Unlike past evenings when the UFC and Bellator faced off, there were no superstars propping up big shows on Saturday night. This was just a case of two solid, if unspectacular cards that catered to the regular MMA audiences.
If you so desire, and if you have the means and the stamina, taking in both of these events will require two channels, two streaming services, a website, at least $ 25, and nearly eight hours of your time. At MMA Fighting, we’re always up for incredible feats of human endurance, so we kept a running diary of the night from the first punch of the prelims to the very bizarre main-event conclusion, and it went something like this…
5:30 p.m. ET — And we’re off, as UFC Fort Lauderdale kicks off on ESPN 2. Who’s ready for a two-promotion, marathon MMA viewing session? Let’s start mainlining the Nos energy drinks, we have a long way to go.
6:35 p.m. — Jim Miller walks into the cage, thereby extending his lead for the most UFC fights in history. He now has 32. Somehow, he’s just 35 years old, but he’s lost five of his last six fights, and he’s starting to reach the part of his career where fans grit their teeth, hopeful that nothing too bad happens to him.
6:41— Well that was fairly stress-free. Miller stops Jason Gonzalez with a rear-naked choke just 2:12 into the first.
7:00 — The whiplash of moving from one platform to another begins, as we head from ESPN2 to ESPN for the second leg of the UFC prelims.
7:30 — Fire up the Bellator website as their prelims kick off. Among the commentators is Chael Sonnen, who also works for ESPN, which is broadcasting the UFC event. Chael must have a very good agent.
8:09 — In Bellator action, Matt Perez appears to be on his way to a triangle submission loss near the end of the first round when he suddenly explodes with punches that knock out his opponent Justin Tenedora. So yeah, he didn’t have that one locked on.
8:10 — Andrei Arlovski is back. Arlvoski might have invented MMA, he’s been fighting so long. He debuted in April 1999! That’s 20 years ago. At that time, Roosevelt Roberts, the youngest fighter on tonight’s UFC card, was five! Arlovski was beating up men when Roberts was in kindergarten. Tonight, he is an underdog.
8:15 — Cass Bell appears on the Bellator broadcast. He is a 32-year-old man with lime green hair. This is just an observation that needs to be made. Carry on.
8:30 — Arlovski appears to have won by a decision, topping Augusto Sakai.
8:31 — Nope, the judges give it to Sakai in a split-decision. The MMA media members surveyed overwhelmingly scored it for Arlovski (12 of 13 scored in his favor; the last had it a draw). That will bust a few parlays.
8:47 — Takashi Sato fires a left down the middle and follows up with ground and pound to knock out Ben Saunders. Sato then breaks down as he dedicates the win to a teammate that recently died in a motorcycle accident. Poignant little moment there.
9:00 — Platform switch again, as we switch to ESPN+ for the main card. If you’re a fighter, wouldn’t you actually prefer to compete on ESPN than on the streaming service? I don’t think there’s any question which portion of the card draws more viewers. So in some ways, Arlovski was the night’s main event.
9:05 — The UFC gets frothy announcing Greg Hardy as the co-main event fighter. Greg Hardy is not good at MMA at this point of his career. He is super strong and powerful, and certainly has potential, but he’s not actually good. This, my friends, is wolf tickets.
9:16 — Roosevelt Roberts enters the Octagon. Robert has competed in 14 combined fights in his amateur and pro career. He’s one of the biggest betting favorites on this card, and he’s never been to a decision.
9:33 — Well there goes that streak; Roberts has now been to a decision.
9:36 — Jorge Masvidal makes an appearance on the show wearing a captain’s hat. Somehow, he pulls off this look.
9:39 — The Bellator prelims close up shop after Abraham Vaesau knocks out Justin Roswell with some hellacious ground strikes. He then gets congratulated in the cage by his uncle, former WWE wrestler Rikishi, because pro MMA can never resist an opportunity to show any famous person connected to the sport. In just over two hours, Bellator hosts nine fights. If only all event pacing could follow that lead.
9:45 — Cory Sandhagen enters the Octagon. Through three UFC fights, Sandhagen has landed 8.89 strikes per minute, a pace that would rank him first in the promotion if he had enough fight time to officially qualify for the stat leadership. Volume probably won’t be the thing to scare off the iron-fisted John Lineker though.
9:59 — Sandhagen is first on the majority of exchanges, and Lineker can’t reach him. Frustrated, Lineker actually goes for a takedown. For reference, Lineker has only tried two takedowns in his last five fights, and they both came against T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 207.
10:00 — Hey, have we switched to a new platform lately? Let’s mosey on over to our fifth of the night — DAZN — for the Bellator main card.
10:07 — Trailing late, Lineker lands a thudding left that puts Sandhagen on a knee. Sandhagen shoots and Lineker locks up a guillotine. It’s tight, but Sandhagen holds out until the final bell in a sudden thriller. Sandhagen escapes with the win.
10:08 — “If you have not taken your dramamine yet, it’s too late, because this man has spun his way to many a finish,” Mike Goldberg says by way of introducing the flashy Gaston Bolanos. I feel like that line could have used more workshopping.
10:19 — Thirty-nine year old Glover Teixeira arrives, looking to avoid the same fate as fellow senior’s club member Arlovski. His opponent Ion Cutelaba comes out with the throat slash as he’s introduced. Oh boy. Young buck, you don’t want to tempt the MMA gods like that.
10:24 — Bellator’s intensive wrestling scholarship to honor its late former fighter Jordan Parsons is moving into its second year. Well done. Applications must be submitted by April 30.
10:29 — Cutelaba tries a couple of illegal strikes that the referee Alan Abeles ignores, even when Teixeira side-eyes the referee.
10:31 — Teixeira rallies after being wobbled by a spinning backfist and takes over, scoring full mount and then choking out Ian Cutelaba via rear naked choke. Always nice to see the old guys turn back the clock.
10:32 — Nice of Teixeira to finish the fight just as Liam McGeary and Phil Davis are being introduced at Bellator 220. This is a rematch of a very one-sided 2016 bout that really didn’t need one.
10:43 — Davis is a four-time Division I All-American wrestler and McGeary is a Brazilian jij-jitsu black belt. So of course they are content to have a kickboxing fight. This would be a good time for a Mike Perry fight to break out.
10:46 — Hey it’s Mike Perry!
10:47 — You know how crazy this sport is? Alex Oliveira is about to return to compete just four months after being injured in a grenade attack. One, it is bonkers he was injured by a grenade without being an active duty solider. Two, despite the bizarreness of the situation it isn’t even something that most people remember! This sport is crazy.
10:48 — Hey, Davis remembered he’s an excellent wrestler and put McGeary on the ground. He came close to stopping McGeary on strikes but didn’t quite overwhelm him. Nice stretch for Mr. Wonderful though.
10:50 — Davis pours it on and it appears McGeary hurts something as he goes down. Davis takes back mount and McGeary taps before Davis even sinks in a choke. Afterward, the Bellator broadcasters suggest that McGeary suffered a broken jaw.
11:01 — Not to be outdone on the injury front, Oliveira suffers a toe dislocation at the end of the second round, which was popped back in and he continued the fight. The announcers express admiration for his toughness. Dudes, my man was injured a grenade attack! What is an injured little piggy compared to that?
11:08 — Perry takes over late and tops Oliveira by unanimous decision. The man is always entertaining.
11:13 — Adam Piccolotti is backpacking Benson Henderson all over the Bellator cage.
11:16 — Greg Hardy, UFC co-main event fighter.
11:22 — Hardy drops Dmitry Smolyakov with an uppercut and Smolyakov basically covers up on the ground waiting for the referee to step in. Hardy drops hard punches from the top for the quick finish. He is still far from a finished product but he’s athletic, dangerous and improving.
11:29 — Bendo does a very Bendo thing, escaping with a split-decision win over Piccolotti.
11:43 — UFC main event time: Ronaldo Souza vs. Jack Hermansson. This was not a fight Souza was particularly excited to take, so it will be interesting to see if he’s up for it.
11:46 — Hermansson nearly catches Souza with a guillotine. That would have been a stunning finish.
11:48 — Bellator flyweight champ Ilimap-Lei Macfarlane is set to make her defense against Veta Arteaga. Macfarlane is as much as a -1200 favorite on some sports books, so Arteaga would beat expectations simply by surviving to the final bell.
11:54 — Hermansson took Souza down early in the round and had no trouble with “Jacare’s” vaunted submission game by throwing constant offense with short firsts and elbows. Ground strikes: Hermansson 104, Souza 5. Ouch.
11:55 — Arteaga survives round one. More than that, she might have won it!
11:59 — Souza looks like he realized he can big brother Hermansson, and he starts to land with more regularity and power. Here’s a momentum shift.
12:02 a.m. — Arteaga might have won round two as well. Is a shocker brewing?
12:05 — Nope. Macfarlane lands a huge elbow from the top that immediately gashes Arteaga’s forehead open. It’s an absolute gusher. As soon as Macfarlane pulls out of a triangle attempt the ref stops the fight to have the doctor check it, and she looks like a painting. It’s over.
12:09 — Hermansson is probably five minutes away from upsetting Jacare if he can hold on.
12:17 — The scorecards are in and Hermansson has the biggest win of his career. Seems like Jacare should have followed his instinct to decline the bout. He had some good moments but at 39, this loss could be the end of his title contention dreams.
12:22 — Oh, here’s Rory MacDonald. Did you realize that this will be the first time MacDonald will defend the Bellator welterweight title since winning it 463 days ago? The divisional Grand Prix was announced last July, and this will finally mark the end of the first round.
12:46 — Fitch is in this fight, as his tenacious wrestling offers few big opportunities for MacDonald (or himself). Since September 2007, Fitch has 15 wins, but only one by stoppage. So, this might go a while.
12:53 — Fitch. Might. Do. This?
1:03 — The night is almost over, as we await the final decision.
1:05 — …And it’s a split draw. So MacDonald retains the belt, and according to Bellator rules, he advances in the tournament on a draw. Which is … weird. On top of that, MacDonald voices some personal discomfort regarding the continuation of his fighting career. He says he struggled to pull the trigger, that he doesn’t feel he has the killer instinct any longer, and that his religious faith may be incompatible with his violent profession. He says he needs to reevaluate things. That’s a bizarre ending but a very candid moment to conclude the night.
All in all, it was a solid, if unspectacular evening. After nearly eight hours, we had a new contender emerge, an old champion hold on to his belt by a technicality, a broken jaw, a dislocated toe, and an unsightly forehead gash. Thankfully, no fighters were injured by flying grenades, but hey, there’s always next week.
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