Fight Facts: Bellator 2021, a Year in Review

Still in the throes of the pandemic, Bellator MMA reached out and brought fans back into the building for the latter half of the year. The same number of events as 2020 — a slight increase in fight total from the year before — still led to plenty of exciting moments, even if most took place inside of the Mohegan Sun Arena. Bellator’s move to Showtime had fighters putting on shows, with astounding knockouts, shocking submissions and a few eye-popping betting lines littering an eight-month stretch of combat.

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Knockouts: 18
Technical Knockouts: 42
Submissions: 39
Decisions: 99
No Contests: 1

Bring the Fans Back Home

It’s Showtime: Moving on to greener pastures, Bellator shifted its airings exclusively to the Showtime network at the beginning of 2021. Bellator 255 became the first MMA event to air on Showtime since the final Strikeforce card in 2013.

Next Year is Our Year: 2021 matched the previous year for total number of events, staging 18 fight cards from January to December. The organization did travel to nine different localities by year’s end, an uptick from 2020, when only six cities hosted Bellator cards.

Let Them In: While Bellator matched its low tally of shows from 2020, it did hold six more fights (199 to 193). Additionally, Bellator 260 on June 11 brought live audiences back after 20 fanless events.

Make Sure No Vampires Made It In to Our…Home Base: From Bellator 249 in 2020 to Bellator 262 in July, the promotion held 14 consecutive events in the Mohegan Sun Arena. That is the longest stretch of Bellator cards in the same building by a wide margin, with the past record set from July to September 2020, also in the Mohegan Sun Arena.

No Marathon Showcases: Consistent with Bellator events since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 2021 did not put on an event that featured more than 13 fights. The last event before the pandemic, Bellator 240 in Dublin, showed 19 matches from start to finish.

Gap Year: The company had an absence for nearly five months from December 2020 to April, marking the second-longest hiatus since Viacom purchased the company in 2011.

FightSphere is My Sphere: Even though Bellator went to nine different cities, Uncasville, Conn., still played host to 10 Bellator offerings, over half of all Bellator cards in 2021.

Lame: Although no 2021 event matched Bellator 245’s lowest overall finish rate of 12.5% with just one of eight fights ending the distance, Bellator 256 came the closest with only three of 13 ending by stoppage (23.1%).

Totally Lame: Each year throughout Bellator history, there has been at least one event that has seen a finish rate at 80% or above. That came to an end in 2021, when the highest stoppage rate capped off at 70%, at Bellator 269 in October.

Went On Forever: The featherweight grand prix came to a dramatic conclusion at Bellator 263, when A.J. McKee won the title, a $1 million check and the tourney by putting Patricio Freire to sleep with a guillotine choke in less than two minutes. The tourney commenced on September 2019, and its 16-man bracket concluded after a year and nearly 11 months.

Tournament ADHD: Before the 145-pound tournament came to a close, Bellator kicked off an eight-man light heavyweight grand prix with the belt and another $1 million on the line. The quarterfinals and semifinals have concluded, and Vadim Nemkov will defend his strap against Corey Anderson, likely in the first quarter of 2022, per Bellator chief Scott Coker.

Aaah Motherland! For the first time in Bellator history, the organization posted up in Russia, putting on Bellator 269 in Moscow. Fedor Emelianenko headlined with a knockout over Tim Johnson in front of home fans.

Deck-Stacking Goodness: In 2021, four fighters prevailed three times under the Bellator banner: Cody Law, Jaylon Bates, Johnny Eblen and Usman Nurmagomedov. All four gentlemen are still undefeated as professionals.

Sometimes It Hurts So Much to Lose: Emmanuel Sanchez clocked in as the lone Bellator fighter this year to lose on three separate occasions, doing so against Freire, Mads Burnell and Jeremy Kennedy. No member of the Bellator roster competed four times in 2021.

Curve the Gloves: The lowest tally since 2018, only one bout was declared a no contest: Robert Whiteford vs. Andrew Fisher, which ended due to an accidental eye poke.

Smashing the Drawing Board: Just like the year that preceded it, no bouts were scored even across 2021. This past year is now the third in league history, along with 2012 and 2020, not to feature a single draw.

Home-Grown Pitbull: Despite losing in the finals, Freire became the first fighter in Bellator history to earn 20 wins with the promotion with his submission of Sanchez in April.

McKilling Spree: McKee is now a perfect 18-0 as a pro, with an 18-fight win streak as a member of Bellator. No Bellator fighter even comes close to his winning streak, and he extends his lead for the lengthiest stretch of consecutive wins among all major promotions.

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Knock Three Times

Thirty Percent Ain’t Bad: 2021 presented a notable uptick in knockouts, bringing 10 more (62) than 2020 but far fewer than 2019’s pre-pandemic tally of 128. This year ended up with 19 different varieties of knockouts, ranging from spinning strike to injury.

For Him, For Her: Corey Samuels clocked in with the seventh-fastest knockout in company by smoking Isaiah Hokit in 10 seconds at Bellator 261. Among women, Diana Avsaragova wrecked Tara Graff in 29 seconds at Bellator 256 to notch the second-quickest in Bellator women’s divisional history.

Superhero Landing: Mandel Nallo landed the second Superman punch knockout in organizational history when he lamped Ricardo Seixas in the first round. The first came from Hikari Sato against Joe Schilling at Bellator 139 in 2015.

Spintacular Conclusion: In the final Bellator fight of 2021, Sergio Pettis destroyed Kyoji Horiguchi with a spinning back fist to defend his bantamweight throne and the sixth in Bellator history. Pettis subsequently earned Sherdog’s 2021 “Knockout of the Year” award for his comeback knockout, making him the second Bellator fighter to achieve that distinction.

Ice Now, Fight Later: Both Roger Huerta and Matt Mitrione added their names to the small list of Bellator fighters that have tapped to strikes, doing so in April and July, respectively. Of note, with Mitrione, heavyweights account for more submissions due to strikes than any other weight category by wide margin.

He’s a Lumberjack and He’s OK: Repeating his success from the year before when he put Nainoa Dung away, Charlie Campbell subsequent stopped Nick Giulietti with leg kicks in the second round at Bellator 262 to earn the seventh finish by these strikes in company history. He is the only one to ever end multiple fights due to leg kicks.

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Give In To Me

How to Tie a Tie: Along the way in his winning 2021 season, Bates submitted Jeffrey Glossner with a Japanese necktie, just the second of its kind in Bellator history. The first came from Oliver Enkamp, doing so against Emmanuel Dawa in 2020.

A.J. McGracie: While not a rare “McKeeotine” like he landed the year before, McKee did submit Freire to earn his seventh submission as a Bellator fighter. He is tied with Neiman Gracie for the second-most all time, and both trail Goiti Yamauchi.

Gozali Big or Gozali Home: Aviv Gozali continued his crusade towards the record books with one tapout of Sean Felton in May. All six of Gozali’s career wins have come by first-round submission, and they have all taken place under the Bellator banner.

A Heel for a Heel: Landing a heel hook on Felton, Gozali is now the second fighter in organizational history to record more than one heel hook with Bellator -- Gozali previously tapped Eduard Muravitskiy with one in 2019. The first man to do so: his father, Haim Gozali.

Dislocation Station: Torquing Gustavo Trujillo’s arm at an unusual angle, Alex Polizzi hit the second straight armbar in Bellator history, doing so at Bellator 260. The first came from Jason Lambert over Hector Ramirez at Bellator 85 in 2013.

It’s Been Such a Long Time: Not nearly fast enough to crack the top 10 overall, Lewis Long did record the quickest submission of the year in the Bellator cage at 41 seconds, with a sleep-inducing rear-naked choke of Michael Dubois at Bellator 267. His maneuver was, however, the fourth-fastest technical submission in Bellator history.

Tamping Down on Nudity: In 2020, rear-naked chokes accounted for exactly 50% of all submissions performed in the Bellator cage. This year, that proportion fell drastically, with only about 35.1% coming from that maneuver.

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Have Title, Will Travel

A Regular Fort Knox: Nearly twice as many title fights took place in 2021 as 2020, with 13 championship bouts sprinkled throughout the year. 2013 had the most fights for belts, with 15.

Nothing Like Active Champs: Four divisions – bantamweight, featherweight, light heavyweight and women’s featherweight – in 2021 brought about multiple title fights. Three of those champs in Pettis, Nemkov and Cristiane Justino successfully won both times, while men’s featherweight changed hands.

Truly Well-Rounded: By handling Julius Anglickas and submitting him in the fourth round, Nemkov now holds wins in the first, second, third and fourth rounds as a Bellator fighter. The only other competitor to achieve this feat is Freire.

Are You Surprised by Cyborg? “Cris Cyborg” demolished Leslie Smith in the fifth round at 4:51, good for the latest stoppage win in Bellator history. Coupled with her 92-second drubbing of Sinead Kavanagh six months later – both title fights – she is one knockout away from tying the women’s record after just four appearances with the promotion.

From One Pitbull to Another: After losing his featherweight strap to McKee, Freire vacated his lightweight belt. The man to claim it ended up being his brother, Patricky Freire, atop Bellator 270 in Ireland. They are the first brother tandem to hold a major title back-to-back.

He’s Coming Back: As Ryan Bader has not competed at heavyweight since 2019, the promotion created the first interim title for that weight class. Valentin Moldavsky claimed it over Johnson, and has a unification date with Bader at the end of January.

No Vacancies: Unlike the year before, every weight division had gold on the line at one time or another in 2021.

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May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

Discouraging Betting: An incredible 28 victorious fighters closed with betting odds at -1000 or above this year, smashing the record of 12 in 2019. Two others: Christian Edwards (-1100) and Mahmoud Sebie Fawzy (-1300) succumbed to knockouts in massive upsets.

Good Luck: The four largest betting favorites in Bellator history occurred this year, courtesy of Nurmagomedov, Law, Magomed Magomedov and Justino. All four came in at -3000 or above, and all won by stoppage.

It’s Good to Be a Favorite: Every single Bellator bout throughout 2021 featured betting odds, far more than any other year. Ten of those 199 fights closed as pick-‘ems, while betting favorites emerged victorious in about 75.7% of those remaining matchups – a whisker lower than 2020 (76%) and 2019 (78%).

There’s Levels to This Upset Game: Ethan Hughes’ knockout of the -1300 Fawzy as a +850 underdog checked in as one of the biggest betting upsets in Bellator history, and the largest in 2021. The line itself may have been wider than Julianna Pena (+700) beating Amanda Nunes (-1100) in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but it was not nearly as substantial.

Stop Doggin Me: More than any year in the past, five different underdogs with lines at +500 or higher prevailed, with four winning by finish.

No Contest: Ahead of her match with Kavanagh, Justino closed as a record -3500 favorite. She did not need long to obliterate the +1750 Irish challenger, doing so in just over a minute and a half.

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The Scale Is the First Battle

Does Not Include Rampant Cancellations: Of all the Bellator fights that took place in 2021, 14 occurred when one fighter clocked in heavy. Nine of those 14 emerged victorious, and four of the five heavy losing competitors were finished along the way.

Set at a “Catchweight”: An additional 16 bouts throughout the year took place at pre-arranged catchweights, or weight numbers agreed upon at or right before the weigh-in ceremony. The most popular non-standard weight came at 175 pounds, in which several ranked welterweights competed at in 2021.

In Fact, Professional is Strong: Out of the 18 Bellator shows this year, only four – Bellators 261, 262 and 267 – went down without a single match outside of a standard weight class. Every other event either had fighters missing weight, intentional catchweights or both.

Target Locked: The most egregious weight offender out of all the fights that still occurred came from Robert Turnquest, who missed the welterweight cap by 6.8 pounds. Roman Faraldo called his shot and annihilated Turnquest with a flying knee just 77 seconds into the match.

One Last Meal Before Weigh-ins: Three women missed weight in 2021 and still competed at their events: Leah McCourt, DeAnna Bennett and Irina Alekseeva. All three emerged victorious.



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