Cheick Kongo did just enough.
The 41-year-old Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran utilized an effective clinch, timely takedowns and attritive ground-and-pound to capture a majority decision over former King of the Cage champion Tony Johnson in the Bellator 161 headliner on Friday (online sportsbooks) at the HEB Center in Cedar Park, Texas. Judges Jon Schorle and Anthony Townsend ruled 29-28 in Kongo’s favor, while Sal D’Amato scored it a 28-28 draw.
Bookend rounds were critical for Kongo (25-10-2), who continues to angle for a shot at the vacant Bellator MMA heavyweight championship. He grounded and mounted Johnson in the first round and then executed a pair of takedowns in the third. His efforts helped erase a one-sided middle frame that Johnson (10-3) dominated. There, the American Kickboxing Academy representative took down Kongo inside the first 20 seconds and maintained an advantageous position for the duration of the round, climbing to full mount in the closing minute. However, his inability to finish proved costly.
Kongo has rattled off three straight wins.
In the bantamweight co-main event, former two-division Bellator champion Joe Warren submitted Sirwan Kakai with a third-round neck crank. Kakai (12-5) conceded defeat 1:04 into round three, as he was finished for the first time in his 17-fight professional career.
Warren (14-5) had to work for it. The 39-year-old Grand Rapids, Michigan, native yielded a takedown to Kakai in the first round and absorbed a series of takedown-deterrent elbows in the clinch when he tried to answer with one of his own. Warren turned the tide in the middle stanza, where the NCAA All-American wrestler dropped the American Top Team-trained Swede with a knee strike, assumed top position and freed himself from an armbar before unleashing his ground-and-pound.
Inside the first minute of round three, Warren connected with another knee that appeared to break his counterpart’s nose. Kakai responded by retreating to the fence and shooting for a takedown, blood pouring from his face. Warren scrambled out of his advances, caught a guillotine on the transition and shifted to the neck crank, prompting the tapout.
Meanwhile, American Kickboxing Academy export Anastasia Yankova stayed undefeated, as she eked out a split decision over Veta Arteaga in their catchweight attraction at 130 pounds. All three judges scored it 29-28: Jon Schorle and Anthony Townsend for Yankova, Jay Stafin for Arteaga.
Arteaga (2-1) put the Russian muay Thai stylist in real peril in the first round, where she buckled her knees with three or four clean right hands. Yankova (4-0) continued to move forward, her chin and head exposed, and slowly wore down the Combat Fitness standout with pace and output. Arteage connected in two-, three- and four-punch bursts but seemed to round out of gas at the midway point of the match. Yankova found another gear in the third round, as she backed up the Idaho-based flyweight with front kicks to the face, short punches in the clinch and standing elbows in close quarters.
Elsewhere, Mohler MMA rep Derek Campos survived serious adversity to claim a hard-earned unanimous decision over Djamil Chan in a three-round lightweight showcase. All three cageside judges arrived at the same ruling: 29-28 for Campos (17-6), who has rattled off eight wins in his past 11 appearances.
Chan (12-3) floored the Texan with a two-punch combination in the first round -- a right uppercut and left hook did the damage -- and pounced with ground-and-pound for a potential finish. The badly dazed Campos withstood the assault, cleared the cobwebs and made certain the two men saw a second round. From there, he overwhelmed Chan with relentless pressure, tactical takedowns and a steady ground offensive. Short punches, elbows and forearm strikes made life miserable for the Dutch prospect and allowed Campos to bleed the remaining time off the clock.
The loss snapped a seven-fight winning streak for Chan.
In other action, former two-division Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder Daniel Pineda (22-12) submitted Mark Dickman (11-3) with a rear-naked choke 2:07 into the third round of their battle at 145 pounds; Emily Ducote (4-1) tapped Kenya Miranda da Silva (2-3) with an armbar 4:37 into the second round of their women’s flyweight affair; and Garrett Scott (2-0) put away Waylon Bronstrup (0-2) with a rear-naked choke 50 seconds into the first round of their encounter at 170 pounds.