Muhammed Lawal turned the page on his rivalry with Quinton Jackson and did so on his terms.
The former Strikeforce champion leaned on a suffocating clinch game and a few early takedowns in claiming a unanimous decision over the beefed-up Jackson in the Bellator 175 headliner on Friday at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. All three cageside judges arrived at the same verdict: 29-28 for Lawal (21-6, 11-3 Bellator), who has won nine of his past 11 fights (Vegas odds).
Jackson (37-12, 4-1 Bellator) wobbled “King Mo” with a left hook in the second round and seemed to have him in real danger with the punches that followed. However, he was otherwise ineffective. Lawal bullied his way into the clinch repeatedly, pinned the 253-pound Jackson to the fence and prevented the onetime Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder from creating the necessary space to land power punches.
Afterward, it was announced that Lawal will welcome recent UFC defector Ryan Bader into the Bellator MMA fold at Bellator 180 on June 24.
In a co-main event contested at 149 pounds, Roufusport standout Emmanuel Sanchez took a three-round unanimous decision from former Bellator bantamweight titleholder Marcos Galvao. Sanchez (15-3, 7-2 Bellator) swept the scorecards with identical 30-27 marks.
Galvao (18-8-1, 8-5 UFC) was ineffective, his punches lacking steam at a higher weight class. Sanchez shut down the multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion’s takedowns, trapped him on the feet and made him one-dimensional. The 26-year-old Duke Roufus protégé mixed up his punches and kicks while incorporating traditional techniques with more exotic spinning attacks. Galvao managed a takedown -- it was the only one he completed -- in the closing seconds of the third round but lacked the time he needed to capitalize on it.
Sanchez has posted five wins across his past six outings.
Meanwhile, Pride Fighting Championships veteran Sergei Kharitonov knocked out Chase Gormley with a crushing two-punch combination in the first round of their heavyweight feature. Kharitonov (24-6, 1-1 Bellator) brought it to a close 3:55 into Round 1.
Gormley (14-6, 2-2 Bellator) was competitive, until the Russian paratrooper flipped his switch. The former Titan Fighting Championship titleholder kicked to the body and legs and had Kharitonov reeling with a burst of power punches. However, prosperity was short-lived. Kharitonov marched him toward the fence and uncorked an overhand right-right uppercut combination that turned out the lights.
Kharitonov, 36, has won six of his last seven bouts.
Elsewhere, Xtreme Couture’s Noad Lahat submitted Lloyd Carter with a second-round rear-naked choke in a featured catchweight match at 148 pounds. Carter (10-9, 0-2 Bellator) bowed out 3:50 into Round 2, the 31-year-old suffering his second straight defeat.
Lahat (11-2, 2-0 Bellator) overwhelmed the King of the Cage alum with takedowns, ground-and-pound and superior grappling. Two minutes into the second round, he executed a takedown and climbed to full mount. Lahat briefly squandered position on a failed arm-triangle choke but moved back on top with a sit-out reversal, returned to mount and advanced to the back. He softened Carter with elbows before snaking his arms into position for the choke, securing his fourth victory in five appearances.
Finally, Team Quest prospect Steve Kozola remained undefeated and did so in spectacular fashion, as he cut down Jake Roberts with punches in the first round of their lightweight showcase. Roberts (7-2, 1-2 Bellator) succumbed to blows 28 seconds into Round 1.
Kozola (8-0, 3-0 Bellator) floored the MMA Lab export with a short left hook and followed up with a slashing hammerfist. Roberts returned to his feet in a dazed state, only to be met by a violent volley of unanswered hooks and uppercuts. Referee John McCarthy intervened just as “The North County Nightmare” collapsed.
The 27-year-old Kozola has finished all eight of his opponents, five of them in the first round.
In other action, Joaquin Buckley captured a unanimous verdict over Justin Patterson in a three-round welterweight confrontation, earning 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 nods from the judges; Tim Cho put away Joshua Dustin Hardwick with punches 2:43 into the third round of their pairing at 155 pounds; Manny Vazquez took a unanimous decision from Nate Williams in a three-round bantamweight affair, drawing 30-27, 29-27 and 29-28 marks from the judges; James Bochnovic submitted Matthew Paul with a rear-naked choke 4:30 into the first round of their catchweight clash at 208 pounds; Damian Norris pocketed a unanimous decision over Tom Shoaff in a three-round lightweight tilt, earning 30-27 scores across the board; and Mike DeLaViega eked out a split decision -- 29-28, 28-29, 29-28 -- over Brian Akins in a three-round encounter at 155 pounds.