IRVINE, Calif. -- Bellator MMA’s first live event on Spike TV was more than a year in the making. But Michael Chandler needed barely eight minutes to take care of business in the main event of the company's first Spike card.
The undefeated Alliance MMA fighter improved to 11-0 on Thursday night with a successful defense of his Bellator lightweight title. Chandler submitted Rick Hawn with a rear-naked choke at 3:07 of the second round of their fight at the Bren Events Center on the campus of Cal-Irvine.
Chandler set the tone in the first round by taking down the 2004 Olympic judoka from Dracut, Mass., and controlling most of the round from that position. Hawn looked to avoid a knee to the head while getting back to his feet late in the round by keep a hand on the mat, but he ate a dozen knees to the thigh and torso instead.
Late in the first round, Hawn (14-2) tagged Chandler with a powerful shot, leaving open the idea the tide could turn in the second.
Instead, Chandler, a former NCAA wrestling All-American at Missouri, ramped up the intensity, using a pair of slams to soften him up and set up the finishing rear-naked choke.
"I have a lot of improving to do," Chandler said. "You have to surround yourself with the best training partners you can, surround yoruself with the best people you can, and you have to become a better person."
Chandler credited grappling coach Neil Melanson for the winning choke.
"Me and Neil Melanson worked it about 16,000 times, and it worked out."
Chandler’s victory over Hawn was one of two title fights on the evening. In the Spike card’s opener featherweight champion Pat Curran came on strong over the final two rounds to retain his title against Patricio "Pitbull" Freire.
The bout was a five-round standup battle of attrition. Freire landed more often to take round one. Curran’s jab opened a cut under Freire’s nose in taking round two. Freire had his best round in round three, mixing up his strikes and landing more frequently.
From there, though, conditioning took over, as this was Freire’s first time reaching the championship rounds. Curran picked up the pace and dictated the tempo over the final two rounds, particularly in a clearcut fifth round.
All three judges scored the fight 48-47, with two of the scores going for Curran, who improved to 18-4 with his fifth straight win.
"I wanted to put on a great fight for everybody," said Curran. "I hope everyone enjoyed it. This is the best way to start off the show, to start off with a title defense, I couldn’t wait."
The evening also featured several first-round bouts in Bellator’s light heavyweight tournament. In a main-card bout, Karachev, Russia’s Mikhail Zayats finished veteran Renato Sobral via TKO at 4:49 of the first round. Near a round largely spent in a clinching positional battle, Zayats tagged the fighter known as "Babalu" with a spinning back fist. Zayats stalked the backpedalling Sobral and dropped him with a big left to the face, which dropped him. Zayats followed up with hammerfists before referee "Big" John McCarthy stopped the fight.
"I am very very thankful for my opponent," Zayats (20-6) said through an interpreter. "He’s a very tough fighter and a legend, now I know how tough he is."
In other light heavyweight tournament action, Norwalk, Calif.’s Emanuel Newton (19-7) stopped Bulgarian Atana Djambazov (17-3) with a second round rear-naked choke. Round one was a slugfest, with Djambazov getting the best of things early. But Newton rallied and finished the round strong. Djambazov tired in the second round, giving Newton the opening to finish the fight.
In the final tourney bout of the evening, Jacob Noe (8-2) made short work of veteran Seth "The Silverback" Petruzelli. Noe landed a couple dozen uncontested punches to the downed Petruzelli, who was doing little more than covering up. Referee Jason Herzog stopped the fight at 2:51 of the first round.