Bellator 91: Vegh Gets Light HW Belt, Rickels and Awad Proceed to Bellator Lightweight Tournament Final
Attila “Pumukli” Vegh (29-4-2 of American Top Team) is the new Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion, after winning a unanimous decision over incumbent Christian “Tonton” M’Pumbu (18-5-1) on Thursday night, February 28, at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, NM. The title bout was remarkably unremarkable, with two counter-punchers circling around each other, looking for openings, with the occasional shot forward by Vegh, to which M’Pumbu responded with takedown attempts and clinches. Each 5 minute-round looked eerily similar to the last, and although each just saw the round winners differently, all of them saw that Vegh had done just enough to take away the title. M’Pumbu, devastated by his loss, felt that the biggest factor was his 18-month hiatus from the ring.
As lackluster as the main event was, accompanied by 5 rounds of booing during and between, the other two main card fights, the Bellator Lightweight Tournament Semi-Finals were exciting and crowd-pleasing. David “The Caveman” Rickels (13-1) rematched Jason Fisher (6-2) for another unanimous decision win, although this time, he dominated each round with repeated jabs, superman punches and hammerfists dropped from the mount; he landed more than 100 shots on Fisher throughout the fight. Although both fighters admitted afterward that the altitude was a factor for them, Rickels stated that he adapted quickly and felt better in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.
The semifinal fight between Saad Awad (14-4) and Will Brooks (9-1) lasted less than 1 minute, as Brooks quickly shot in for a takedown, but Awad caught him with an uppercut, followed by 2 right hooks and a left, dropping Brooks, who stood up only to walk into another hook. He dropped again, Awad swarmed in and the referee stepped in, stopping the fight at 0:43 of the 1st round, giving Awad the win by TKO, and moving him into the finals, with Rickels, for the Bellator Lightweight Tournament, with a combined tournament fighting time of only 74 seconds.The undercard, broadcast on www.spike.com and www.bellator.com featured several of New Mexico’s rising MMA stars, with the main prelim fight featuring Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter" Holm (3-0, out of Jackson’s MMA, and world champion boxer, currently holding 3 titles) against Katie Merrill (1-1) in a 135lb match. Obviously the crowd favorite, every one of the more than 2600 fans stood up, as Holm made her way to the ring, and throughout the fight, could be heard chanting her name. Holm took her time in the first round, feeling out her opponent, dancing in and out, as is her style, landing jab after jab, as well as demonstrating her excellent kickboxing - which she started studying even before she became a boxer – and legitimate takedown defense in her sprawls, avoiding nearly each takedown with apparent ease. Merrill did land a solid jab that put a mouse under Holm’s eye and she scored a takedown with a single and a leg hook in the second round. However, Holm got right back up, pushed Merrill up against the cage, and threw in some knees followed by a body shot that folded Merrill, who tried to kick Holm, but Holm dropped her with a hook and legkick. The referee saw that Merrill was finished and stopped the fight at 3:02 of the 2nd round. Bellator founder and CEO, Bjorn Rebney said the organization would love to see Holly and athletes of her caliber in future events. Holm’s teammate at Jackson’s, Heather Clark, will be facing Felice Herrig at Bellator 95, on March 28.
The rest of the undercard featured fighters from around New Mexico:
Blas Avena (8-6) defeated Lenny Lovato (8-2, Lovato) early in the first round by TKO, a stoppage loudly contested by the home town crowd.
Andres Quintana (4-1, Mean1) defeated Russell Wilson (2-2, Lovato) by TKO in the 3rd round. The first two rounds looked to be fairly even, with combos delivered by Quintana and takedowns for Wilson, but Quintana took up the aggression in the 3rd round, immediately pulling Wilson into a Thai clinch and driving a knee to his head, dropping him to the ground. Quintana dropped down to finish the fight, and the ref stopped it at 0:32 of the 3rd round.
Ed West (18-7) defeated Joshua Montoya (10-8, Judgement/Alchemy) by KO at 2:51 of the 2nd round. He did a decent job in the first round, and although West dominated, Montoya caught several leg kicks, delivering a few jabs, but for some reason did not attempt any takedowns, although his is well-known for his skills in BJJ. West landed a gut shot on Montoya, and as Montoya was countering, West landed a headkick that dropped Montoya out cold.
Adrian Cruz (4-0, Judgement) met Nick Gonzales (3-1, Jacksons) in one of the two, native versus native matches. The 1st round was fairly evenly matched, with exchanged legkicks and combinations, takedowns for Cruz and submission attempts for Gonzales. However, the 2nd round saw more takedowns for Cruz, who maintained dominant position, advancing and eventually taking side mount, wrapping an arm around Gonzales head and forcing a submission by arm lock at 3:03 of the 2nd round. Although Cruz and Gonzales count one another long-time friends, and have had some of the same coaches, they have never actually trained together.
Josh Appelt (9-2) met Albuquerque’s Josh Lanier (3-7, Lovato) in a heavyweight match which was 2 weight classes up for Lanier, who normally fights at 185. Lanier was able to go up to 212-lbs, and weathered a tough first round with Appelt, who dominated the first round with body shots, then Lanier was able to score a takedown, but Appelt reversed to Lanier’s guard. Lanier had a couple submission attempts, but the round ended against the cage. In the 2nd round, Appelt gave Lanier no chance for further submission attempts, but delivered a left hook that dropped Lanier at 0:16 of the 2nd round, and the referee stopped the fight, giving Appelt the TKO.
Brennan Ward (6-1, Waterford, CT) defeated Yair Moguel (3-4, Mexicali, Mexico) after a brief standup exchange, then Ward took Moguel's back, got the body lock, rolled him over and gets the RNC, forcing a tapout at :57 of 1st round.
Bellator Founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney confirmed that Bellator MMA, in conjunction with Orthrus Promotions, does indeed plan to be back in New Mexico, this summer. For more information on this promotion, visit their website www.bellator.com.
photo by Dave Friedlander