Jessica Aguilar (left) took a split decision over Carla Esparza. | Photo: Keith Mills
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Bellator bills its undercard headliners as “local main events,” and that's exactly what American Top Team bantamweight Jessica Aguilar offered the Bellator 46 crowd at the Seminole Hard Rock Live, earning a split decision (30-27, 30-27, 28-29) over fellow former Bellator tournament entrant Carla Esparza.
Aguilar was the aggressor throughout the bout, chasing down Esparza, who circled the cage in pursuit of low kicks. Aguilar dictated the first round with clean right hands that snapped Esparza's head back and in the second round, was even able to get the talented wrestler on the mat, as if to simply show off her well-roundedness.
Early in the second frame, Aguilar showed off the lesser-known elements to her game, getting double underhooks and slamming the talented wrestler to the mat. However, from there, Esparza rallied as she started to land effective low kicks and was able to show off her own takedown skills, punctuating the frame with a headlock hip throw that put her in side control.
It seemed like the Team Oyama product might be stealing the fight from the local favorite, as a short counter right put Aguilar on the deck early in round three. Esparza looked to pounce, but couldn't find any follow-up offense.
From there, the fight belonged to “Jag,” who landed hard low kicks and steady, stern right hands to keep Esparza circling away and on the defensive until the final bell.
“I thought I definitely took the first and the third,” said Aguilar in assessing the fight. “She got me down in round two, but in the first and third I was aggressive and worked my game and landed punches.”
Oddly, Esparza saw the fight in considerably different fashion, despite the fact the second round seemed to be her strongest.
“I thought I maybe lost the second, but won the first and third,” said Esparza. “I didn't take a lot of damage, I feel fine.”
Judges Ric Bays and Barry Luxenberg saw the bout 30-27 for Aguilar, giving her the split decision win, while dissenting judge Hector Gomez saw it 29-28 Esparza. Sherdog.com scored the bout 29-28 for Aguilar.
With the win, Aguilar moved to 11-4, having won six of her last seven fights. The lone loss in that span was her controversial split decision loss to would-be Bellator 115-pound champ Zoila Gurgel. The 23-year-old Esparza fell to 5-2 in her young, 16-month career.
Heavyweight prospect Tony Johnson Jr. upped his MMA mark to 6-1 with a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) over Derrick Lewis, but earned himself no fans in a one-dimensional display of takedowns.
The 25-year-old Johnson, a former Iowa State Cyclone wrestler, easily got single-legs, double-legs, and scoop slams for 10 minutes. The Miami-based heavyweight easily passed to side control and mount, but continued to lose position.
Lewis gave up his back repeatedly, but the former KOTC heavyweight champion seemed to lack the balance and fitness to secure the dominant position.
Lewis got back into the fight in the third round as the exhausted Johnson dove at his legs, landing heavy hammerfists and punches, but ended up on the ground again before the final bell.
Brazilian transplant Alexandre Bezerra, now based in Elkins Park, Pa., moved his record to 9-1 with a sensational display of offensive grappling against Sam Jones, stealing the local undercard.
The 23-year-old Bezerra quickly put the Miramar, Fla., native on the mat and displayed slick guard passing.
After taking the back briefly, “Popo” took full mount with an arm-triangle choke attempt, abandoning it for a topside triangle that ended the lightweight contest at 3:27 of the first round.
UFC veteran Dan Cramer won his third straight bout, taking three 29-28 scores in a unanimous decision win over Tallahassee, Fla., native Josh Samman.
Samman pushed aggressively for takedowns, but Cramer responded with clinch knees and hip tosses that left his opponent playing guard late in all three rounds.