One of the greatest fighters to ever compete in the sport of mixed martial arts is one step away from claiming another world title.
Fedor Emelianenko turned in a solid performance as he not only kept Father Time at bay for the time being, he vanquished legendary trash talker Chael Sonnen in the first round at Bellator 208. “The Last Emperor” nearly ended the brawl in the first 10 seconds when he almost decapitated Sonnen with a massive left hook to the jaw that sent him to the canvas, but the Russian legend backed away and allowed Sonnen back up to his feet.
Emelianenko had his hands full with the American throughout, though, as Sonnen (30-16-1) never gave up and tried relentlessly to take his foe to the canvas. Sonnen was successful a few times, but Emelianenko either reversed the takedown midway, swept the Oregonian once he was down, or exploded back to his feet. Emelianenko (38-5) eventually sealed the fate of “The American Gangster” in the closing moments of the first when Sonnen slipped off his opponent’s back. From there, the Russian hammered Sonnen with a tidal wave of punches, prompting referee Dan Miragliotta to intervene.
The end came officially at 4:46 of the first, allowing Emelianenko to advance to the finals of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix, where he’ll meet Ryan Bader in January. If Emelianenko is triumphant against Bader, he’ll be the first fighter in history to capture world titles in both Pride Fighting Championships and Bellator MMA.
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Benson Henderson turned in a dominant, vintage performance against Saad Awad in the co-main event, winning a unanimous decision over three rounds. Henderson, a former World Extreme Cagefighting and Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion, inched ever closer toward a possible shot at Bellator’s 155-pound title by doing virtually whatever he wanted against Awad; he just couldn’t finish him. “Smooth” Benson landed the harder strikes on the feet, scored timely takedowns and controlled the pace whilst on the canvas. Twice Henderson (26-8) locked in an arm-triangle choke from on top, but Awad (23-10) was able to fend them off. Awad hung tough until the end, but it was essentially all Henderson, who was awarded the victory via tallies of 30-27 and 30-26 (twice).
Longtime UFC and Bellator veteran Cheick Kongo made quick work of Timothy Johnson (12-5) on Saturday. The Paris native torched the promotional debutant by rocking him badly with a glancing right hand above the temple. The Minnesota fighter stumbled to the canvas and rolled over, but before he could cover up, Kongo (29-10-2) unloaded a number of follow-up punches, knocking him out. The end officially came in just 68 seconds when referee Todd Anderson pulled the Frenchman off Johnson, giving Kongo his seventh consecutive win.
In a matchup of Russian middleweights, it was Team Fedor’s Anatoly Tokov who had his hand raised in victory. The younger grappler out-worked and out-classed longtime veteran and former Bellator champion Alexander Shlemenko (56-12) for three rounds, easily winning a lopsided unanimous decision. Tokov (27-2) utilized timely counter striking to fluster “Storm” but it was his clinch game that paved the way for success. When it was all said and done, Tokov was awarded the judges’ verdict with scores of 30-27 across the board.
Featherweight contender Henry Corrales took his time, but the end result was what he wanted: a knockout. Corrales (16-3) slowly broke Andy Main down with a steady attack of leg kicks and counter lefts and rights upstairs. The taller Main began to tire and by the midway point of the third, “OK” had Main (12-4-1) timed and finally put him away. Corrales dropped the TUF 12 veteran with a counter left hook to the jaw and then finished him with follow-up punches, forcing referee Robs Hinds to pull him off. The end officially came at 2:08 of the third.
Lightweight prospect Dennis Buzukia was sensational in his pro debut as he stopped Ryan Castro in the opening stanza. Buzukia hurt Castro (0-2) early with a sizzling right-left to the head, but he took his time in putting his foe away. With Castro reeling, Buzukia unloaded a savage bombardment of punches, finally putting him away at the 2:53 mark of the first.
Jeremy Puglia charged at Eric Olsen and pressed him into the cage, fishing for a takedown. It took the shorter man nearly 90 seconds before he finally took Olsen (0-2) down, but he couldn’t keep him there. Olsen was quick to spring back to his feet, but before he could react, Puglia charged him back into the cage. From there, however, Puglia (1-1) tore into him with punches and never stopped throwing hands until referee Todd Anderson intervened. The end came officially at 3:16 of the first.
In other prelim action, flyweight Tommy Espinosa (6-1) submitted Sukhrob Aydarbekov (5-4) with an armbar 87 seconds into the fight; welterweight David Meshkhoradze won his pro debut via split decision over Shaquan Moore (0-1); 2016 Olympic boxer Jennifer Chieng (1-0) destroyed fellow strawweight Jessica Ruiz (0-1) with a flurry of punches in just 82 seconds; former Glory fighter Zarrukh Adashev (1-1) took out Christian Medina (0-2) with punches in just 68 seconds at flyweight; Andrews Rodriguez (1-0) dominated fellow 170-pounder Michael DiOrio (1-3) to win a unanimous decision; and lightweight Nick Fiore (3-3) edged Jerome Mickle (3-7) via unanimous decision.