Bellator 179 is headlined by a fascinating welterweight fight between former UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald and British banger Paul ‘Semtex’ Daley. In the co-main event, British light-heavyweights Liam McGeary and Linton Vassell look to establish bragging rights, and move one step closer to a title shot, while heavyweight Cheick Kongo looks to use all his experience against undefeated Brazilian Augusto Sakai.
*** Note: Coverage of Bellator 179 will be televised LIVE on Channel 5 at 10pm this evening (Friday, May19). To avoid spoilers, look away now… ***
22:32: Paul Daley wanted a striking match – a punch-up – but Rory MacDonald was too wise, too experienced and too good for that. He fought to his strengths and, in the end, showed the gulf in class between an elite, championship-level fighter and a contender, albeit one of the most exciting punchers in the world.
ROUND TWO: Will MacDonald go straight for another takedown? He throws with Daley but the moment Daley threatens a right hand, another takedown is initiated and completed. MacDonald finds himself in half-guard, from where he lands elbows. Daley fights off MacDonald’s attempt to get the mount. He gets it eventually, though. Then comes the rear-naked choke and that’s all she wrote. RESULT: MacDonald submits Daley in round two (1:45).
ROUND ONE: MacDonald comes out jabbing and lands a right hand. Immediately he looks for the single-leg takedown. Gets it. Daley fought it off as long as he could but then had to give it up. MacDonald tries to posture up in his guard and Daley pulls him close. Rory lands some punches to the sides but nothing major. It’s clear already, though, that this is where he wants the fight; they were striking for less than thirty seconds. Daley barely takes anything solid. His ground defence is holding up.
22:18: Daley, though, is clearly the home hero. Backed by an awesome Semtex promo, he makes the walk to loud cheers and seems typically intense and fired up.
22:17: Rory MacDonald comes out to a good, respectful reception from the British fight fans. That’s what you get when you’ve been involved in some of the greatest mixed martial arts fights of all-time.
22:05: Main event next. Paul Daley and Rory MacDonald both warming up backstage, getting lose, ready to make their walk. MacDonald is looking to win not one but a couple of Bellator world titles before he’s done. One at welterweight, one at middleweight. Daley, meanwhile, told me on Wednesday he isn’t looking past MacDonald but fancies a rematch with current Bellator middleweight champion Douglas Lima, this time over five rounds.
21:59: A victorious Vassell calls that a win for UK wrestling.
ROUND THREE: “Win, win, win no matter what” are the lyrics to the sound played between rounds two and three and that kind of summarises Vassell’s performance to this point as he gets yet another takedown and puts McGeary on his back. He then quickly mounts him. He’s told again not to “f***ing tickle him”. This isn’t Kongo-Sakai – nothing could ever top that – but it’s certainly short on thrills and spills and the crowd are starting to realise this. There are signs of discontent, boredom.
Vassell, perhaps sensing it, makes his move. He sets up an arm triangle from half guard and forces McGeary to tap. A tremendous result for the man from Milton Keynes. Utterly dominant and didn’t relent until he’d found the finish. RESULT: Vassell submits McGeary in round three (2:28).
ROUND TWO: McGeary lands a right head kick out the blocks. Vassell backs away. They swap kicks in the centre of the cage. It’s all kicking rather than punching with these two. For now at least. Vassell shoots in for a double leg takedown and gets it, dumping McGeary on his back for the first time in this round and the second time in the fight. Vassell is in half guard, seemingly trying to advance, but once again there’s a stalemate of sorts until Vassell climbs into mount, much to the delight of his fans in the crowd. He’s bucked off. He then finds himself in half guard and north-south. McGeary, meanwhile, is doing all he can to get back to his feet, yet seems unable to. He’s soon mounted for the second time in the fight, after which Vassell tries for a kimura. McGeary easily fends it off and they scramble. Vassell gets back to mount. He lands elbows on McGeary through his guard and again looks to free up one of McGeary’s arms for a kimura. He fails. He does, however, end the round in mount and is probably two rounds to the good.
ROUND ONE: Someone tells McGeary not to “f***ing tickle him”. He lands a glancing high kick instead. Vassell responds with a cuffing right hand that just falls short as McGeary pulls away. He gets closer with a second one thrown moments later. A kick from Vassell then trips McGeary and he ends up on top of the former champion. Vassell, in guard, tries to posture up but struggles; McGeary’s defence is too good. It’s a stalemate on the ground. They are reminded by someone in the crowd not to tickle for a second time. Vassell passes to half guard having moved McGeary up against the fence. He tries to work something from that position but McGeary is capable enough to stop him getting the mount. The round ends with Vassell on top but very little damage done.
21:27: It’s okay. Kongo and Sakai have left the cage and Liam McGeary and Linton Vassell are up next. These guys usually fight.
ROUND THREE: What happens in the final round of one of the worst fights of 2017 (if not all-time)? Let’s find out. Kongo again comes out staring. Sakai circles. Neither throw anything or do anything. But then Kongo threatens a right hand, and even throws it, only to wind up in yet another embrace against the fence. Thankfully, they separate this time.
They are at least now in punching range, not that either will choose to punch. Kongo, instead, moves close to Sakai again and they become tangled, a mess of arms and legs, seemingly content to be in this comfort zone for the duration of the fight. They’re close enough to whisper to each other. For all we know, they may well be doing that.
Jon McCarthy just slapped himself around the face to wake himself up. He then decides to finally break things up. We’re back to striking. For how long, though, is anyone’s guess. Kongo at least throws a kick. That was nice of him. And another, this time like he really meant it. Sakai is still to do a single thing in this round. So much for that undefeated record, huh?
They end on the floor for the final minute. It’s where a fight like this kind of has to end. Kongo on top, Sakai on bottom. It’s a beautiful scene to watch. With seven seconds to go McCarthy stops the action and admonishes Sakai for an eye poke. I can’t quite understand it, though. It was Sakai’s best shot of the fight. RESULT: Kongo wins by scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29. No one cares.
ROUND TWO: Let’s pretend this is round three. That way it will soon all be over. The truth is, we’ve yet to pass the halfway mark.
Kongo, again, takes the centre of the cage. Now he fires! Punches – real punches – are thrown and Sakai, for a moment, seems unsettled. Kongo throws another right cross, then attempts a takedown against the fence. He wants Sakai’s right leg. He wants the level change. He gets it. He then loses it and they’re back on their feet, grinding against the cage, arms locked, Kongo’s head somewhere around Sakai’s armpit. The crowd boo for the first time this round. They are back to cheering, though, when Kongo completes the takedown and Sakai sits on his backside with Kongo’s head beneath his left arm. Seconds later, they’re back again. Back on their feet, back in a clinch, back against the fence, back together. Kongo wants this takedown as badly as some fighters want a championship fight. He’s desperate for it.
Referee Jon McCarthy has enough and separates them. But not for long. Kongo dives in again and reacquaints his head with Sakai’s groin. It’s a move greeted by groans and boos. Sorry, people, we still have another round to go.
ROUND ONE: Kongo commands the centre of the cage but no strikes are produced in the opening minute. The crowd boo. Kongo already feels at home. Every time Sakai moves something wobbles. Kongo’s shorts look like they shrunk in the wash, so tight are they around his thighs.
Sakai kicks Kongo’s leg and ironic cheers can be heard from the crowd. Kongo shuffles around the perimeter and paws with his left hand. This has yet to become a fight. Kongo throws a right kick and the crowd cheer louder this time. They’re trying to will these two into having a fight. Kongo goes in for a takedown and ends up in a clinch against the cage. Again, familiar territory. Kongo, history tells us, likes it here. The pair hug it out. Kongo does the hug-and-knee thing, by now something of a trademark.
21:00: Cheick Kongo (The Darkness, according to the big screen behind him) comes out to Sampha’s ‘Blood on Me’. For that, he wins ring walk tune of the night so far.
20:48: Augusto Sakai, an undefeated Brazilian, makes his way to the cage. When I asked Cheick Kongo, his opponent, about him on Thursday, he said, “He’s a monster.” Now Kongo looks to take his zero. Oh, and Sakai, though apparently a monster, has a wobbly midriff and man boobs.
20:45: Michael ‘Venom’ Page casually stood watching his stunning knockout of Cyborg place number one in the greatest knockouts of Bellator MMA. The English fans cheer and I bet every one of them wishes Page was on the card tonight.
20:36: Lohore shares a big hug with his mum. It’s the sort of hug you give your mum on her birthday or when you are about to ask her for something. Sweet.
ROUND TWO: Vinni stumbles to the floor and wants to stay there. Lohore doesn’t play that game. He wants him up. They return to their feet. Shortly after, Lohore stuns him with a right hand, which drops Vinni, and the finish – courtesy of a couple of follow-up punches – swiftly follows. RESULT: Lohore TKO 2 Vinni (0:56).
ROUND ONE: Lohore opens up aggressively with punches and rushes Vinni to the floor. Vinni immediately attacks a leg. Lohore fights it off and ends up in top (in Vinni’s guard). Vinni again targets Lohore’s leg. This time, though, he leaves himself open to a choke attempt, which Lohore spots and attacks. It takes him back to Vinni’s guard. He tries to attack with punches and elbows but Vinni does a good job of stifling him. Once again he goes for Lohore’s leg. That’s the third attempt in the opening round. Vinni survives another choke from Lohore, this time of the rear-naked variety, and continues to frustrate and occasionally work from the bottom as Lohore dominates.
20:22: Dan Vinni just came out to the ‘Pulp Fiction’ theme tune. That was cool. Alex Lohore, meanwhile, walks to the cage draped in a French flag. Also looks cool. So too are his running shoes, which he promptly leaves behind before setting foot in the cage, his office for the night.
20:17: Baby Slice seems delighted with the win. A fighter’s first pro win means so much more when they lost at the first attempt. He needed this one. The relief is evident.
ROUND ONE: Griffin is decked and turtles up. Slice senses his opportunity and goes after it. He pounds away with hammer fists and Griffin, overawed by it all, takes his beating until referee Dan Miragliotta stops it. Slice is a winning fighter for the first time! RESULT: Slice TKO 1 Griffin (3:40).
20:12: Griffin just threw a spinning back fist the way a debutant would throw a spinning back fist. It wasn’t pretty.
20:11: Good right hand from Slice to open this one up. Crowd, some of whom are apparently cowboys (yee-hawing), are right behind him. He takes Griffin down and gets on top of him. Someone just shouted for Slice to “slice him up”. He’d presumably been waiting all night for that one.
20:08: Slice and Griffin are in the cage and we just had a bit of James Brown’s ‘The Payback’. No idea why. These boys have never faced previously each other. Slice has only fought once before; Griffin is popping his MMA cherry.
20:03: Baby Slice is up next. He lost his much-anticipated pro MMA debut via second-round submission. Can he get on the board against fellow American and MMA debutant D.J. Griffin? His dad, the iconic Kimbo Slice, was supposed to fight in London before he passed away last year. When asked this week if this was a way of completing the circle, Baby Slice said, “Yeah, I guess you can look at it like that. Is this at the O2 Arena as well?” It was at that point I had to correct him. “Oh, well, it’s still London at least. This is London, right?” Yes, Baby Slice, it is. It really is.
20:01: Judging by the noise levels, and all the lights, and the stands filling up, it appears the Bellator 179 main card is imminent…
19:50: Fighters Only editor Michael Owens just wrapped up an interview with Bellator hotshot A.J. McKee in press row. The gifted 22-year-old featherweight, who has been in London all week, said Floyd Mayweather has asked to train with him in preparation for a possible/probable boxing match with Conor McGregor. Look for more of McKee in an upcoming issue of the magazine.
19:48: Paul Daley, wearing a red hooded top and cap, just emerged at the perimeter of the arena to have a nose around ahead of his main event against Rory MacDonald later this evening. The Nottingham man, who has promised a win via knockout or decision, soaked up the atmosphere, which is building by the minute, and had a permanent smile on his face.
Alfie Davis vs. Jay Dods
Dan Konecke vs. Stav Economou
Amir Albazi defeated Jamie Powell via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-26, 30-26)
Nathan Jones defeated Umer Kayani via submission (rear-naked choke) in round one
Fabian Edwards defeated Rafal Cejrowski via knockout (flying knee) in round one
Jeremy Petley defeated Chase Morton via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-26)
Mike Shipman defeated Marcin Prostko via TKO (knees) in round one
Salih Kulucan defeated Diego Barbosa via submission (heel hook) in round one