One would think going all out for telegraphed leglock attacks against a veteran like Rich Clementi wouldn't be a wise strategy, but Marcin Held's single-minded battle plan paid dividends in Friday night's Bellator main event.
Held (15-2), who came into Bellator as a one-trick pony, is now one win away from a championship match as he finished Clementi (45-22-1) with a toe hold submission at 3:04 of the second round.
Held, a 20-year-old from Poland, will face Dave Jansen, who eked out a split-decision win over Ricardo Tirloni earlier on the show at the University of Rhode Island gym in Kingston, R.I., in the lightweight tournament finals on a time and place to be determined. The winner will get a shot at the winner of a Michael Chandler title defense against Rick Hawn that will take place in early 2013.
The first round saw Held constantly going for leg submissions, including a toe hold, a series of heel hooks and a kneebar, the latter of which looked dangerous. Both were tied in up strange positions battling and cranking and twisting each others' legs almost the entire round, which included Clementi working on both a heel hook and a guillotine.
In the second round, it appeared Clementi was tired of the footlock game, and took Held down and held him there, smothering him from the top and giving him no maneuvering room. But Held slid from underneath looking to be completely focused on snatching Clementi's leg, and also looking like he was no position to do so. But he emerged, toe hold in hand, forcing Clementi to tap. The former UFC veteran, who has wins over both Anthony Johnson and Melvin Guillard, looked like he was a combination of being disgusted with himself and shocked it happened.
"Marcin looked excellent tonight," said Jansen after finding out who his opponent would be in the finals. "I'm really looking forward to testing my skills against him, and seeing what he has to offer."
"The best feeling in the world," was how Held described getting the submission.
Since he started nearly two years ago in Bellator, Held has compiled a 4-1 record in Bellator with his only loss to Chandler before Chandler became champion. Held has stood out in the crowd not just because of his youth, but for a fighting style that dates back to the mid-90s submission guys on the Japanese MMA scene who came in aggressively going for leglocks from the start of the punch. That strategy usually doesn't work against top level competition, let alone someone with the long background in the submission game like Clementi.
Jansen (19-2) was very lucky to get the decision over Tirloni (15-3) in the other semifinal.
Jansen clearly won the first round, scoring an early knockdown and a couple of late takedowns. But it appeared Tirloni won rounds two and three, although the latter was close due to Jansen's last few seconds. Tirloni got the better of the stand-up in the second round, as well as blocked every Jansen takedown attempt.
The third round was a classic slugfest with both men landing solid shots most of the way in a crowd-pleasing fight. Both men were bleeding, with Tirloni getting the better of the standing exchanges, but it was competitive. Jansen may have gotten the victory with a late takedown, followed by a German suplex with seconds remaining.
"I kind of pictured the fight like that," said Jansen in the cage after getting awarded a split decision on scores of 29-28, 28-29 and 29-28. "I was going to use my wrestling as a backup. Tirloni's definitely got heavy hands. He cracked me a few good ones. But I felt I was able to make him miss and make him pay, and make him pay when he didn't miss."
Former Sengoku featherweight champion Marlon Sandro (23-4) scored a submission via choke over Dustin Neace (27-20-1) via choke in just 2:05. Neace had been working for a heel hook, but Sandro was calm under attack. He escaped and immediately spun to Neace's back and had his forearm under Neace's throat in a split second.
The television opener saw Rhode Island native Perry Filkins (7-1) defeat Jonas Billstein of Germany (10-3) via unanimous decision on scores of 30-27 29-28 and 29-28. The first two rounds were very close, and it really came down to the last 90 seconds. Filkins landed knees and punches, leading Billstein to go for the takedown. But Filkins blocked it and landed on top, and did a number on Billstein in the last 20 seconds with a flurry of punches from the mount.
There is no Bellator show this coming Friday, with the promotion returning on Nov. 30 from Mt. Pleasant, Mich., with this season's welterweight tournament final matching Lyman Good (14-2) vs. Andrey Koreshkov (12-0)