Credit Bellator MMA matchmakers, whose foresight made certain fans got their money's worth.
Brandon Girtz leaned on maniacal punching combinations, a sturdy chin and a late surge of ground-and-pound, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Saad Awad in the Bellator 219 headliner on Friday at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California. All three cageside judges scored it for Girtz (16-8, 8-6 Bellator): 29-28, 30-27 and 29-28.
Neither man wanted to cede ground to the other. Girtz had the former Gladiator Challenge champion in serious trouble in the first round, where he connected with an overhand right, blitzed him with punches and cut loose with both hands, driving Awad to his knees at the base of the cage. Girtz eventually climbed to full mount but could not break the 35-year-old Californian. A hotly contested middle stanza gave way to Round 3, where Girtz countered a single-leg takedown attempt, assumed a dominant position and battered the "Assassin" with hammerfists and sweeping punches. Again, Awad (23-11, 11-8 Bellator) refused to go away. He returned to his feet, backed up his fatigued adversary and connected with a volley of punches in the waning moments, only to see his bid for a Hail Mary finish come up short.
Girtz, 34, has won two of his last three fights.
In the co-main event, two-time featherweight champion Daniel Straus made a triumphant return from a life-threatening motorcycle accident and submitted Shane Kruchten with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their pairing at 155 pounds. Kruchten (12-5, 0-2 Bellator) bowed out 3:53 into Round 1.
Competing for the first time since October 2017, Straus (25-8, 12-5 Bellator) kept his emotions at bay and adhered to a disciplined game plan. The 34-year-old Ohio native rang Kruchten's bell with a sweeping left hand, pounced with punches on his dazed counterpart and made a smooth transition to the back. Soon after, the fight-ending choke was in place.
The submission was Straus' first in nearly four years.
Meanwhile, former Bellator welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov outstruck and outgrappled Mike Jasper to a unanimous decision across three rounds in a featured attraction at 170 pounds. Koreshkov (22-3, 13-3 Bellator) swept the scorecards with identical 30-27 marks across the board, as he rebounded from his technical submission loss to Douglas Lima in September.
A replacement for the injured Lorenz Larkin, Jasper (13-5, 0-1 Bellator) went elephant hunting with a peashooter. The 35-year-old Resurrection Fighting Alliance alum spent the majority of his time eating kicks to the body and the upper and lower leg, surrendering takedowns and surviving in the clinch. Koreshkov staggered him with an overhand right in the second round and buried him with repeated takedowns in the third.
The defeat not only spoiled Jasper's promotional debut but snapped his three-fight winning streak.
Elsewhere, stinging inside and outside leg kicks, powerful punching combinations and destructive ground-and-pound carried Joe Schilling to a unanimous decision over former King of the Cage champion Keith Berry in a three-round middleweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 30-26 for Schilling (4-5, 3-2 Bellator).
Berry (15-15-1, 2-4-1 Bellator) executed takedowns in all three rounds but failed to consolidate them with positional control or submission attempts. He tripped and mounted Schilling in the third round, only to be reversed. Once on his back in full guard, Berry ate one slashing elbow after another from the kickboxer, and when the final horn sounded, it appeared as though someone had taken a hatchet to him -- a grotesque gash on his left eyebrow and a smaller laceration on his right cheek serving as evidence of Schilling's handiwork.
Schilling, 35, has recorded back-to-back victories for the first time as a professional mixed martial artist.
In other action, Team Bodyshop prospect Joey Davis (5-0, 5-0 Bellator) knocked out Marcus Anthony (1-1, 0-1 Bellator) with an overhand right 4:21 into the first round of their welterweight affair; and Dalton Rosta (1-0, 1-0 Bellator) was awarded a technical knockout when Cody Vidal (1-2, 0-1 Bellator) suffered a knee injury and verbally submitted 1:06 into the first round of their light heavyweight encounter.