It nearly took a year for Joe Warren to climb back into the Bellator cage. But in the end, Warren made good on the opportunity, disposing of Nick Kirk with a second-round submission to claim victory in the main event of Bellator 101.
Warren's season nine tournament bout, initially scheduled for early September, wound up being delayed several weeks due to a frightening mistaken diagnosis of Warren's pre-fight medicals. So when the moment came, the self-styled "Baddest Man on the Planet" wasted little time dialing up his aggressiveness.
Warren (9-3) piled up the takedowns early and often in round one, then lunged onto a single leg to open the second frame.
From there it was the beginning of the end. Warren advanced into side control, trapped both of Kirk's arms, then locked in an inverted armbar/triangle combination during an ensuing scramble. Kirk (10-3) defended the armbar valiantly, but eventually succumbed to a modified choke.
"I'm extremely proud to be able to win in this cage for Viacom and Spike," Warren said afterward. "It felt wonderful."
With the win, Warren moves on to the Bellator season nine bantamweight finals, where he'll face Travis Marx. And in true Warren fashion, he couldn't help but deliver a message to his awaiting opponent.
"I would get hurt or move out of the country," Warren warned. "Because when I get ahold of you, I'm going to crush you worse than I crushed him."
In the night's co-main event, Alexander "Tiger" Sarnavsky (24-1) roared through Marcus Davis (23-9, 1 NC), ending the 40-year-old's comeback bid just 1:40 into the first round with a rear-naked choke.
Sarnavsky dropped Davis with a big right hand out of the gate. Smelling blood, the Russian lunged on his fallen opponent, locked in a body triangle, then ripped a salvo of rights and lefts from Davis' back. Sarnavsky eventually transitioned to secure both of his hooks, before slithering in the fight-ending submission.
With the win, Sarnavsky moves on season nine's lightweight tournament semifinals, where he'll meet Ricardo Tirloni (16-4).
A four-tourney Bellator veteran, Tirloni advanced to the semifinals for just the second time, defeating UFC veteran Rich Clementi (45-23-1) via unanimous decision.
Tirloni cut Clementi below his eye early in the opening frame, then peppered Clementi with strikes from the outside for the ensuing 10 minutes. Tirloni stayed composed despite Clementi's best attempts to coax him into a firefight, ultimately spending most of the final round in top position after securing a quick outside trip.
Judges scored the bout 30-26, 30-27, and 30-27 in the Brazilian's favor.
Brooks dragged the fight to the mat multiple times in each frame, employing smothering top control to grind out the 34-year-old. Brooks nearly finished off Alessio late in round three, blasting open a huge gash under his left eye with a knee, but a bloodied Alessio survived to the bell.
The judges scored it 30-26, 30-27, and 30-25, all in favor of Brooks.
"John Alessio is a veteran. It was a blessing to come out here and compete against him and get the ‘W,'" Brooks said. "I'm just going to enjoy this moment. When I get back to the gym, we'll start focusing on the next fight."
Meeting Brooks in the lightweight semifinals will be the only man to defeat him, Saad Awad (15-5).
Competing in his second Bellator tournament, Awad once again made quick work of the opposition, submitting TUF 9's Martin Stapleton (12-2) with a nasty rear-naked choke 3:46 into round one.
Awad cracked Stapleton with a hard left hand early, then minutes later swept into mount. From there the 30-year-old seized a high back mount before cranking and coaxing the tapout.
The performance marked Awad's third first-round finish out of four career Bellator appearances.