MMA star Dan Hornbuckle and former U.S. Olympian Ben Askren both booked passage into the championship round of Bellator Fighting Championships’ Season 2 Welterweight Tournament at Bellator 19 on Thursday with dominant performances.
Meanwhile, reigning Bellator Featherweight Champion Joe Soto improved his record to a perfect 9-0 with a “Super Fight” victory over crafty UFC veteran Diego Saraiva.
The three fights — all dominant performances — were just part of another great night of Bellator action in front of a raucous crowd at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie, Texas — the first of two consecutive Bellator events in the Lone Star State this month.
The night’s most anticipated bout was undoubtedly Askren’s fight with UFC veteran Ryan Thomas — a rematch made possible when Thomas (13-5) re-entered the Welterweight Tournament to replace late scratch Jim Wallhead.
But while the first Thomas-Askren fight ended in controversy (a disputed referee’s stoppage), their fight on Thursday was controlled from the get-go by Askren, the two-time NCAA wrestling Champion at the University of Missouri. Askren held the dominant position for all three rounds, winning a clear-cut unanimous decision that improved his pro MMA record to 5-0. It was the first time that one of his fights had ever gone past the first round.
“It was a war … he definitely came to fight,” Askren said afterward. “I definitely had to dig deep. I was going for some submissions but he kept slipping out. It was a great fight.”
Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney agreed, saluting Askren’s commanding performance.
“Ben Askren was impressive,” Rebney said in the post-fight press conference. “For someone this new to MMA to be able to put on a performance like that against a fighter like Ryan Tomas is a testament to his huge, huge talent. He’s going to be tough guy to bet against.”
Earlier in the night, Iraq War veteran Steve Carl (13-2) took Hornbuckle to the ground shortly after the opening bell of their semifinal-round fight, but “The Handler” maintained his composure on his back, using a tight kimura to end the fight just 2:31 into Round 1. Hornbuckle has now recorded 10 submission wins 10 nine knockouts in his 23 career fights.
After the fight, Rebney made the case that Hornbuckle is quickly emerging as one of the top 170-pound fighters in the world.
“He continues to evolve and grow as a mixed martial artist,” Rebney said. “He is an awfully dangerous welterweight and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the world at 170 who would go in as a favorite against him right now. I’m looking forward to watching him again next month.”
In the “Super Fight,” Soto assumed the dominant position early on in the fight and landed a huge elbow to Saraiva’s forehead near the end of Round 1, opening a deep cut that forced the ringside doctor to stop the fight at the end of the round. It was the first time that Saraiva (18-9-1) had been stopped in 38 career pro bouts.
“It sucks that I had to end him with the cut, but that’s the way it goes,” Soto said afterward. “Now I’m just looking forward to fighting the winner of the tournament.”
Rebney called the fight “a major statement” by Soto.
“This was a very dangerous fight for Joe,” Rebney said. “But he came to us and said ‘I want the toughest guy you can find at 145.’ With a performance like that against a fighter of Diego’s caliber, it ‘s a great night for him.”
The event also played host to six Local Feature Fights:
– Douglas Frey def. Aaron Wise via guillotine choke (0:49)
– Joshua Smith def. Donyiell Winrow via unanimous decision
– Johnny Bedford def. Jared Lopez via TKO (12:16)
– Scott Barrett def. Ty Lee via TKO (2:25)
– Joe Christopher def. Brandon McDowell via guillotine choke (1:36)
– Chas Skelly def. Daniel Pineda via kneebar submission (7:16)
Fans who missed Thursday night’s action can watch all the best moments this weekend during special highlight shows on NBC, Telemundo and the cable network mun2. Check your local listings for exact dates and times.
Bellator returns to action next week from the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio with two semifinal fights in the Season 2 Middleweight Tournament: Eric Schambari vs. Bryan “The Beast” Baker and Russian import Alexander Shlemenko vs. former NCAA all-American wrestler Jared Hess.