New titlists, challenges for Bellator
Two marketable, successful, sought-after Bellator champions went down to defeat Saturday night in Long Beach, Calif.
Was this the Bellatorapocalypse?
You'd figure alarm bells went off in Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney's head when the unflappable and generally predictable Daniel Straus dominated Pat Curran to the tune of a unanimous decision title-fight win. Curran had spearheaded Bellator at 145, which is a tremendous talent-filled weight class around the world and outside the UFC, and he was just getting into his groove as champ.
As for what was going on inside Rebney's shaved noggin when Alvarez bested Michael Chandler on points and he placed the belt around the two-time champion's slim waist? That's an unknown -- although many people are speculating based on the promoter's facial expression and demeanor in the cage that he wasn't so pleased.
Analyzing body language is a fine pastime for the people who want to engage in it. I don't. Rebney was nothing if not effusive in his praise of Alvarez after the fight. Maybe he didn't have a choice, but he absolutely did nothing to diminish Alvarez's win.
He also spoke highly of Straus.
No surprise, as well, that the promoter continued to hold Curran and Chandler in the highest esteem. How could he not after repeatedly labeling them as the best fighters his promotion could produce?
Rebney loved to say he thought Curran was No. 2 behind Jose Aldo, and that if they met it wouldn't be so simple for the UFC champion.
Chandler was also the best lightweight in MMA in Rebney's world.
Yes? No? Maybe so?
Right now, the answer isn't a mystery.
Where Curran and Chandler go from here is up to them. Both are gifted athletes. Curran appeared to have an off night against Straus. He said as much on Twitter while taking full responsibility for his failure to deliver against the soft-spoken new champion, who did everything right to win and earn the belt.
Chandler and Alvarez are so competitively well matched that they could fight 100 times and each bout would produce down-to-the-wire brawls.
Of this I'm sure.
Alvarez's status is tenuous, which makes his situation extremely intriguing. And Straus appears not to be the kind of fighter who will all of a sudden sell tickets and bump up TV ratings.
Time, as it tends to do, will tell. But there's no doubt that Bellator would have been better off if the champions had retained their titles over the weekend.
They didn't. That's sports. And the Bellator MMA crew must get used to the notion that once the cage door closes, all bets are off.
Bellator 106 grades
Eddie Alvarez walked into the rematch talking constantly about the mistakes he had made the first time around. He gave Michael Chandler too much credit. He conceded silly positional mistakes. He said he was off. His wife said he was off. His corner suggested the same. He was also clipped early, of course, which set the tone of the first contest. Still, Alvarez felt like he controlled much of the 2011 fight, and there's no doubt he did better on Saturday. Alvarez worked off a stiff jab, throwing combinations while adroitly moving around the cage for much of the 25-minute fight. He also stood up to Chandler, who landed more than a few hard punches to the jaw. Alvarez's determination to regain control over his career, to recapture the Bellator belt and to set himself up for big things after the trilogy manifested in another terrific effort.
He's an excellent lightweight and should cope well enough with the reality of his first loss. There was no way Chandler could walk through life as a mixed martial artist and not taste the sting of defeat. He'll find a number of lessons to learn -- such as that being the charging bull isn't the only way to win a fight -- and as virile a competitor as Chandler is, expect him to improve. He was rarely satisfied with wins. A loss might drive him nuts, but based on what I know of him, he'll keep a healthy perspective, one that lends itself to improvement. Anyhow, this grade is predicated mostly on Chandler's guts and showmanship. He had all the makings of putting together a dominant championship run. And he continues to -- despite losing. What he does in the third fight will determine a lot.
"Pay that man his money." It's a classic line from the film "Rounders," when Matt Damon's character outplays John Malkovich's in a game of no-limit poker. Malkovich, aka Teddy KGB, says it out of respect for the skill with which he was beat. And it works for Straus' effort over the course of his career, and, especially, on Saturday night against Pat Curran. Now, I don't believe Curran showed up to fight, which is too bad for him because stepping in the cage against a guy like Daniel Straus when you're not firing on all cylinders is a recipe for losing a belt. Straus was stifling. He was not to be denied. What kind of champion will he be? A discontented one. Straus should get this due, though I'm skeptical he will.
This grade might seem low. After all, Emanuel Newton proved his skills are at least on par with Mo Lawal's. He proved by lasting 25 minutes that his knockout in the first fight wasn't a fluke. And the win undoubtedly marked the pinnacle of his decade-old career. But I have him at a solid B because (1) I had Lawal winning (granted, this is the clear minority view) and (2) Newton's style isn't so flattering. He unleashes a barrage of spinning strikes, too many, and he doesn't produce much pop on his strikes.
So, yeah, I had him beating Newton but still gave him a lower grade. Lawal looked frustrated, bored, at times sluggish and rarely dangerous. He didn't set up takedowns well and didn't string together punching combinations like he could have. He also didn't throw with power often enough. Where does he go? Back to a tournament. Lawal's Bellator experience has thus far been a serious disappointment for him and the people who pay him.
Pat Curran looked a shadow of himself in relinquishing the Bellator 145 title, as well as giving up major ground against the notion that Curran could be right there with Jose Aldo as the top featherweight in MMA. Well, now that just comes off as silly. Curran correctly tweeted that he's the only one to blame for the result, that he could have done better based on what he was capable of and what the opposition was like in front of him. Curran is much better than he let on.
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