After a month away, Bellator MMA returned last night with a great all-action card from the SAP Center in San Jose, California.
Compared to the picking the Five Stars of Bellator 182, this event was not nearly as difficult. The only question was the ordering it correctly.
So, I have done my best to pick the top five performers from the card. Here we go! If you missed the event, check out the full results here.
1. Paul Daley (40-15-2)
def. Lorenz Larkin via KO in Round 2
After welcoming upcoming title-challenger Rory MacDonald to the cage a couple months back, Paul Daley needed a win heading into Bellator 183. As did Lorenz Larkin, however, as he had just lost to champion Douglas Lima at Bellator NYC in June.
It was a must win for both, but in the end, Daley got his much-needed W. And in vicious fashion. After clinching up momentarily in round two, Paul Daley used the range to his advantage as he threw a spinning back-elbow. It didn’t land fully, but the absolutely vicious signature left-hook of Daley did immediately after.
Larkin was visibly out of it following the left-hand but remained standing before Daley flurried and put the stamp on the fight, earning himself a massive knockout.
OFFICIAL RESULT: Paul Daley def. Lorenz Larkin via KO (Punches) at 2:40 of Round 2.
This was the 2nd KO loss of Larkin’s career, but his first as a welterweight. The previous KO loss was at middleweight when he faced Costas Philippou at UFC Fight Night 40 in 2014. The win puts Daley’s Bellator MMA record at 6-2 w/ 5 KO. His two losses were to the current champion (Lima) and the next title-challenger (MacDonald). Larkin, who entered the company as a highly-ranked UFC welterweight, now sits at 0-2 inside the Bellator cage.
Daley had this to say post-fight:
“The fight went as planned. I felt great and I knew how this would end,” Paul Daley said. “Lorenz Larkin was acting very uncharacteristically leading up to the fight and when I saw all of his antics and what not, I knew the fight would only end one way and that’s with him flat on the canvas.”
With Lima/MacDonald signed on for January 20, it’s an interesting discussion regarding who Daley could face next. He called out Michael “Venom” Page post-fight. Considering the amount of back-and-forth that fight has had yet, for some reason, still not taken place, I say that Daley vs. Andrey Koreshkov is the next logical step for the welterweight division.
2. Goiti Yamauchi (22-3)
def. Adam Piccolotti via Submission in Round 1
Considering the fact he is an incredibly talented fighter who is just 24-years-old, you’d almost want to call Yamauchi a prospect. But given his 25-fight record, I don’t know if you can. He may have surpassed ‘prospect status’ at this point.
His 28-year-old foe entered the fight with an undefeated record of 9-0 known for being a finisher who was incredibly hard to finish. Goiti Yamauchi came in having won two-straight vs. Ryan Couture & Valeriu Mircea.
On the other end, Adam “The Bomb” Piccolotti was riding high on the biggest win of his career against perennial contender Brandon Girtz.
The 24-year-old Japanese fighter was dominant almost immediately. Piccolotti escaped an incredibly tight guillotine choke early, but it was essentially done and over the second Yamauchi took the back of a standing Piccolotti halfway through the opening round.
“The Bomb” did his best to fight the hands and avoid the choke, knowing full-well that Yamauchi had a stellar submission game, especially considering he had felt it just moments prior with that guillotine. The defense was not enough, and Piccolotti was forced to tap.
OFFICIAL RESULT: Goiti Yamauchi def. Adam Piccolotti via Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 3:19 of Round 1.
Yamauchi had this to say post-fight regarding his title aspirations:
“I’m ready to sign the contract for my next fight right now,” Yamauchi said. “I feel that I’m one fight away from a title shot, after another win like the one tonight, I don’t think there’s any way that Bellator can deny that I’m the number one contender.”
Yamauchi tied Marcin Held for most submission wins in Bellator history w/ 6. His overall Bellator record now sits at 8-2 w/ three wins, three finishes, in a row. A step-up in competition is warranted.
— islandmob (@islandmobosp) September 24, 2017
3. Aaron Pico (1-1)
def. Justin Linn via KO in Round 1
Aaron Pico made his pro debut in June on the biggest show Bellator has ever done. The hype behind him was insane, and he had been considered one of the best prospects the sport had ever seen long before he made his MMA debut at the age of 20.
Unfortunately, Zach Freeman spoiled that debut quickly. But Pico wanted to waste no time in getting back in the cage. Feeling undersized at lightweight, he dropped to the featherweight division to take on yet another veteran fighter with experience; Justin Linn.
That incredible wrestling background was on display early, with Pico scoring with takedowns and remaining active while on top. About midway through the opening round, the fight returned to the feet where Pico then showed the world just how legit his golden gloves background is as well.
He picked up an absolutely devastating one-punch KO with a very sneaky check-hook. Linn was unconscious before he hit the mat, and Pico earns his first win as a professional mixed martial artist in quite possibly the most memorable way.
OFFICIAL RESULT: Aaron Pico def. Justin Linn via KO (Punch) at 3:45 of Round 1.
Pico paid respect to his opponent and said this about his performance:
“First of all, hats off to Justin [Linn]. He’s a great competitor and I knew it was going to be a tough fight. It feels good fighting at 145-pounds. This is my natural weight and it felt great. I’m going to have to watch the replay of this fight because I’m not even sure how I hit him, it was just very instinctual. I always knew that I had very powerful hands and I’m not being cocky, I’m just confident because I spar with some of the best boxers in the world over at Team Bodyshop in Long Beach. The key to this fight was just relaxing because I knew that as long as I was relaxed in there, my skillset was going to show.”
Pico seems to have found a home at featherweight just shy of his twenty-first birthday. Considering the lack of damage taken, it would not be surprising to see him make a very quick turnaround.
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) September 24, 2017
4. Brandon Laroco (2-1)
def. Gaston Bolanos via Submission in Round 2
The preliminary portion of a card generally exists to give lesser-known fighters a platform to prove their worth.
California’s Laroco entered the night as an unknown who would be taking on Bellator Kickboxing and Lion Fight star Gaston Bolanos in what would be Bolanos‘ second MMA bout.
Bolano’s tears up the kickboxing & muay thai scene with a vicious fast-paced and technical style. He loves to throw elbows and he loves to finish fights. On paper, surely the seasoned and experienced striker would continue his MMA rise, right?
Wrong. Very, very wrong. It was an incredible fight that saw Brandon Laroco land a devastating spinning-hook kick on Bolanos in round two and stunning him big time in the process. Gaston continued to throw spinning back-elbows and other wild techniques despite barely being able to stand, but Laroco’s killer-instinct was incredible.
When he wobbled Bolanos with that kick, he did not give him a second to recover and swarmed him. Eventually, he found himself locking in a triangle choke on a hurt Bolanos. With no tap from Bolanos, Laroco put the striker to sleep after lighting him up for the entire duration of that second round.
OFFICIAL RESULT: Brandon Laroco def. Gaston Bolanos via Submission (Triangle Choke) at 2:16 of Round 2.
It is hard for me to do the fight and performance justice, so go watch the fight for yourself right here. In what was his first fight under the Bellator banner, you best believe they’re gonna give Laroco more fights after this.
At 22-years-old, and after a performance like that, it’s an absolute must that you remember the name Brandon Laroco.
5. Patricky Freire (18-8)
def. Benson Henderson via Split Decision
In a crowded lightweight division, you never know how far back a loss can set you. So a win is always pivotal.
Earlier in the year, Patricky Pitbull rebounded from a devastating title-opportunity loss by picking up a massive KO win over UFC, Strikeforce veteran Josh Thomson. It, very arguably, put more eyes and attention on him than any previous win of his career. So obviously he wanted to keep that momentum going.
Benson Henderson did not enter on that same type of high, though. He came into the bout with a 1-2 Bellator record, with both losses coming in title fights at lightweight & welterweight. His one Bellator win is a somewhat controversial one that came via injury against none other than Patricio Freire, Patricky Freire’s younger, equally exciting brother. It was controversial because the popular opinion seems to be that Freire was starting to take over a fight he was likely already winning when he got injured.
So when Patricky Freire and Henderson met in the cage, there were a ton of variables at play. And a lot of questions to be answered.
It was not a one-sided fight, finish, or anything too crazy. It was a very strategic and calculated performance from both men, with neither necessarily running away with it.
Pitbull seemed to best Henderson while in boxing range. Landing multiple solid shots and some nice step-in knees. Henderson landed some solid body kicks as well as a few nice punches of his own, but overall; it was Freire who was landing with the clear power advantage.
On commentary, Jimmy Smith had it 29-28 for Henderson prior to the decision being read, in which two of the three judges gave that same score in favor of the Brazilian, only one judge agreed with Smith when it came to scoring the contest.
OFFICIAL DECISION: Patricky Freire def. Benson Henderson via Split Decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Again, it was a very close fight, but; in my personal opinion, the right man did win.
Pitbull spoke his mind and called out the champion following his record-tying performance:
“I want the champion. I want Brent Primus. Tonight I took down another former champion and I want my shot at that belt,” Patricky Freire said. “He keeps running from me but now it’s time. I want that belt and after tonight I earned my shot at it. Benson Henderson is a good, tough fighter, but I’ve got my mind on the division title now. You can’t keep running Primus.”
Based on name value alone, this is certainly one of the bigger wins of Patricky’s career. He remains in the title picture, and he ties the record for most fights in Bellator MMA history with…… Patricio Pitbull Freire. The brothers have each appeared inside the Bellator cage 18 times.
Check out the event highlights below to see highlights of his decision win.