Schilling vs. Melvin
Nov. 15 | San Diego
Bellator 131 was not Bellator MMA’s first show with Scott Coker in charge. Coker came aboard as the company’s new president on June 18, so he and right-hand man Rich Chou were there for the duration of Bellator’s 11th season. However, for the final event of the season, the well-trodden tournament and weekly events now all-but-buried, Coker was finally able to unveil his vision of what Bellator should look like going forward. The aesthetic changes were notable and the new production elements, from the ramp to the big screens, drew rave reviews, but it was the card construction that was different. Despite being headlined by a manufactured “grudge match” between Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar, two men who spent all of their prime years inside the UFC, Bellator 131 felt like Strikeforce.
It had a lot to do with Schilling destroying Manhoef.
Like a classic Strikeforce card of years past, Bellator 131 balanced the spectacle of Ortiz-Bonnar with the legitimate sporting relevance of Will Brooks’ lightweight title rematch with Michael Chandler. However, the rest of the main card was designed face-punching carnage, nowhere more evident than in the booking of Manhoef-Schilling. Even at 38 years old and after almost two decades of wear and tear from very active kickboxing and MMA careers, Manhoef is still a kill-or-be-killed, must-see combat sports athlete. Leaving nothing to chance in his pursuit of a violent punch-up, Coker booked him against someone who was sure to engage Manhoef blow-for-blow: Schilling, a kickboxer who had taken one year, 2008, to pursue MMA, going 1-3 in that span. Manhoef was to be just the fifth MMA fight in Schilling’s career -- and his first in six years.
Schilling’s lack of MMA comfort was noticeable early, as the Glory and Lion Fight veteran, despite being the much larger man and more technical striker, was hit repeatedly by Manhoef’s sudden in-and-out punching explosions. Just past the halfway point of the round, “No Mercy” dropped his man with a pair of blistering hooks and then ground-and-pounded from top control for most of the round. Though Schilling regained his feet late in the frame, he was smashed on for most of the opening five minutes. Round two would tell an entirely different story, however.
Just past 20 seconds into the second stanza, the stalking Schilling landed a short left hand that stumbled Manhoef’s feet. He tried to pounce with his punches and knees, but Manhoef clocked him with an overhand left on the jaw. The Dutchman thought it was his moment to reassume control of the fight, but he was brutally incorrect. As Schilling covered up, Manhoef took two quick hop-steps into the pocket. Instead of finding himself with a wounded target, Manhoef ate a quick right hook, followed by an impossibly short, clean, electrifying left hand. The right hook stunned Manhoef, but the laser-guided left did critical damage. The left was the epitome of an on-the-button blow, with Schilling driving the punch to and beyond the center of Manhoef’s chin. As soon as contact was made, Manhoef’s lights were off. He fell like a robot that had suddenly and completely short-circuited, supine and stiff with his hands up. A major hat tip goes to California referee and amateur walrus impersonator Mike Beltran, who was the only human being in San Diego or beyond who did not stop and yell “Holy s---!” Despite the fact that he was circling away from the action as Schilling’s punches landed, he was able to swiftly dive in to rescue Manhoef and save him from whatever horrific hammerfisting was about to come his way.
Schilling-Manhoef might only take No. 2 on this list, but this is the most Coker-ish moment of the year.
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