Former light heavyweight champion Phil Davis spoiled Yoel Romero’s debut in the main event of Bellator 266 in San Jose with a split-decision win.
Expectations were high for 44-year-old former UFC middleweight title challenger Romero.
But American Davis, 36, dominated the three-round bout to win with scores of 30-27, 28-29, 30-26.
After the fight Cuban Romero complained to officials that he thought the bout was five rounds.
But he later showed his class when he heard that one judge had scored the bout in his favour as he waved a finger and pointed to Davis to signify that his American opponent had won the fight at the SAP Center in California.
Davis worked well behind his jab through the first half of the bout against the notoriously slow-starting Romero.
In the second half of the fight ‘Mr Wonderful’ Davis – a former American college wrestling champion – turned to his ground game, landing five takedowns on Olympic freestyle wrestling silver medallist Romero.
Davis said: “Man, he’s a monster. I felt that power more times than I wished I had tonight. He’s an incredibly powerful fighter.
“Gotta use the wrestling! God bless wrestling. Best sport in the world.”
Gracie targets top names after landmark win
In the co-main event of the evening, former welterweight title challenger and noted submission artist Neiman Gracie showcased his improved striking to claim a first-round TKO of Mark Lemminger.
Brazilian Gracie, 32, who trained under famed striking coach Rafael Cordeiro, stunned American Lemminger with a huge right uppercut.
Gracie followed up with a barrage of punches that forced referee Jason Herzog to intervene after one minute 27 seconds.
“I don’t need to take people down to win fights any more. I can do it all. But if I take you down… oh boy!” Gracie said, before calling out three of the division’s top names – including England’s Michael ‘Venom’ Page and undefeated world champion Yaroslav Amosov – for his next bout.
“I want to fight ‘MVP’. I’ve been calling this guy out forever and this fight never happens. He always has an excuse.
“I want my rematch with Jason Jackson. I won that fight the last time, and I got robbed.
“And I want Mr Yaroslav Amosov. I have the worst game for him and I believe I’ll be the one to give him his first loss.”
‘I know my dad is here with me’
Earlier in the night, California-born DeAnna Bennett claimed an emotional victory over number five ranked flyweight contender Alejandra Lara.
Fighting in memory of her late father – who used to work at events at the SAP Center as a San Jose police officer – Bennett won by unanimous decision victory before kissing his police badge in tribute.
Bennett dominated Colombia’s Lara across all three rounds, with the judges scoring the bout 30-27, 30-26, 30-26 to give the 36-year-old the 11th win of her 10-year MMA career.
“I can’t describe to you how I’m feeling right now. This place means everything to me,” Bennett said.
“I was born and raised in the Bay Area. The SAP Center, this is my place. I love it here, and I love the Bay Area, and I’m so glad to be here, fighting in this cage for Bellator and all the fans here.
“I know my dad is with me here. He always knew I was going to fight here.”
Rogers hails change in weight class after dominant win
Saul Rogers, the only Briton fighting on the card, defeated American Georgi Karakhanyan in the lightweight division.
After competing at featherweight on his four previous Bellator appearances, Rogers moved up to 155lb.
Without the effects of a punishing weight cut, Rogers delivered a dominant performance to beat 44-fight veteran Karakhanyan via unanimous decision.
Rogers used his wrestling and grappling to dominate Karakhanyan through all three rounds to earn scores of 30-27, 30-26, 30-26 and claim the 15th win of his career.
“It felt amazing,” said Rogers. “I’ve been killing myself for too long trying to cut down to 145. Now I’ve moved up, I feel stronger and I feel more dominant. I feel miles better.
“In the other fights after maybe a round, two and a half minutes, my arms were gassing and I had nothing to carry on.
“(Tonight) I’ve controlled it for three rounds and I still feel good to go.”
Big knockout for ‘Big Tuna’
In the opening main card bout of the night, Ben ‘Big Tuna’ Parrish scored a shock knockout victory on his Bellator debut by finishing the highly touted light heavyweight prospect Christian Edwards after only 38 seconds.
Edwards, a 22-year-old team-mate of former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, had been marked out as a potential contender in the future.
As Edwards moved in looking to connect with big punches, Parrish countered with a huge left hand that dropped Edwards.
He followed up with ground strikes to force Herzog to wave off the fight as Edwards suffered the first defeat of his professional career – in a fight that was twice rescheduled.
“It feels good to shut a lot of people up. That’s not luck. That’s preparation, baby!” said Parrish, whose only career loss in six fights came when he broke his leg in his previous bout in November 2019.
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