Now Hornbuckle and Askren will fight in the welterweight tournament final, and based on how they looked Thursday night, the 21-2 Hornbuckle would have to be considered a favorite to defeat the 5-0 Askren.
Hornbuckle earned a first-round submission victory over Steve Carl and showed once again that he's one of the most exciting finishers in the welterweight division. When Carl took Hornbuckle down early in the first round, Hornbuckle demonstrated beautiful technique from his back, first controlling Carl in his guard, then locking Carl up with a body triangle, and finally sinking in a nasty kimura that forced Carl to tap out. The whole fight took just two minutes, 31 seconds.
Askren had no trouble at all taking Ryan Thomas down and out-muscling him on the ground early in the first round, showing both the strength of an Olympic wrestler and his relative inexperience in MMA: Askren achieved full mount twice but never really did much of anything with it, and while he won the first round, he didn't dominate it the way a more seasoned fighter would have given his positional control.
Thomas took Askren down at the start of the second round, but it didn't take long for Askren to use his superior wrestling to get on top -- and then show once again that he didn't know what to do when he got there. Askren stayed on top and won the round without doing anything particularly impressive. It was more of the same in the third round, with Askren getting on top, not doing much of anything, and grinding out the decision wins.
When Askren decided to turn his attention from Olympic wrestling to MMA, he instantly became one of the sport's most promising prospects. He may still be that, but he showed on Thursday night that he has a lot of work to do before he'll be an elite MMA fighter.
But while Askren did not impress on Thursday, few fighters in all of MMA have been as impressive as Hornbuckle over the last year. He knocked out Akihiro Gono with a devastating head kick in Japan in August, TKO'd Nick Thompson in September and has now secured two first-round submission wins in Bellator this year. Hornbuckle is emerging as one of Bellator's stars.