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SWFight.com Presents “Event Reflection”: Bellator 97

The heavily anticipated Bellator 97 event concluded Wednesday night in the Santa Ana Star Center and for fans tuning in at home as well as those in attendance, the event delivered an assortment of MMA excitement; from submissions to knockouts, from close decisions to huge announcements. The near-packed house in Rio Rancho saw titles being defended and title contenders being announced while Bellator MMA also announced their return to New Mexico in October.

The big story from the event easily is the title defense of Michael Chandler in a fight that saw Chandler absolutely destroy fan favorite David Rickels in under one minute. Chandler absorbed all the offense Rickels threw out in the opening seconds only to fold him with a powerful right hand. Rickels would bounce back up but Chandler had no intention of allowing recovery, swarming Rickels with more right hands until he had him on the ground raining down punches forcing a referee stoppage.

While the opposition may be thin for Chandler under the Bellator banner, the win certainly livens the debate as to whether Chandler is amongst the top five Lightweights in the sport and whether or not he should be held in the same regard as UFC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson. Here are some more tidbits from the event:

  • The first ever Bellator MMA PPV was announced inside the cage Wednesday night with a surprise visit from Tito Ortiz. Ortiz received a huge pop from the crowd and drew some heavy interest from people inside the arena. While many point out that Ortiz is washed up and his opponent, Rampage Jackson is also past his prime; the Bellator staff really created some buzz with their handling of the announcement. They even had Roy Jones Jr. cageside, which was the rumored opponent for Jackson heading into the event.
  • Ben Askren is on a whole different level then 95% of Welterweights in the world when it comes to grappling. Maybe his stand up is rudimentary and maybe his ground and pound isn’t the most savage. However, when it comes to getting the takedown and dominating position, I don’t think there is anyone who could do what he did to challenger Andrey Koreshkov in the manner that he did it. Askren moved from every possible position easily, landing whatever strikes he wanted and going for whatever submission he wanted.
  • The numbers from the bout are ridiculous. Askren landed nearly 300-punches to Koreshkov’s 3 punches. That is pure domination fight fans and their is no other way to spell it out. If it was a Jiu Jitsu match, Askren wins by 50-points and since it was a MMA fight the scorecards should the fight had seen a Judge’s Decision what have been won by a huge margin. 50-40 would’ve been possible and I don’t know that a fight, let alone a title fight has ever been so wide in disparity.
  • “King Mo” wasn’t as impressive as advertised. There wasn’t a highlight reel KO and the Mo we are used to seeing showed up against Jacob Noe. Did Mo dominate? Yes, in fact he did but he did it  in a very safe, methodical manner. He beat up Noe over the course of three rounds and earned his title shot; to which I am interested to see if he fights for the title first or pushes for his rematch with Emmanuel Newton.
  • Patricio Pitbull was a fantastic treat to watch for New Mexico fight fans. He was aggressive, methodical and lethal in his fight with Jared Downing. It seemed like each time Pitbull touched Downing, Downing went down. It was a display of power and precision as Pitbull took down a very tough foe.
  • The wrestlers of Bellator MMA succeeded well but not without some obstacles. Bubba Jenkins got more then he bargained for when the cage door closed and Mikey Barreras was latched to his neck. Barreras had four guillotine attempts in round one, a couple of which looked to have Jenkins in danger. Jenkins would slam Barreras repeatedly but the New Mexico native was not going to roll over. While Jenkins got the win, it was definitely his most difficult fight to date in his young career.
  • Shawn Bunch represents Olympic caliber wrestling. But he failed to impress in his bantamweight bout with local Russell Wilson. While Bunch displayed a technically sound array of takedowns, he had little else to offer which left loads to be desired should he want to really become a relevant MMA fighter.
  • On the flip side, Wilson representing Lovato Total Fitness impressed in defeat. He took the fight on less than a week’s notice and nearly beat Bunch. While Wilson could never get a rhythm going without being taken down in the first two rounds, he took the back of Bunch in the third and held it for several minutes. He threatened with chokes and punches and he very narrowly could have been awarded a 10-8 round which in all likelihood would’ve made for the fight to end in a Split Draw.
  • Hats off to FIT NHB’s Frank Baca who entered the Bellator tournament against a guy who went three hard rounds with UFC Champion Renan Barao. Anthony Leone had lineage in his training linked to B.J. Penn and that showed with his fight ending rear-naked choke. Baca however impressed in defeat, dropping Leone with a right hand in the opening round that looked as if it may finish the fight early.
  • Baca’s teammate Donald Sanchez has better results in his Bellator debut against Cliff Wright Jr. Despite the pressure and consistent grappling wizardry shown by Wright Jr., Sanchez landed everything from superman punches to spinning back-fists in his split decision victory. It was a close fight that could have gone either way but the hometown Sanchez did enough in the final frame to win two of three rounds on the scorecards.
  • The build-up for Adrian Cruz vs. Felipe Chavez was immense as they came from rival gyms and Chavez left Cruz’s home gym of Judgement MMA in favor of Mean 1 MMA. However, the fight didn’t live up to the anticipation of a firefight. Cruz dominated from start to end, with aggressive stand up and stifling ground work. Cruz showed his strength once again to be pressure and power, easily finding his way to favorable positions on a grounded Chavez until he pounded away earning the referee stoppage.
  • Cruz is in a very interesting position. At 5-0, he is one of the premier prospects in New Mexico and match making for Cruz going forward will be intriguing. Do they groom him up with a few more wins or do they pair him with a strong named opponent to put him on the fast track? He definitely has the talent and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in next seasons Bellator tournament.
  • The event was solid, it had a good amount of finishes (two decisions) and had some very newsworthy and buzz-worthy moments. From the announcement of the first PPV to Champions Askren and Chandler announcing themselves as the number one fighters in the world in their respective weight classes. Bellator has had two very successful events in New Mexico and it should be very interesting to see what they bring in October. They have set the bar high for New Mexico events and the end of 2013 should be an amazing end of year for local New Mexico fight fans.

About Phillip Lujan

Phillip Lujan is one of the lead contributors and a featured writer for SWFight.com. Specializing in MMA breakdowns and analysis, Phillip is considered the MMA aficionado on staff. With nearly ten years of experience in combat sports, gazing through the eyes perceptively as a fan and a cornerman and from fight manager to analyst. He can be reached on twitter at @KingStark24 or through email at marcello.lujan@gmail.com.