Blagoi Ivanov savaged Zak Jensen to advance in Bellator's Season 5 heavyweight tournament. | Photo: Keith Mills
LAKE CHARLES, La. -- As the Bellator Season 5 heavyweight tournament quarterfinals kicked off Saturday night at the L'Auberge du Lac Hotel and Casino, no entrant was more brutal in victory than Bulgarian sambo world champion Blagoi Ivanov, who remained undefeated by destroying late replacement Zak Jensen over two lopsided rounds.
Hopkins, Minn., native Jensen entered the bout Friday, subbing in for Brazilian Thiago Santos, whose visa issues forced him out of the bout at the last minute. Jensen was originally slated to be on the evening’s undercard against Josh Burns.
Although Bellator reps stressed to Sherdog.com that Santos' visa situation would be resolved as soon as possible and that he would find his way to the Bellator cage, it did little to help Jensen, who was beaten from pillar to post.
The big-bodied Ivanov displayed lightning quick hands and head movement for a man his size. Easily ducking out of danger's way, he repeatedly countered Jensen at will with vicious combos, snapping his head back and making blood fly from his opponent’s nose.
“I moved my camp to Las Vegas at Xtreme Couture and Tapout Las Vegas,” Ivanov told Sherdog.com, explaining his sudden boxing prowess. “I work my boxing with Ibn Cason, the brother of Hasim Rahman; I have some of the best boxing coaches around.”
Jensen was bloodied but unbowed: he kept moving forward, stalking Ivanov like a zombie. However, when Jensen was finally able to close the distance, Ivanov
showcased his Sambo skills, putting Jensen on the mat
with outside hip throws and trips.
The second round was much like the first, with Ivanov ducking and diving, landing combo after combo. Ivanov put Jensen on the mat and moved to mount, but Jensen finally hip bumped out and nearly got to his feet. However, Ivanov locked in a standing guillotine, putting Jensen to sleep in a crumpled heap along the cage at 2:35 of the second period.
The 24-year-old Ivanov, most famous for defeating heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko at the 2008 World Combat Sambo Championships, punched his tickets to the semifinals of the heavyweight tournament, where he'll take on Mike Hayes, who earned a close split decision win over former Bellator tournament runner-up Neil Grove.
Hayes and Grove spent long periods of time sizing one another up, pawing with ineffectual strikes. Although Grove's punches were able to badly damage Hayes' right eye and his low kicks reddened his left leg, the Redmond, Wash., heavyweight was able to outland Grove in terms of volume.
However, the ground game was a major difference between the two. From the guard, Hayes was more active and offensive than Grove, and was able to sweep him to take dominant position.
In the third frame, he took the Brit’s back, and threatened with submission attempts.
In spite of Sherdog.com seeing the bout a 30-27 sweep for Hayes, judge Joe Ancona had it 29-28 for Grove. However, judges Jordan Bass and Gabe Barahona saw it 29-28 for Hayes, who took the split decision and upped his career mark to 16-4-1.
“I think Mike won that fight. I'm not one to say I think I won that fight. He's the dark horse,” Grove told Sherdog.com after the loss. Hayes was not made available to the media, as his left leg was being examined by on-site physicians.
In an entertaining but sloppy affair, former Army Special Forces boxing champion Eric Prindle outlasted Abe Wagner to earn a hard-fought unanimous decision victory with three 29-28 scorecards.
Wagner started strong, rocking Prindle with some surprising combinations against the cage and controlling him on the ground, eventually getting the mount. When Prindle rolled, the Nebraskan couldn't hold onto his back, giving up top position to Prindle and letting him back in the fight. From there, Prindle used his superior striking skills and immense size to keep Wagner off balance and on the defensive.
Prindle took over in the second frame, dazing Wagner with stiff, clubbing punches. With the fight on the line in the third round, the 6-foot-5, 265-plus-pound Prescott, Ariz., native again hammered Wagner with heavy leather, forcing him to shoot in. When Wagner lazily clung to a single-leg, Prindle took over from the top. Even with rudimentary ground skills, his size and strength gave him a dominant mount from which he punished Wagner and put the fight away for good.
It took Louisville, Ky., resident Ron Sparks longer than usual to dispatch former Tulsa Univerisity fullback Mark Holata, but he still got it done in just 84 seconds.
Both fighters started slowly, circling and pawing at each other, before Sparks broke the ice with a hook that sent sweat into a giddy crowd. Sparks landed a wicked hook-straight-hook combo to flatten Holata, then followed up with some thunderous hammerfists, prompting referee Barahona to end the fight at just 1:24 of the first, nearly twice what his average bouts take, with five previous stoppages in under 67 seconds.
The 36-year-old Sparks moves to 8-0 with seven first-round knockouts in his career, while Holata falls to 11-3 and had an eight-fight winning streak snapped.
“I knew he was out. I was hoping we’d actually get to go to the ground, because everyone says I have no ground game,” Sparks mused after the fight. “But, if a knockout comes, I'll take it.”
The heavyweight semifinals, Ivanov-Hayes and Prindle-Sparks, will take place at Bellator 56 at the Kansas Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan.