DAZN is the exclusive streaming partner of Bellator MMA. You can sign up here.
Rory MacDonald’s hold on the Bellator MMA welterweight throne has grown unexpectedly tenuous.
The Tristar Gym standout retained his 170-pound title and advanced out of the welterweight grand prix quarterfinals in a contentious majority draw -- 46-48, 47-47, 47-47 -- with Jon Fitch in the Bellator 220 headliner on Saturday at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Next up for MacDonald (20-5-1, 2-1-1 Bellator): a semifinal showdown with the undefeated Neiman Gracie on June 14 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Fitch (32-7-2, 1-0-1 Bellator) overcame a difficult first 10 minutes and a number of overhand rights from the Canadian and started to chip away at his resolve. He stymied MacDonald for the entire third round, securing a takedown inside the first minute, controlling position and opening a cut above the champion’s right eye with a short but effective elbow strike. MacDonald wobbled the American Kickboxing Academy export with an elbow of his own in the fourth round but could not keep his challenger at bay. Fitch scrambled into top position midway through the period, pinned the “Red King” to the canvas and set out to suffocate him.
MacDonald conceded another takedown roughly a minute into the fifth round and threatened with a triangle choke, only to see the 41-year-old challenger resume his assault from the top. Fitch denied his attempts to stand and scored with punches and elbows to the body and head. However, his inability to do serious damage or pull off a finish proved costly when the scorecards were read.
In the co-main event, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane kept her perfect professional record intact and retained her women’s flyweight championship with a cut-induced technical knockout of Veta Arteaga. Referee Jason Herzog called for the stoppage on the advice of the cageside physician 1:50 into Round 3.
Macfarlane (10-0, 9-0 Bellator) had her hands full. Arteaga (5-3, 4-3 Bellator) resisted the Hawaiian at every turn, bloodied her nose with an elbow strike from the bottom in the second round and turned it into a brawl on the feet. However, Macfarlane executed a takedown inside the first minute of Round 3, moved to a crouched position inside the challenger’s guard and drove an elbow into her forehead. Arteaga’s skin split, and blood poured from the wound. When the two women returned to their feet, Herzog paused the action, had the doctor examine Arteaga and waved it off.
The 29-year-old Macfarlane has finished her last five opponents.
Meanwhile, former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder Benson Henderson struck, scrambled and grappled his way to a split decision over Adam Piccolotti in a sublime three-round lightweight showcase. All three judges scored it 29-28, two of them siding with Henderson (27-8, 4-3 Bellator), who now finds himself on a three-fight winning streak.
Piccolotti (11-3, 7-3 Bellator) undoubtedly raised his stock in defeat, as he gave “Smooth” all he could handle and then some across their 15-minute engagement. He did his best work in the first round, where he secured a takedown, moved to Henderson’s back and made passes at a rear-naked choke and an arm-triangle. Piccolotti’s efforts failed to net the desired result. Henderson bounced back in Round 2, as he scored with a flying knee, delivered a takedown of his own and opened a cut on the American Kickboxing Academy representative’s cheek with a slashing elbow strike from the top.
The third round could have gone to either man. Piccolotti controlled the first half with a takedown, positional control and attempt at a standing rear-naked choke. However, Henderson collapsed to the mat, denied the choke and spun into top position out of a body triangle. He spent the waning moments of the fight applying his ground-and-pound from inside guard, giving the judges one last sequence to consider.
Elsewhere, four-time NCAA All-American Phil Davis appeared to break Liam McGeary’s jaw with a compact left hand, prompting a tapout from the Brit in the third round of their light heavyweight rematch. McGeary (13-4, 10-4 Bellator), who lost a unanimous decision to the UFC veteran in November 2016, bowed out 4:11 into Round 3.
Davis (20-5, 7-2 Bellator) pestered the 6-foot-6 Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with jabs and crisp one-two combinations but did real damage with a sustained barrage of leg kicks. He exploited a weakened McGeary early in the third round, as he executed a takedown and battered him with ground-and-pound before the two former Bellator champions returned to their feet. Once there, “Mr. Wonderful” connected with a sneaky left hook that had McGeary grimacing in pain. The battle then spilled onto the canvas, where Davis advanced to back mount, dropped elbows, threatened with a rear-naked choke and forged the finish.
McGeary, 36, has lost four of last six bouts.
Finally, the once-beaten Gaston Bolanos struck down Nathan Stolen with punches in the first round of their featherweight feature. Stolen (7-5, 0-2 Bellator) succumbed to blows 2:21 into Round 1.
Bolanos (5-1, 5-1 Bellator) found a willing dance partner in the King of the Cage veteran. Stolen exchanged with the Combat Sports Academy rep for much of their brief encounter but could not match his firepower. The two men connected with dueling left hooks, as Bolanos stumbled backward and his counterpart hit the deck. He then followed the dazed Stolen to the canvas and polished off his latest win with a volley of punches.
The 26-year-old Bolanos has rattled off four consecutive victories, all of them finishes.
In preliminary action, Abraham Vaesau (5-2, 2-0 Bellator) took care of Justin Roswell (3-3, 0-3 Bellator) with punches 1:59 into the first round of their undercard clash at 170 pounds; Jordan Williams (9-2, 2-0 Bellator) dispatched Diego Herzog (4-3-1, 1-1-1 Bellator) with punches 1:21 into the third round of their middleweight prelim; Josh San Diego (9-4, 4-1 Bellator) laid claim to a unanimous decision over Brandon Laroco (5-2, 1-1 Bellator) in a three-round tussle at a 140-pound catchweight, drawing 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 marks from the judges; Hyder Amil (3-0, 2-0 Bellator) submitted Paradise Vaovasa (6-4, 0-1 Bellator) with a rear-naked choke 2:34 into the first round of their featherweight match; Chuck Campbell (2-0, 2-0 Bellator) wiped out Bruno Casillas (0-2, 0-1 Bellator) with a brutal knee from the clinch 1:45 into the first round of their light heavyweight scrap; Cass Bell (3-0, 3-0 Bellator) knocked out Peter Ishiguro (0-1, 0-1 Bellator) with a knee strike and follow-up punches 2:59 into the second round of their catchweight confrontation at 140 pounds; Matt Perez (3-2, 2-0 Bellator) disposed of Justin Tenedora (2-2, 2-2 Bellator) with punches 4:52 into the first round of their flyweight encounter; Brandon Faumui (5-3, 1-0 Bellator) eked out a split decision -- 28-29, 30-27, 29-28 -- over Chris Avila (6-8, 1-1 Bellator) in a three-round catchweight affair at 160 pounds; and Israeli prospect Aviv Gozali (2-0, 2-0 Bellator) put Travis Crain (0-1, 0-1 Bellator) to sleep with a rear-naked choke 2:15 into the first round of their lightweight pairing.