Usman Nurmagomedov Retains Title, Retires Benson Henderson at Bellator 292

Usman Nurmagomedov could not have been more imposing in starting his run in the Bellator MMA lightweight grand prix.

The undefeated American Kickboxing Academy standout retained his undisputed lightweight championship and did so in spectacular fashion, as he submitted Benson Henderson with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their Bellator 292 headliner on Friday at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Henderson (30-12, 7-7 Bellator) raised the white flag of surrender 2:37 into Round 1, as he was submitted for the first time since 2013. Afterward, the 39-year-old MMA Lab cornerstone announced his retirement from mixed martial arts.

Nurmagomedov (17-0, 6-0 Bellator) decked the former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder with an exquisite question mark kick inside the first minute. He then pounced with punches, attached himself to the dazed Henderson’s back and continued to apply his ground-and-pound while hunting a finish. Nurmagomedov eventually snaked his arms in place for the choke, tightened his squeeze and prompted the tapout.

The 24-year-old Nurmagomedov will collide with the Brent Primus-Mansour Barnaoui winner in the tournament semifinals.

Related » Bellator 292 Round-by-Round Scoring

In the co-main event, American Top Team’s Alexandr Shabliy cut down Tofiq Musayev with a controversial third-round body kick to advance to the Bellator lightweight grand prix semifinals. Shabliy (23-3, 4-0 Bellator) brought it to a close 29 seconds into Round 3.

Both men were hesitant to pull the trigger at the outset. Shabliy countered effectively, ducked out of danger and appeared to turn the corner in the second round, where he denied an attempted takedown, connected with an inside leg kick and found a home for his right hand. Musayev (20-5, 1-1 Bellator) ate a front kick to the solar plexus less than a minute into Round 3, the Russian’s foot grazing his cup on the recoil. Referee Jason Herzog paused the action and then deemed the blow legal before informing the Kill Cliff Fight Club representative that he would not be afforded time to recover. When Musayev did not respond in a satisfactory manner, Herzog called for the stoppage. The result seems certain to be debated in the days ahead

Shabliy—who will meet the A.J. McKee-Patricky Freire winner in the tournament semifinals—has won eight fights in a row.

Meanwhile, Kill Cliff Fight Club export Linton Vassell avenged a 2019 defeat to Valentin Moldavsky and knocked out the Russian with a vicious grounded elbow strike in the first round of their heavyweight attraction. Vassell (23-8, 12-5 Bellator) closed the show 3:03 into Round 1 and cemented himself as the No. 1 contender for reigning champion Ryan Bader.

Moldavsky (11-3, 6-2 Bellator) secured of pair of takedowns but failed to corral the Englishman. Once Vassell returned to his feet, he caught and dropped his oncoming adversary with a counter right hook, moved into top position and unsheathed his ground-and-pound. One final elbow separated the badly dazed Moldavsky from his senses.

Vassell, 39, has rattled off five consecutive victories.

Finally, London Shootfighters star Michael Page cut down Goiti Yamauchi with one devastating leg kick in the first round of their welterweight showcase. Yamauchi (28-6, 14-5 Bellator) bowed out 26 seconds into Round 1, as he was finished for the first time in his 34-fight career.

Page (21-2, 17-2 Bellator) sniped from the outside with kicks as his counterpart circled on the perimeter. Before either man could break a sweat, the charismatic Englishman sent his shin crashing into Yamauchi’s knee, the impact of the blow appearing to rupture the patella tendon. No follow-up shots were required.

The 35-year-old Page has won seven of his past eight bouts.

In other action, Enrique Barzola (19-7-2, 3-2 Bellator) laid claim to a unanimous decision at the expense of Erik Perez (20-9, 1-3 Bellator) in a three-round featherweight clash, earning 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 nods from the cageside judges; Laird Anderson (4-0, 4-0 Bellator) put Rogelio Luna (1-1, 1-1 Bellator) to sleep with a rear-naked choke 2:41 into the first round of their featherweight affair; Josh Hill (22-5, 4-2 Bellator) eked out a split decision—28-29, 29-28, 29-28—over Cass Bell (6-3, 6-3 Bellator) in a three-round featherweight scrap; Khalid Murtazaliev (16-3, 3-1 Bellator) was awarded a unanimous verdict over Tony Johnson (8-5, 2-2 Bellator) in a three-round middleweight encounter, sweeping the scorecards with 30-27 marks across the board; Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov (20-7-1, 2-2 Bellator) took a unanimous decision from Julius Anglickas (10-6, 3-3 Bellator) in a three-round light heavyweight tilt, drawing 30-27 scores from all three judges; and Theo Haig (2-0, 2-0 Bellator) dispatched Adam Wamsley (2-3, 0-1 Bellator) with a guillotine choke 3:01 into the first round of their middleweight pairing.
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