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|A quick, two-handed blitz proved to be the beginning of the end for David Rickels.|
Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler once more put his stamp on the division, this time by leaving several marks on David Rickel's face.
Capping Bellator 97 at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M., Chandler (12-0) needed only 44 seconds to validate a recently signed eight-fight contract and his status as the promotion's best fighter. Facing the larger challenger did nothing to deter Chandler from standing in the pocket and firing punches. The former University of Missouri wrestler opted to punch.
Chandler's speed and movement paid off when he slammed home a right hand that stunned Rickels. The champion pounced, unloading a series of rights that dropped Rickels (14-2) then moments later ended his night.
"You can't have fear out here," he said. "I train my butt off every single day. Why not come out here and lay it on the line? Nothing bad can happen if you train your butt off, you make the right decisions, you surround yourself with the right people. It's a phenonomal day."
The finish marked Chandler's second title defense of 2013. At the age of 27, having entered his fourth year as a professional mixed martial artist, Chandler, who trains in San Diego out of The Alliance under Eric Del Fiero, looks every bit a world class fighter. Situated at No. 5 in ESPN.com's lightweight rankings, Chandler is just one of two competitors listed not currently on the UFC roster. The other: Eddie Alvarez, whom Chandler stopped during a classic contest in 2011 to corral the Bellator title.
"I'm blessed to be getting better every day," Chandler said.
Results suggest this is the truth. As of yet, Chandler has shown no weaknesses in the cage. His next challenger will be veteran Dave Jansen, though few will give the challenger a chance to handle the champion.
Asked to deliver a message to his would-be foes, Chandler said, "I can't wait to step in the cage with any of you guys."
The question for Bellator: Can it find or produce challengers worthy of Chandler's talents?
In a clash of undefeated fighters, confident Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren stonewalled young Russian Andrey Koreshkov en route to one of the most lopsided victories of his career.
The fourth round stoppage, which came 2:59 into the period when referee Jason Herzog decided enough was enough, marked Askren's fourth title defense since defeating Lyman Good in 2010.
|Andrey Koreshkov mustered next to no defense against Ben Askren's wrestling.|
"Andrey said he's never been broken," Askren beamed afterward. "Well: snap, crackle and pop!"
The performance was so one-sided -- ESPN scored each of the first three rounds 10-8 for the 29-year-old American -- that Askren actually stopped fighting at one point, looked to the referee as he straddled Koreshkov and asked, "How many times do I gotta hit him until you stop it?"
The answer was a lot.
Early on it became clear that Koreshkov, a dangerous striker whose speed and length left the impression that, if he somehow found a way to stay off his back, could present problems for a hittable champion, was out of his league. Askren's unique grappling style and ability allowed him to swarm Koreshkov. Askren didn't ramp up the power but a constant flow of punches and transitions from one dominant postion to another wore on the 22-year-old challenger.
Askren, a former college teammate of Chandler's, had his fun. In the second round, sitting on Koreshkov's back, he postured up, looked through the cage to the crowd, and began chanting "USA! USA!" Then he proceeded to hit Koreshkov, smother the Russian more, look for armlocks and chokes. To Koreshkov's credit, he remain as composed as he could under the circumstances. But he wilted in time, and by the third period looked done.
The champion didn't have to work much to find a takedown at the start of the fourth, signaling that his work was just about done. From the mount, Askren looked for an arm-triangle choke. It didn't work, but it didn't have to. More punches followed, and soon enough Herzog took pity on Koreshkov (13-1) , calling a halt to the contest.
Eager for challengers who can push him, Askren (12-0) boldly claimed, "I'm the best fighter in the world. Let's get in the cage and prove it, baby."
Muhammed Lawal made the most of a second chance and favorable matchups by steamrolling his way through an abbreviated Bellator light heavyweight summer tournament.
Wednesday's third-ound stoppage over Jacob Noe followed a first round knockout of Seth Petruzelli last month, setting Lawal up to challenge champion Attila Vegh in his next bout. Lawal, however, said he was willing to forgo a title shot to get an opportunity at the man who knocked him out in February with a spinning back fist, Emanuel Newton.
Lawal, an All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State, showcased his class with a variety of takedowns against the 33-year-old Noe, who found himself in this contest based on a technical knockout of Renato Sobral in June.
Noe had nothing for Lawal, who racked up punch stats as his opponent was stuck to the canvas. In the opening five minutes, Lawal out-struck Noe 50-8.
The second period was even more decisive, as Lawal upped the power and battered Noe's face.
In Round 3, Lawal scored with a mean left hand, once again as he was on top of Noe, that had the effect of a grenade. Blood gushed from several spots on Noe's face until referee Jason Herzog waved off the contest when he heard a verbal submission at the 2:31 mark.
Lawal claimed he came out to wrestle Wednesday in honor of the grapplers on the card, as well as to raise awareness for the ongoing fight to save Olympic wrestling.
The next Bellator heavyweight championship fight will feature two Russians.
Vitaly Minakov earned his spot against titleholder Alexander Volkov following a resounding third-round stoppage over American Ryan Martinez.
Shorter but heavier, Martinez, 25, offered a competitive outlook, however Minakov, 28, was clearly the better fighter. A strong opening period from both men suggested the heavyweight tournament final could be close all the way through, yet as soon as Martinez fatigued he no longer remained in contact with the Russian.
Were it not for an accidental knee to the groin, which prompted referee Raul Porrata to deduct a point in lieu of issuing a warning, Minakov would have been up 20-18 headed to the third round. By that time, he had bloodied Martinez's nose and landed his share of strikes.
At the start of the third Martinez connected with a right hook.
Minakov responded with a knee on the inside, and a pretty trip takedown that put him in a dominant position.
From the mount, Minakov (12-0) pounded down punches and elbows. Martinez (10-3) had no response, failing to create any kind of space to get back to guard or stand. At 4:02 of the final period, Porrata had seen enough and stopped the fight.
"My future fight against the other fellow Russian, Alexander Volkov, will be very tough and I will be ready for that," Minakov said. "I promise you it will be a spectacular one."
In his first contest since losing a split decision to Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran in January, 26-year-old Brazilian Patricio Freire took care of Jared Downing in style, scoring a second-round technical knockout with punches.
"Pitbull" found a home for his right hand early and often. Downing stepped in the cage on three week's notice to replace an injured Rob Emerson. He was dropped twice in the opening period. First with a right hand, then via left hook. To his credit, Downing (9-3) never appeared hurt.
Even in the second round, after Freire (18-2) unloaded several vicious left hook-right straight combinations, Downing's chin kept him conscious. The finish came 54 seconds into the second round when the Brazilian slammed home a heavy right that felled Downing to the canvas. Referee Raul Porrata immediately moved in to call a halt to the contest, and Downing did not protest the result.
Friere's finish of Downing was his 14th stoppage in 18 victories since tuning pro in 2004. His win landed Freire a spot in the upcoming Bellator featherweight tournament.
"I'm experienced fighting in Bellator," Freire said. "I've fought in Bellator since 2010. I'm really motivated. This will be my third tournament. I'm really excited to give a good show, a good performance for all my fans around the world."
He reached the finals in his previous efforts, losing a controversial decision to Joe Warren and rebounding in 2011 to score a points win over Daniel Straus.
Up next is a contest with former UFC fighter Diego Nunes in September.