Fortunately for Matt Mitrione, he banked two rounds.
The former Purdue University defensive tackle picked apart Roy Nelson for the better part of 10 minutes, withstood a furious third-round rally from “Big Country” and walked away with a majority decision in the Bellator 194 headliner on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Scores were 29-28, 29-28 and 28-28, as Mitrione advanced to the semifinals of the 2018 Bellator MMA heavyweight grand prix.
Nelson (23-15, 1-1 Bellator) spent the first two rounds taking on water. Mitrione (13-5, 4-0 Bellator) cut loose with stinging straight lefts, thudding uppercuts with both hands, occasional jabs and heavy inside leg kicks, all while avoiding his counterpart’s one-hitter-quitter right hand. Behind on the scorecards, Nelson fought with a sense of urgency in the third round. There, he executed a takedown, advanced to the mounted crucifix position and pummeled Mitrione with short punches, elbows and forearm strikes. However, Nelson could not sustain the kind of offense necessary to force the stoppage. Mitrione eventually escaped to his feet and ran out the clock.
In the lightweight co-main event, Patricky Freire cut down former King of the Cage champion Derek Campos with punches in the first round of their rematch at 155 pounds. Campos (19-7, 8-5 Bellator) bowed out 2:23 into Round 1, his four-fight winning streak at an end.
Freire (19-8, 12-7 Bellator) -- who also defeated Campos at Bellator 117 nearly three years ago -- sat down the Mohler MMA rep with a left hook, clipped him with a subsequent uppercut and sent him into a tailspin from which he would not recover. More uppercuts and hooks followed, and the barrage had Campos on all fours ducking for cover. He found none, as referee Kevin MacDonald swooped in to save him from further punishment.
A two-time Bellator tournament runner-up, Freire has won three fights in a row.
Meanwhile, Vadim Nemkov announced his arrival as a contender at 205 pounds and shut down former champion Liam McGeary with leg kicks in the third round of their light heavyweight showcase. McGeary (12-3, 9-3 Bellator) succumbed to an accumulation of damage 4:02 into Round 3, as he lost for the third time in four appearances.
Nemkov (9-2, 2-0 Bellator) marched down the Renzo Gracie protégé with crisp combination punching early on but turned more frequently to the leg kicks that would eventually net the stoppage. McGeary saw his best chance at victory come and go in the second ground, where he nearly ensnared the Rizin Fighting Federation veteran in one of his patented inverted triangles from the bottom. Nemkov escaped, coaxed the Englishman back to an upright position and tore into the inside and outside of his lead leg with repeated kicks. Referee Dan Miragliotta moved in to rescue McGeary with less than a minute to go, as it had become clear he could absorb no more damage.
The 25-year-old Nemkov has rattled off four straight wins.
In other action, former two-division boxing champion Heather Hardy walked away with a unanimous decision over Ana Julaton in their three-round tussle at 125 pounds, earning 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 scores from the cageside judges; Strong Style Fight Team prospect Tywan Claxton dispatched an overmatched Jose Antonio Perez with punches 3:39 into the second round of their featherweight confrontation; Arizona Combat Sports rep Jarod Trice was awarded a majority decision -- 28-28, 29-27, 29-27 -- over Walter Howard in a three-round light heavyweight encounter; Mike Kimble stopped Geoffrey Then with a slam and follow-up punches 63 seconds into the first round of their bantamweight scrap; Ross Richardson slashed through Ronie Arana Leon with punches 1:41 into the second round of their lightweight affair; Regivaldo Carvalho wiped out Tom English with punches 17 seconds into the first round of their featherweight pairing; Marcus Surin submitted Dean Hancock with an arm-triangle choke 4:50 into the second round of their lightweight tilt; Kastriot Xhema disposed of Peter Nascimento with punches 3:52 into the first round of their catchweight clash at 165 pounds; and Pat Casey took a unanimous decision from Tyler Hamilton in a three-round lightweight battle, drawing 30-27 marks on all three scorecards.