Chael Sonnen is the first man to advance in the Bellator heavyweight grand prix.
As expected, the former UFC middleweight and light heavyweight title challenger relied on his wrestling to earn a unanimous decision triumph over Quinton Jackson in the Bellator 192 headliner on Saturday at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. All three cageside judges scored the contest 29-28 in favor of the West Linn, Ore., native.
With the victory, Sonnen will face the winner of the Frank Mir-Fedor Emelianenko bout, which is scheduled for April — at an event later this year.
Jackson was able to occasionally land some solid punches, but in the end, he wasn’t able to handle Sonnen’s grinding approach. Despite a size disadvantage, Sonnen was able to land takedowns on “Rampage” in all three frames. That included a second round in which Sonnen sucked Jackson into the clinch, executed a trip takedown and spent the majority of the frame on top. Jackson spent the waning moments of the final stanza hunting for the knockout, but ended up being taken down with about a minute remaining to seal his fate.
In the co-main event, Rory MacDonald had to earn his championship belt the hard way.
Battling through a hematoma on his left shin and a potentially busted nose, “The Red King” grinded out a decision victory over Douglas Lima to claim welterweight gold. MacDonald earned the nod from all three cageside judges — 48-47, 49-45, 49-46 — in a fight that was closer than the scorecards made it appear.
“He’s the best fighter I’ve ever fought, easy,” MacDonald said. “I came in the best of my career, I’ve never felt so good. He gave me challenges everywhere.”
MacDonald (20-4) sealed the victory with a dominant fifth frame, where he landed a takedown about 30 seconds in and spent the rest of the period landing punches and elbows from top position. The Tristar Gym product relied on takedowns and clinch work to carry him to victory over the grueling 25-minute affair, but he absorbed some serious punishment along the way.
Lima (29-7) landed vicious low kicks for much of the contest, including one in the third stanza that took MacDonald’s lead leg out from under him.
“I can’t really walk on it, but whatever,” MacDonald said of the leg. “I got through it.”
The Brazilian also worked behind an effective jab that appeared to damage his MacDonald’s nose, which was famously mangled by Robbie Lawler in a title bout under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner.
Ultimately, it was MacDonald’s ability to control the location of the fight — both in the clinch and through takedowns — that proved to be the difference, as Lima could not create enough space consistently to land his offense.
Elsewhere, Michael Chandler put himself back in the driver’s seat for a title shot in the lightweight division. It’s just a matter of it he wants it.
The former 155-pound titlist relied on takedowns, top position and ground-and-pound to cruise to a clear-cut unanimous verdict over Goiti Yamauchi. Judges scored the bout 30-26, 30-26 and 30-25, all in favor of Chandler, who rebounded from a loss to Brent Primus at Bellator 180 this past June. The victory will presumably give the Missouri native a chance to reclaim lightweight gold against Primus at a future event later this year.
“No, it’s not who I want,” Chandler said. “I want to keep coming in here and do phenomenal things. If that’s what [Bellator President Scott Coker] wants, that’s probably what’s going to happen.”
Chandler spent significant portion of each round in top position, where he battered his opponent with short punches and ferocious elbows. Yamauchi was only able to threaten Chandler briefly in the second frame, when he made his foe stumble backward after landing a question mark kick to the chin. However, Chandler regained his bearings and landed a takedown with 3:30 left in the round. He spent the remainder of the period landing offense from above to squash the threat.
Round three was Chandler’s most dominant, as he unloaded on a bloodied Yamauchi with a furious salvo of ground-and-pound until the bout’s final horn. Yamauchi (22-4) saw a three-fight winning streak come to an end in defeat.
Meanwhile, Aaron Pico is starting to live up to his considerable hype.
The talented standout wrestler made short work of the more experienced Shane Kruchten in a featured featherweight affair, winning via knockout just 37 seconds into round one. After beginning his career with a shocking submission loss to Zach Freeman, the 2016 Olympic hopeful has finished his last two opponents inside of a round.
“Everything is flowing well,” said Pico, whose camp included work at Antonio McKee’s Body Shop and with renowned boxing trainer Freddie Roach. “I just need to relax and do what I do.”
What he did well on Saturday night was land brutal punches to the body. Pico (2-1) sent Kruchten (12-4) to the canvas with a left to the body in an early exchange and then allowed his opponent to return to his feet. When Kruchten attempted to land a leg kick, Pico connected flush with a devastating left hook to the body that instantly folded his opponent. Referee Mike Beltran rushed in to save Kruchten before any more damage could be done.
After a rough start to his promotional tenure, Henry Corrales seems to be finding his footing in Bellator MMA. The MMA Lab representative captured a unanimous verdict (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) over Georgi Karakhanyan in a featured featherweight contest, giving him three straight victories with the California-based organization.
Corrales (15-3) began his Bellator career against a murderer’s row of opposition, falling to Daniel Straus, Emmanuel Sanchez and Patricio Freire in succession.
“I lost some fights,” Corrales said. “I moved camps to the MMA Lab. I’m 3-0 since I’ve been there. I blame them for the win.”
Corrales was able to bait Karakhanyan (27-8-1) into fighting his preferred style for much of the contest. The featherweights traded willingly in the pocket and the clinch, with Corrales usually landing the more significant offense. The California native also spent some time in top position following a failed Karakhanyan guillotine in round two and after sprawling on a takedown in round three.
In earlier action: Guillherme Vasconcelos (10-4) submitted Ivan Castillo (15-9) with an arm-triangle choke 4:12 into the first frame at welterweight; Devon Brock (1-0) ruined the pro debut of Khonry Gracie (0-1), winning a unanimous verdict (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) at 170 pounds; Jose Campos (2-0, 1-0 Bellator) captured a unanimous decision over Haim Gozali (8-5) at welterweight and Joey Davis (3-0) used a spinning back kick to the liver to defeat Ian Butler (3-4, 1 NC) via knockout 39 seconds into round one at welterweight.