Bryan Baker was true to his nickname against Jared Hess at Bellator 50. | Photo: Keith Mills
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Most onlookers saw Bellator’s middleweight tournament quarterfinal between former bracket finalists Bryan Baker and Jared Hess, and thought the bout would produce the Season 5 favorite. At Bellator 50 in Hollywood, Fla., Baker went a long way to establishing himself as that alpha dog.
“The Beast” overcame early adversity Saturday night at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to earn a third-round stoppage over Hess in a dominant display of offensive grappling.
The 25-year-old Baker, now based out of Denver, had Hess on his back early, as the former Central Oklahoma University wrestler threatened with a rear-naked choke within the first minute of the fight. However, Baker showed defensive savvy to not just escape, but to roar back in the first round with two deep brabo choke attempts, one of which was only cut short by the bell.
After the initial surge, Hess slowed considerably, as the Season 1 middleweight tournament finalist struggled to set up takedowns, and found himself beneath Baker repeatedly. When Hess did get in close enough to attempt takedowns, the Season 2 middleweight runner-up stuffed them, or reversed him, even taking full mount in the third frame and raining down punches.
The grueling physical nature of the fight sapped Hess. After being controlled in the clinch and from the front headlock for most of the fight, Baker's third-round mount proved too much to overcome. Hess hung on, squirming just enough to keep referee Jorge Alonso from intervening, but “The Beast” refused to relent. The end finally came at 2:52 of the final round.
Baker, who is in remission from chronic myelogenous leukemia with which he was diagnosed in April 2010, moved his career mark to 16-2, and likely cemented himself as the early tournament favorite heading into the semifinals. However, Baker's Season 2 conqueror, Alexander Shlemenko, did his part to earn 185-pound attention, surprising Croatia's Zelg Galesic by submission.
Galesic clinched quickly with Shlemenko, perhaps expecting a clinch striking war. Instead, the Omsk, Russia, native tripped the Croatian kickboxer to the mat, instigating a fight of a different kind.
Galesic got back to his feet, but the difference in mentality soon revealed a difference in skill. After botching a throw from the clinch, “Storm” simply grabbed a standing guillotine, arched his back and popped his hips, forcing his foe to tap out to the choke at 1:55 of the first.
Shlemenko, now 41-7, has won 10 of his last 11 bouts with eight stoppages. His lone loss in that nearly two-year span was in his Bellator middleweight title challenge against Hector Lombard last October.
Controversy appeared elsewhere, as Brian Rogers stopped fellow Ohio middleweight Victor O'Donnell in less than two minutes.
Rogers looked every bit as predatory as his nickname and previous fights would suggest, immediately getting in the face of his Ohioan opponent with head kicks, hooks and uppercuts. It was a heavy left hook from O'Donnell, however, that really got the ball rolling, instigating heavier brawling and swinging from the like-minded statesmen.
The end came when Rogers shucked O'Donnell into the cage, following with a heavy head kick and a crushing right hook that put O'Donnell on the deck. The Independence, Ohio, native pounced, unloading four hammerfists to the face. Referee Troy Waugh intervened immediately just 1:56 into the first frame. The stoppage enraged O'Donnell, who got to his feet and angrily protested.
“Don't boo me, give me my time to shine,” Rogers implored the Seminole Hard Rock crowd, surely after a questionable stoppage. “Honestly, I was surprised that the ref stopped it, but that's what I do: I finish fights.”
The 27-year-old Rogers has now won seven straight bouts, with all seven coming by way of first-round knockout.
One of the tournament's more-acclaimed exponents, Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Vitor Vianna, had tough sledding against Sam Alvey, but pulled out a close split decision to see the next round.
The Las Vegas-based Brazilian started slow, dealing with the rangy striking of the 6-foot-2 Wisconsin native. However, by round two, the Wand Fight Team rep was able to get his foe to the floor, take the back and threaten with the rear-naked choke. Time was the biggest foe of Vianna, who had the second-round bell end a choke attempt that may well have ended the bout.
The third round was a nip-tuck affair, as both fighters landed punches and kicks tit-for-tat. However, after 15 minutes, judges Rich Green and Hector Gomez saw the contest 29-28 for Vianna, who moved to 11-1-1. Dissenting judge John Rupert favored Alvey 29-28, giving him the first and third rounds.
The Bellator middleweight tournament will reconvene at Bellator 54 on Oct. 15 in Atlantic City, N.J., where Bryan Baker will meet Vitor Vianna, while Alexander Shlemenko squares off with Brian Rogers.
Bellator 54 is headlined by a lightweight championship bout between champion Eddie Alvarez and unbeaten challenger Michael Chandler.