Mike Hayes, Blagoi Ivanov, Eric Prindle and Ron Sparks advanced to the semifinals of the Bellator Fighting Championships heavyweight tournament on Saturday night with victories at Bellator 52 in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
In the main event of the evening, Hayes won a split decision to upset Neil Grove, who advanced to the finals of last year's Bellator heavyweight tournament. Two judges scored the fight 29-28 for Hayes, and one judge scored it 29-28 for Grove.
Ivanov bloodied up Zak Jensen's face in the first round of their fight, and choked him into unconsciousness with a guillotine in the second round. Jensen had to step into the fight at the last minute because Ivanov's original opponent, the Brazilian Thiago Santos, couldn't get a visa to make the fight. Jensen is probably wishing he hadn't been able to fight Ivanov either.
Prindle beat Abe Wagner by unanimous decision, with all three judges scoring it 29-28. It was a sloppy mess of a heavyweight brawl, with both men swinging wildly early and then gassing out late. The win improves Prindle to 8-1 in his MMA career.
Sparks destroyed Mark Holata with a couple of huge left hooks that knocked him down and a couple more ground strikes to finish him off. The whole fight took just 1 minute, 24 seconds. The win improves Sparks' MMA record to 8-0, and he's finished seven of his opponents in the first round.
As always for Bellator, the question will be whether the heavyweight tournament can gain any traction among MMA fans, who often overlook Bellator in favor of the UFC. If there's anyone in this tournament who can capture the attention of MMA fans, it's the hard-hitting Sparks. If he can win this tournament and keep looking the way he looked on Saturday night, he could become the kind of fighter MMA fans make a point of seeking out.