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Bellator 79 results: Rich Hale earns comeback TKO win over Thiago Santos, makes heavyweight final

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Strange things seem to happen when Thiago Santos enters the Bellator cage. Each of his last two fights ended bizarrely after groin shots caused early finishes. At Friday's Bellator 79, he added another unexpected chapter. Santos began his heavyweight tournament semifinal fight against Rich Hale strongly enough, rocking Hale with a left hook in hopes of a quick night of work.

The fight was trending that way as Santos flurried with power punches, a takedown and ground strikes. But shortly thereafter, it was over, with Santos the loser.

What happened? Only he knows. The two got back to their feet, and Santos didn't appear to be hit by anything hard, but went down face-first and covered up, allowing Hale to take his back, where he threw a barrage of unanswered punches that led ref Dan Miragliotta to call a halt to the action at 3:31 of the first round.

A replay showed that Santos spit out his mouthpiece and showed the referee he had lost a tooth, but his face portrayed no pain as he did so. A few seconds later he was on the ground taking the closing strikes.

The unexpected finish gave Hale a birth in the heavyweight tournament final, where he'll face the winner of a future bout against Vinicius Queiroz and Alexander Volkov.

"I'm coming," Hale (22-4-1) said afterward. "That belt already has my name on it whether you want it or not. You're not going to stop me."

Meanwhile, Shahbulat Shamhalaev punched his ticket to the featherweight tourney finals, knocking out Mike Richman.

Just moments prior to the finish sequence, Shamhalaev implored Richman to come forward. Richman obliged him with a slow body punch, and Shamhalaev countered with an overhand right that crumbled Richman. One ground strike and it was over. The official time of the KO was 1:45 of the first round.

Shamhalaev (11-1-1) who scored a knockout of Cody Bollinger in his tourney opener, will now await the winner of Nov. 9's Rad Martinez vs. Wagnney Fabiano fight for the right to advance to a title match.

Douglas Lima will head into 2013's welterweight tournament with some momentum after brutalizing Kobe Ortiz for nearly the entire three rounds before finishing him with 10 seconds left in their three-rounder.

Lima, who was competing for the first time since his April title fight loss to Ben Askren, battered Ortiz from the opening bell to the final seconds, utilizing his superior hand speed, foot movement and power to dominate the action. He had early opportunities to close Ortiz out. In the first, he knocked Ortiz down with a right cross and followed up with ground elbows, but Ortiz held on. In the second, Lima put him on the mat again courtesy of a knee to the face and a right hand, but Ortiz, though badly bloodied, was saved by the bell.

It appeared that Ortiz would make it to the fight's final horn until Lima landed a crushing head kick that left Ortiz wobbling. A series of punches put him down, and this time, his flurry forced a stoppage.

Lima (22-5) will now await Bellator's move to Spike, where he'll be part of the 170-pound tourney field alongside such notables as Paul Daley and Ben Saunders.

In a welterweight feature fight, Ryan Ford won his second straight Bellator outing with a dominant win over Kyle Baker in the night's television opener.

Ford nearly finished in the first with a hellacious barrage of power strikes that had Baker covering up and simply trying to survive. Ref Yves Lavigne took several close looks at the one-sided action but ultimately decided to let the bout go on each time. By the end of the opening five minutes, Baker's eye was so swollen that the cageside physician had to check it to make sure he could continue.

While that impressive stretch was Ford's best extended action of the fight, he didn't have many struggles the rest of the way, though Baker was game, briefly taking Ford's back late in the second while threatening with a rear naked choke.

The judges scored it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Ford, who improved to 19-4 with his third straight victory.