Sunday, November 3, 2013
Alvarez beats Chandler; regains title
By Josh Gross
Eddie Alvarez, top, defeated Mike Chandler to win the Bellator lightweight title.
It was different yet still great.
Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez renewed acquaintances Saturday in Long Beach, Calif., producing prodigious moments of mixed martial arts for the second time in two years.
Unlike their epic match in 2011, which Chandler won by rear naked choke on the fourth round to capture the Bellator title at 155 pounds, Alvarez lasted to the final bell, earning the belt back via split decision.
Judges at cageside saw it 48-47 twice for the repeat champion, with one dissenting opinion of the same score for Chandler. ESPN.com scored the fight for Alvarez 48-47, giving him Rounds 2, 3 and 5.
Both men were busted up after 25 minutes of hard, competitive fighting. There weren't the sort of dramatic swings the memorialized the first encounter, but it was nonetheless dramatic.
The slick lightweights moved well at the start, slipping and throwing punches. After mostly missing, action picked up in the second half of Round 1. Chandler worked to cut off the cage and score with right hands. Alvarez landed as well, until he was dumped down headfirst to the canvas and had to fend off a choke attempt.
The first response from fans came when Alvarez regained his feet at the close of the round. The 26-year-old challenger ate a series of jabs to start the second, but he scored with a solid counter left and began targeting an early-forming mouse under Chandler's left eye. An uppercut combined with a left hook put Chandler on the defensive, though a late takedown made things close.
Alvarez opened the third with a high kick and another pounding attack. The damage on Chandler's face was too clear to miss. Unlike the epic third round from 2011 in which he took unabated punishment for more than two minutes, Chandler was competitive. He also looked tired and sluggish, though that might have been a case of playing possum. Alvarez scored with left before being dumped again to the canvas.
A cageside California State Athletic Commission doctor checked Chandler between rounds, but there was nothing in his performance in the fourth that suggested the previously unbeaten face of Bellator was anywhere near done.
Chandler worked over his challenger for much of the period as fans begged for more.
Chandler's ground-and-pound opportunity came after he, again playing possum, bided his time along the fence before leaping forward with a jumping knee. The shot knocked Alvarez backward, and Chandler rolled him up into a takedown. Most of the damage came when Chandler trapped Alvarez's right arm and poured down punches and elbows.
Still, Alvarez pushed through to the fifth, which caused fans inside the Long Beach Arena to erupt.
The challenger and soon-to-be champion came out swinging punches. Neither fighter could have known how the judges had it, and in their 10th round, together they delivered.
Alvarez did well all night denying Chandler's wrestling. This paid off for him in the final round, as they mixed stand up and grappling sequences with intensity.
"I'm going to take zero credit for what happened tonight. It takes two people to put on a fight like that. Not just me. Me and Mike Chandler," said Alvarez. "The guy fights his a-- off. The heart of a lion."
"At the end of the fight, I didn't give a s-- who won. I was just happy to be a part of it."
Straus upsets Curran; wins title
Bjorn Rebney liked to say Pat Curran is the best featherweight in the world outside of Jose Aldo. He can't make that claim anymore.
It was Curran and the world versus Daniel Straus. And Straus won.
Daniel Straus, left, took the Bellator featherweight belt away from Pat Curran.
Fighting for Curran's Bellator featherweight championship belt, Straus, 29, was superior over 25 minutes, taking a unanimous decision: 49-45, 48-46, 48-46. ESPN.com scored the bout 49-45 for Straus.
Straus initiated most of the offense off the start, forcing himself on Curran, who was unable to counter or untie his challenger's strong grip throughout much of the 25-minute contest.
The southpaw challenger scored with his left hand early and, though not often, enough to dictate range and distance. Curran, a terrific athlete who won his past six for Bellator, including two title defenses this year, struggled with Straus' pressure.
That sort of attack shouldn't have come as a surprise to the 26-year-old from Crystal Lake, Ill. Straus is a noted grinder was knocked out by Curran in 2009, and they had trained together in the past.
"I can't go to that fight, examine that fight and try to fight him again off that fight," Straus said on Thursday. "I'll lose, again. Pat can't watch that fight, examine that fight and fight me again. He'll take the a-- whipping I got that night. We're both two different fighters from the time I first met. We've grown as people, we've grown as fighters."
Four years following their first contest, Straus, who learned how to fight by fighting, was well prepared to meet Curran.
"It really opened my eyes as to the sport," he said. "Since that fight, I've won 17 of 18 fights. I went on a two-year winning streak of 12 fights. That fight changed me because going into that fight I knew I could beat Pat. And I got beat. So I started taking this sport seriously."
Now training at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., Straus (22-4) shook off ring rust from a one-year absence that featured injuries and run-ins with the law, to dissect his way to the championship belt.
Saturday's marked Straus' sixth straight win, and the 18th victory in 19 fights since falling to Curran (19-5).
Straus relied heavily on his left hand, which hit its mark multiple times as he mixed in a variety of takedowns and suffocating top control.
Curran showed life in the second, moving well and landing kicks to the body. That was as good as it got for the deposed Bellator champion.
Straus righted the ship in the third round, despite an obviously illegal knee to the face while his knees were on the floor. That sequence from Curran elicited a point deduction from referee Jason Herzog. The hard-nosed wrestler showed no ill effects, landing a quick takedown after the restart.
The situation was perfect for Straus, a grinder at heart, heading into the fourth round. Down two rounds to one, down a point deduction, Curran needed something to shift momentum. He upped the aggression in the third, but that difference-maker he was looking for never came.
During the fifth and final period, Straus who went after Curran, landing a solid left hook that had the soon-to-be former champion reeling.
"It's a good feeling," said the soft-spoken new champion. "I worked really hard."
"I know the type of person I am: I'm a winner, I'm a fighter. Since day one I wanted to get a belt."
He might not have quieted doubters who don't see him as a top-10 light heavyweight, but he did enough to hush Lawal and his supporters after taking a unanimous decision to claim Bellator's interim light heavyweight title.
"I can't even describe the feeling that I have right now," Newton said. "I worked so hard for this."
Judges sitting cageside agreed on Newton, giving identical 48-46 scores. ESPN.com saw it for Lawal, giving the amateur wrestling world champion the first, fourth and fifth rounds for a 48-47 score.
Lawal, a decorated international wrestler, didn't wish to see a repeat of March, when Newton spun and unloaded a strike that put "King Mo" down in front of a stunned audience.
Newton, however, didn't make it easy for Lawal. Fighting in his hometown, Newton did what he does well: unorthodox striking that includes a multitude of vertigo-inducing techniques. Lawal was well prepared this time, dropping levels at the moment Newton turned his back.
In the second, Lawal (11-3) secured a takedown and top control, but only briefly. Newton's ability to stand after being put down saved him. Newton began doubling up his jab, and brought the right hand behind it, while Lawal appeared somewhat sluggish.
Lawal opened the third with a series of punches, though he was also frustrated and showed that on his face. Newton aimed to kick at the end of combinations, and he did this repeatedly. One to the body scored and hurt King Mo.
The fourth was tight. Lawal and Newton both scored and had their moments.
In the decisive fifth, Lawal opened with a short left hook. He scored on a counter right, and ducked under another spinning backfist attempt. Newton's face began to show damage, as he bled underneath his right eye.
Newton (22-7-1) responded to Lawal's aggression, and he connected with several rights before contending with Lawal's wrestling again.
The win sets Newton up to fight Bellator light heavyweight champion Atilla Vegh, who was forced to the sideline with an injury.
Richman stops Stepanyan in Round 1
In a featherweight attraction that opened the televised card, Mike Richman hit pay dirt against Akop Stepanyan, dropping the Russian to score a finish at 4:05 of Round 1.
With both fighters stepping into the cage off a loss during Bellator's latest 145-pound tournament, they were lined up for a showcase. Action was measured in first 120 seconds. Richman, a southpaw, danced with Stepanyan, and the pair tossed out mostly range-finding punches. Business picked up when Stepanyan (13-7) dropped a straight right to Richman's body and followed with a left hook. Richman responded with several short right hooks, eventually scoring a clipping shot that sent his foe backward.
Vying to become the third straight fighter from Russia to defeat Richman, Stepanyan stepped up and powered a right that sent Richman reeling. The American told himself he was not going to go down.
"I'm going down swinging," he said in the cage afterward.
Riggs revives career with win over Bronzoulis
Veteran Joe "Diesel" Riggs sought a new lease on his fighting life. He may or may not have gotten one after beating Mike Bronzoulis by unanimous decision to take the finals of "Fight Master," Bellator's reality TV series.
Riggs pockets $100,000 richer and knows a tournament opportunity is in front of him.
"It means everything to me," Riggs said. "It means taking care of my family."
Judges cageside tallied identical 30-27 totals. ESPN.com saw it the same.
The fight was that one-sided. Each period looked alike, as Riggs played the aggressor and controlled Bronzoulis (15-6-1) with takedowns, including a big slam in the third. On the floor, Riggs advanced to Bronzoulis's back several times, forcing his way into the position yet never coming close to finding a finish.
The contest was sloppy, yet Riggs (40-14), who won four times on the show to get this fight and struggled with an eye injury that delayed the contest two months, was clearly the superior mixed martial artist.