reaping the benefits.

Matt Mitrione is a guy who has never known anything but the bright lights of major MMA promotions. He started his career in the UFC, and fought there until making the switch over to Bellator. He was 2-0, with 2 knockouts coming into the biggest fight of his career here against all-time great Fedor Emelianenko. Fedor was making his Bellator debut, without the confidence of most due to a questionable performance against light-heavyweight Fabio Maldonado in Russia. The fight was quick, but brilliant. The two-collided early, both landing huge shots that sent both men crashing to the ground. Mitrione, younger and quicker, recovered faster and cracked a turtled Fedor with several shots before the ref stepped in, giving Mitrione the biggest win of his career. As a fan of Fedor, this is a tough thing to see, but it shows us once and for all that time waits for no man. It will be interesting to see what happens with Fedor in the future. As for Mitrione, I suspect, that he will be fighting for the Heavyweight Championship soon, perhaps against Roy Nelson.

Up next, they presented a swing bout between Neiman Gracie and Dave Marfone. Not much to say here, but it’s always interesting to see anybody using the Gracie name compete in MMA. Gracie won here with a submission, and remains undefeated. Bellator is really taking him along slowly, which is a good thing. It’s hard to say what he is capable of, but it is worth noting that he has encouraged his family to fight more, and has acknowledged the importance of striking.

The main event was the first, and hopefully last time that we ever see Chael Sonnen, and Wanderlei Silva fight each other in an MMA bout. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the worst fight, but it was clear from the start that Silva could not stop the takedown, and Sonnen clearly planned to take advantage. Silva caught Sonnen once, flooring him, but Sonnen recovered and eventually got Silva back down with a double leg. It wasn’t the most entertaining fight, but Silva was dominant, and if nothing else this win puts more has in his tank and keeps the engine running for a little while longer. This overall, I think was a good main event, with two big name fighters, who have only a handful of fights left at best. Sure, it wasn’t a barn burner, but we got a great Chael Sonnen promo to close the show, which is nothing but a great thing.

Overall, I think this was a good show. Several of the fights did not live up to expectations, which may affect how some people view this card, but the overall presentation, along with the commentary made this memorable show. Several notable events took place, with two titles changing hands, and the U.S return of Fedor, not to mention the emergence of James Gallagher as a legitimate threat in Bellators lighter weight classes. It wasn’t perfect, but it was by no means a bad show, and I would not hesitate to buy another if and when they decide to put one on.

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