Aesthetically pleasing it was not, but Emmanuel Sanchez nevertheless laughed last.
The Roufusport standout won for the fifth time in six outings, as he posted a unanimous decision over former World Series of Fighting champion Georgi Karakhanyan in the Bellator 218 headliner on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. All three judges sided with Sanchez (18-4, 10-3 Bellator), awarding him 29-28 scores across the board.
Karakhanyan (28-9-1, 6-7 Bellator) -- who lost a majority decision to Sanchez in 2017 -- built a quick lead with a strong first round, where he secured a takedown, maintained a dominant position for three-plus minutes and mixed in some ground-and-pound for good measure. Prosperity was short-lived, however. Sanchez made the necessary adjustments in the second and third rounds, incorporated some takedowns of his own and sprang multiple reversals on his opponent during extended exchanges on the ground.
In the heavyweight co-main event, superior conditioning and stellar topside grappling carried Rizin Fighting Federation veteran Valentin Moldavsky to a unanimous decision over Linton Vassell. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-27 for Moldavsky (8-1, 3-0 Bellator).
A former light heavyweight, Vassell (18-8, 7-5 Bellator) entered the cage at a chiseled 246.7 pounds and enjoyed some early success with takedowns and ground-and-pound, as one of his slashing elbows opened a cut near the Russian's right eye. However, Moldavsky was undeterred. By the middle of Round 2, Vassell appeared to be running on fumes and nearly met his end in the clutches of a tight arm-triangle choke. His situation did not improve in the third round. There, Moldavsky freed himself from a weak attempt at a guillotine, settled in top position and hammered away at the fading Englishman with a sustained burst of punches and hammerfists.
The 35-year-old Vassell now finds himself on a three-fight losing streak.
Meanwhile, former Absolute Championship Berkut titleholder Anatoly Tokov survived a serious scare to submit Gerald Harris with a guillotine choke in the second round of their middleweight showcase. Harris (25-8-1, 0-3-1 Bellator) conceded defeat 37 seconds into Round 2, where he was finished for just the third time in his 34-fight career.
Tokov (28-2, 4-0 Bellator) withstood a disastrous first round in which his 39-year-old adversary floored him with a thunderous overhand left and nearly put him away with follow-up punches. He responded by luring Harris into the clinch and gathering himself in close quarters, where he avoided further damage. A recharged Tokov bullied "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 7 alum into the fence early in the second round, cinched a 10-finger guillotine, sank his hips into the choke and prompted a quick tap.
The 29-year-old Tokov has rattled off 21 wins across his last 22 appearances.
Elsewhere, promising London Shootfighters prospect Norbert Novenyi remained undefeated, as he submitted Will Lavine with an arm-triangle choke in the second round of their middleweight feature. Lavine (1-2, 0-2 Bellator) bowed out 4:05 into Round 2.
Novenyi (4-0, 2-0 Bellator) executed multiple takedowns, piled up points with punishing ground-and-pound and navigated his counterpart's guard with relative ease. In the second round, the 19-year-old Hungarian struck for another takedown, softened Lavine with more ground-and-pound and advanced to the back. Novenyi then made a smooth transition to top position, catching the arm-triangle choke in the process.
American Top Team's Johnny Eblen (5-0, 1-0 Bellator) kept his perfect professional record intact with a unanimous decision over Chauncey Foxworth (5-8, 0-1 Bellator) in an undercard scrap at 185 pounds, earning 30-27 nods on all three scorecards; John Teixeira da Conceicao (22-4-2, 5-3 Bellator) captured a unanimous decision from Kevin Croom (18-12, 1-1 Bellator) in a preliminary featherweight pairing, drawing 30-26, 29-27 and 30-26 scores from the judges; Roufusport's Jordan Newman (1-0, 1-0 Bellator) laid claim to a unanimous verdict over Joseph Holmes (0-1, 0-1 Bellator) in an undercard confrontation at 185 pounds; Vladimir Tokov (4-0, 1-0 Bellator) took a unanimous decision from Ryan Walker (7-5, 0-2 Bellator) in a preliminary lightweight affair, sweeping the scorecards with matching 29-28 marks; Deborah Kouzmin (1-0, 1-0 Bellator) cruised to a unanimous verdict over Ky Bennett (1-2, 1-2 Bellator) in a preliminary catchweight tilt at 129 pounds, carrying the scorecards with 30-27s across the board; and Victoria Leonardo (4-1, 1-0 Bellator) submitted Malin Hermansson (2-1, 0-1 Bellator) with an armbar 4:49 into the first round of their undercard clash at 125 pounds.