If there were any questions about the future of Muhammed Lawal after being stopped by Emanuel Newton by spinning back fist KO at Bellator 90 in February, they've been answered and the word is Lawal is back. The former collegiate wrestling All-American blasted Seth Petruzelli with an overhand right from top position that put the UFC veteran out cold at 1:35 into the first round.
The round began with Lawal faking a takedown, which caused an inadvertent head butt temporarily resulting in halted action. After referee 'Big' John McCarthy restarted the fight, Lawal eventually caught a kick and planted Petruzelli on the mat. While the UFC veteran was initally able to defend himself from Lawal's attacks within his guard, the Strikeforce veteran altered the fight by standing. Once on his feet, Lawal threw Petruzelli's feet to the side while throwing a right hook to the downed fighter that landed unobstructed. In one shot, Petruzelli was out completely cold.
Lawal now moves onto the light heavyweight tournament finals where he'll face the evening's other semifinal winner, Jacob Noe.
For the evening's co-main event, long-time MMA veteran at age 37, Renato Sobral faced off with Bellator veteran Jacob Noe. In the first frame, Sobral ate a fair amount of punches as counters to his inside and outside leg kicks, but Sobral had Noe mostly reacting to his offense.
In the second frame, Sobral attempted numerous takedowns that ultimately went nowhere, but relied much more on his outside punching to score damage. While 'Babalu' ate a fair amount of counters from Noe, he nonetheless pressed the action and still had his opponent reacting to his attack rather than initiating his own. This happened despite Noe landing several hard shots that visibly had Sobral wobbled and backing up to recover.
By the third round, however, that dynamic would change. Noe continued to connect with hooks and stuffed Sobral's takedown attempts. Off a gailed takedown attempt, Noe cracked Sobral with a left hook that not only cut him open, but rocked him badly. Noe didn't pounce, but continued to land a series of strikes, from jabs to right hooks. Against the fence, a right hand hurt Sobral badly enough where Hatlety stopped the fight without Sobral having offense poured on him in a continuous fashion.
While Sobral was never sent to the mat from a hard blow or takedown, he was continually battered. Up against the fence, Sobral looked at the clock, absorbed more punches and circled out, but looked away. Sensing the fighter had taken too much damage, referee Kerry Hatley stopped the contest there.
Visibly upset, Sobral pushed Hatley for his decision, but his fate was sealed. After the decision was read, Sobral decided this bout would be his last. In the tradition of wrestlers who leave their wrestling shoes on the mat after their last march, Sobral left his MMA gloves at the center of the canvas, saluted the crowd and exited the cage. He ends his MMA career with a record of 37-11, having lost four of his last six fights. He holds notable victories over Chael Sonnen, Jeremy Horn, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, Maurice Smith and many others.
In the first heavyweight tournament semifinal, Bellator veterans Ron Sparks and Vitaly Minakov battled for a spot in the tournament finals. Sparks, largely outmatched, wasn't able to last very long against the multiple-time combat sambo world champion Vitaly Minakov. The two trade a handful of punches before Minakov connected on a quick right cross that drilled Sparks cleanly on the chin. Badly hurt, Sparks sat to the mat where a series of follow-up punches from Minakov quickly ended the bout. The end came at just 32 seconds into the first round.
In the opening bout of the Spike TV broadcast, War Machine (formerly known as Jon Koppenhaver) took on WEC veteran Blas Avena in a non-tournament welterweight bout. Koppenhaver went right to work stalking Avena, although slipping in an exhcnage. But he avoided damage from butterfly guard and scored a double leg with damaging shots along the fence early into the first frame. Even as they separated, Koppenhaver continued to press forward eventually scoring an outside trip. From there Koppenhaver was able to move to side control where he locked up a crucifix. Avena, unable to stop the barrage of strikes, was eventually saved by the referee Kerry Hatley at 3:55 of round 1.
Bellator 96 took place at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, OK. The main card aired on Spike TV.