The long and bizarre title reign of Christian M'Pumbu is over.
After nearly two years at the top, M'Pumbu had never even attempted to defend the belt until Thursday night at Bellator 91. Facing Attila Vegh in his first match in 16 months, M'Pumbu was flat, never getting his offense untracked in a lackluster effort.
Instead it was Vegh who the busier fighter and the more powerful striker, and he rode that combination to a decision victory. The judges scored the bout 50-45, 49-45, 48-47 in his favor.
According to Bellator stats, Vegh out-landed M'Pumbu 81-52. Vegh had the advantage all the way along. He dropped M'Pumbu in the first round with a lead right cross, a punch that he looked for throughout the course of the five-rounder.
On the ground, Vegh was able to establish dominant positions several times as well, but was unable to finish M'Pumbu and add to his list of stoppage wins.
That was a disappointment to the crowd at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, which booed throughout the slow-paced 25-minute bout.
Vegh (29-4-2) did manage to extend his personal win streak to nine straight overall. In Bellator's summer series, he defeated Zelg Galesic, Emanuel Newton and Travis Wiuff to advance to the title fight.
Vegh had fought six times since M'Pumbu first won the belt in the spring of 2011 with a TKO Of Richard Hale. M'Pumbu had only fought once since, in a non-title fight against Wiuff, which he lost by decision. That made him something of a lame duck champion, and Vegh took away that designation with his victory.
In other Thursday night Bellator action, David Rickels and Saad Awad advanced to the lightweight tournament finals with victories.
Awad was the night's shocker, a sizable underdog knocking out the unbeaten Will Brooks just 43 seconds into the first round.
The aggressive Awad hurt Brooks with an uppercut and then a right behind the ear. Those strikes staggered Brooks, who tried to go low for a takedown, but Awad resisted him and let loose with a barrage of power strikes that had Brooks stumbling around the cage. One last standing right hand eventually sent Brooks to the mat where Awad finished him off.
"As soon as I hit him I knew he was rocked," said an emotional Awad. "I just needed to make space because I knew he was going to try to take me down."
Brooks had been the odds-on favorite to win the tournament after bursting on to the international scene with a knockout of Japanese star Satoru Kitaoka. For his fight with Awad, he'd been bet up to a 5-to-1 favorite.
Instead, it was Awad as the surprise winner. He'll take on Rickels, who advanced with a win over Jason Fischer, taking the fight with two 30-27 scores and one 29-28 score.
The bout was a rematch of a November 2012 fight between them, which Rickels also won. This time, a berth in the tourney finale was on the line, and Rickels was fairly dominant, out-landing Fischer 116-43 according to Bellator stats.
Rickels nearly finished the bout in the third, looking for the tapout with a rear naked choke and an armbar, but Fischer survived both. Still, Rickels racked up the points on ground and pound from the mount, landing at will with 47 strikes to Fischer's three over the last five minutes.
Rickels is now 13-1 overall while Fischer dropped to 6-2.
The Rickels-Awad winner will eventually compete for the Bellator lightweight championship against Michael Chandler. The reigning champion recently made his first successful title defense, submitting Rick Hawn.
In notable undercard action, world-ranked women's boxer Holly Holm stayed unbeaten in MMA, winning her third straight bout with a second-round TKO over Katie Merrell. Holm earned the finish with a body shot followed by some head strikes. In addition, Ed West earned his first knockout win in 25 pro fights. West (18-7) came into the fight with nine submission victories, but had never stopped an opponent on strikes. That streak ended with a thudding left head kick that put Josh Montoya's lights out 2:51 into round two.