This weekend, Caesar's Atlantic City Hotel & Casino was host to Bellator 44. The night was full of fairly exciting fights, a little controversy sprinkled in here and there, and the next step in the slow but steady progression of Bellator as an organization.
In the first televised matchup of the night, Brett Cooper took on Alexander Shlemenko in a qualifier fight to see who would get a spot in next season's middleweight tournament. The fight was fast paced all the way throughout. Cooper never stopped coming forward. He also never stopped getting hit with precision spinning backfists and spinning back-kicks. I say that not to take anything away from Cooper, who was able to open up a cut over Shlemenko's left eye, and do some other damage as well with some strikes of his own. It was a very entertaining fight, but "Stone" was able to get the victory by landing more strikes, and appearing to cause more damage. Cooper did say afterwards (in the post-fight press conference) that he was recovering from a recent shoulder injury, as well as a bout with the flu (which he said landed him in the hospital this last Tuesday).
In the next fight, Giedrus Karavackas went up against local fan favorite Sam "Sammy-O" Oropeza. Sammy (who is from nearby Briarcliff, PA), brought with him what seemed to be hundreds of fans wearing orange "Sammy-O" t-shirts. The place was electric as they cheered on Oropeza in what was also a very exciting fight. Oropeza seemed to feed off the crowd and their energy, as he landed many strikes, and was able to score a few takedowns as well. Unfortunately, Sammy appeared to gas near the end of the fight, and Karavackas jumped all over him. Karavackas mounted a very tight crucifix (EDIT: I have since discovered that this was, in fact, NOT a crucifix, but a complex hold called a 'Kesa Gatame') with almost 2 full minutes remaining in the fight. Oropeza took a ton of punishment, but it was clear he had no way of getting free. Finally, at 3:59 of the 3rd round, Oropeza tapped to an armbar. The crowd was clearly very disappointed, but Karavackas earned a nicely done submission win.
In another one of Bellator's "superfights", where one of their champions fights in a non-title, non-tournament fight (the reasoning for doing so still somewhat escapes me), Falaniko Vitale went up against Bellator middleweight champ Hector Lombard. This was one of the odder fights I've ever watched. With an almost Anderson Silva-like form of disinterest, Lombard did not seem to make any attempt to engage Vitale. Perhaps out of respect for his immense striking abilities, Vitale also did not engage immediately. This made for a 2+ round stalemate that did not make for a happy audience. Finally, at 0:54 of the 3rd round, Lombard showed why he is one of the most dangerous middleweights in the world by sending Vitale to the canvas with what initially looked like just a glancing blow. That's all it takes (and was all it took) for Hector Lombard to put an opponent to sleep.
In the post-fight press conference, Lombard was visibly aggravated. It was not abundantly clear as to the source of his frustration, but it seemed as though it may have been due to the crowd's behavior (the boo-ing) during his match. At one point in the press conference, it became very awkward in the room when Hector looked upset by a question asked by a reporter. The question, seemingly innocent enough, was in relation to a potential rematch with Alexander Shlemenko. Lombard, at first would not answer the question, then, after Shlemenko answered the question for him (also awkward), Lombard demanded the mic. He informed the room that the last time he fought Shlemenko he was not at 100%, and that he still was able to get the win. After answering, Hector practically dropped the mic on the table, and looked like he wanted to leave the room. Don't make Hector Lombard angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
In the final fight, Michael Chandler competed against Patricky "Pitbull" Freire for the Bellator lightweight tourney championship, a massive $100,000 check, and the opportunity to fight Eddie Alvarez for the LW strap. This fight was everything it was advertised to be. Takedowns were in abundance. Flying knees were landed. Fast-paced, furious action filled the match and had the crowd on their feet for most of the bout. Unfortunately, the fight was somewhat marred by three illegal low strikes (two kicks, one knee) to the groin of "Pitbull" by Michael Chandler. The first illegal kick occurred in round 1, resulting in a warning. The second, in round 2, resulting in a second warning. The third illegal shot happened in the 3rd round, and caused Patricky to instantly collapse to the floor. The 3rd illegal blow cost Chandler a point. After 3 rounds of intense action, the fight went to a decision where the judges awarded the victory to Chandler by a narrow margin (I personally scored it a 28-28 draw).
When asked about the low blows afterwards, Chandler apologized, said the strikes were unintentional, and that he "needs to work on his kicks". He went on to say: "In fights, these kind of things happen. It's all about how you fight through them". Freire responded by saying that the low blows definitely affected him and his strategy. He said that he was not able to think clearly, and that it made him approach more defensively.
Michael Chandler will fight Eddie Alvarez next at a location/date yet to be determined. Bjorn Rebney did say in the post fight conference that he would be open to returning to Atlantic City to host that fight (and its respective card) at Caesar's.