Squirrelly judging allowed Rafael Carvalho to keep the Bellator MMA middleweight championship after one of the more bizarre big-fight performances in recent memory.
Carvalho was awarded a five-round split decision over Melvin Manhoef and retained control of the 185-pound title in the Bellator 155 headliner on Friday at the CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho. Scores were 48-47 (Michael Bell) for Manhoef, 48-47 (Randy Anderson) and 48-47 (Rob Hinds) for Carvalho. The champion did virtually nothing noteworthy from an offensive standpoint, aside from meaningless takedowns in the third and fourth rounds.
Both fighters were scolded for passivity by referee John McCarthy in the first round. Manhoef, 40, picked up his pace in the second and beyond. Carvalho, who seemed disinterested for much of the match, did not follow suit. Worse yet, the Brazilian was warned for a pair of knees below the belt and two eye pokes during the 25-minute encounter. Manhoef (30-13-1, 2-2 Bellator) navigated the fouls, attacked the champion’s legs and body with kicks and mixed in punching combinations upstairs. The Dutchman even threw in a fifth-round takedown, but his efforts went for naught in the eyes of judges Anderson and Hinds.
Carvalho (13-1, 4-0 Bellator) has won 13 fights in a row, none more controversial than this one.
In the co-main event, former Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran rode a near-knockout in the first round to a unanimous decision over Millennia MMA’s Georgi Karakhanyan. Curran (22-7, 12-4 Bellator) swept the scorecards with identical 29-28 marks from all three judges.
The bout took a dramatic turn inside the first five minutes, as Curran floored the onetime World Series of Fighting and Tachi Palace Fights titleholder with a crushing counter left hook. He swooped into top position and briefly advanced to full mount on the dazed Karakhanyan, but the finish he sought was not forthcoming. Curran maintained control in the second round, where he pancaked an ill-advised takedown attempt, again moved on top and ultimately climbed to Karakhanyan’s back.
Down two rounds, Karakhanyan (24-6-1, 3-4 Bellator) hunted for the submission in the third. There, he drove into top position, operated inside Curran’s guard and worked towards an arm-triangle choke. Curran, however, was wise to the maneuver and bled the remaining time off the clock.
Meanwhile, Team Quest rep Alexis Dufresne sprang a shocking upset on Marloes Coenen, as she submitted the former Strikeforce champion with a first-round triangle armbar in a featured catchweight confrontation at 150 pounds. Coenen (23-7, 2-1 Bellator) tapped 4:33 into round one.
A short-notice fill-in for the injured Julia Budd, Dufresne (6-2, 1-0 Bellator) executed a trip takedown inside the first 15 seconds, settled in guard and stayed moderately busy with her ground-and-pound. Coenen later swept into top position but grew too comfortable with her newfound advantage. Dufresne ensnared her in a triangle choke and then caught her in the armbar while she tried to exit, resulting in an immediate tapout.
The stunning setback snapped a two-fight winning streak for Coenen, who had been submitted only once previously -- reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight queen Miesha Tate did the honors in 2011 -- in her 30-fight career.
Elsewhere, an Augusto Sakai point deduction for low blows resulted in a majority draw with Power MMA Team export Dan Charles in a three-round heavyweight feature. Two judges scored it 28-28, while a third cast an eyebrow-raising 30-26 nod in favor of Charles.
Sakai (9-0-1, 4-0-1 Bellator) twice doubled over the Arizona with kicks to the groin in the first round, prompting McCarthy to take a point. Charles (16-3-1, 3-2-1 Bellator) recovered but struggled to establish an offensive rhythm. The two men spent the majority of their remaining time circling each other and pecking away with kicks. Sakai seemed to stagger his counterpart with a front kick to the face in the third round, but his below-the-belt shots proved costly when the verdict was read.
Chosen to open the main card, onetime Titan Fighting Championship titleholder Chase Gormley recorded his sixth win in seven appearances, as he claimed a split decision over fellow UFC washout Joey Beltran in a three-round heavyweight showcase. Scores were 29-28 for Beltran, 29-28 and 29-28 for Gormley.
Neither man did much to endear himself to the fans. Gormley (13-5, 1-1 Bellator) chopped away with leg kicks and connected with the occasional left hook. Mostly, he stood and circled on the outside, keeping Beltran at a safe distance. Beltran (17-13, 3-4 Bellator) fought effectively in spurts -- he rattled Gormely near the end of the second round and staggered him with a clean right hand in the third -- but did not do enough to stand out in what was a tepid 15-minute encounter.
In other action, Marcin Held (22-4, 11-3 Bellator) took a unanimous decision from World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Dave Jansen (20-4, 7-2 Bellator) in their undercard scrap at 155 pounds, earning 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 marks from the judges; Jesse Brock (22-8, 2-1 Bellator) submitted Olly Bradstreet (39-13, 0-1 Bellator) with a rear-naked choke 3:57 into round three of their preliminary bantamweight affair; Casey Johnson (5-0, 1-0 Bellator) tapped Brendon Raftery (4-3, 0-1 Bellator) with a rear-naked choke 1:16 into the second round of their undercard duel at 135 pounds; Joe Hamilton (4-0, 1-0 Bellator) submitted Tyler Freeland (3-1, 0-1 Bellator) with a rear-naked choke 22 seconds into round one of their preliminary bantamweight pairing; and Vincent Morales (4-1, 1-0 Bellator) put away Hamilton Ash (3-2, 0-1 Bellator) with punches 2:32 into the third round of their undercard tilt at 145 pounds.