In a night that featured tournament underdogs who made their way to the finals, it was the favorites who would end up prevailing at Bellator 94 as Emanuel Newton earned a unanimous decision victory over Mikhail Zayats and David Rickels stopped Saad Awad after two rounds to become the light heavyweight and light weight season 8 tournament champions, respectively.
Bellator 94 took place at the UCF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida. The main card live aired on Spike TV.
In the first round of the main event, Newton cracked Zayats with a right hand and nearly scored with a takedown, but Zayats had just enough leverage to keep the fight a striking affair for the majority of the first half of the frame. Zayats was able to crack Newton with several hard right hands, but an over eager rush attempt from the Russian allowed Newton to plant him on the mat. Zayats eventually worked back to his feet only to create another scramble wherein Newton still ended up on top after and was able to close out the round.
Zayats opened the second frame with seemingly renewed aggression, particularly as Zayats backed Newton up against the fence, but action slowed dramatically. The majority of the frame was spent with both fighters pot shotting the other. Zayats, however, flurried late and pushed Newton back to the fence and unloading with several hard punches.
In the third and final frame, the two clinched immediately and Newton went to work on knees to the body in the larger pursuit of a takedown. After a failed outside trip from Newton, action resumed in the center of the cage. Newton scored the biggest points of the frame to that point with a body kick and right hand that sent Zayats temporarily to the mat. Newton quickly attemped a bulldog choke as Zayats tried to scramble to his feet, but was unable to secure it. The American ended the contest by catching a kick and turning it into a single leg takedown approximately thirty seconds before the final bell where he rode the position until the bout's conclusion.
The effort was enough for the judges to award Newton the unanimous decision victory, earning 29-28 on all three judges' scorecards.
"Yeah, Mikhail's tough as balls," Newton said after the bout. "He brought it. Caught me with a couple. Cut me. He was hard to take down, good scrambling, good punching. I just knew if I pushed the pace and stayed in his face, he'd get tired and I'd wear him down and eventually get the takedowns and finish it on the ground."
Newton earns $100,000 for his efforts and will face Attila Vegh for the Bellator light heavyweight championship. The bout will be a rematch as the two previously fought in July of 2012 where Vegh earned a controversial split decision at Bellator 72.
In the second tournament final of the evening, lightweights Saad Awad and David Rickels battled for the tournament championship. The two initially spent the majority of the first round with Awad doing the most important work, dominating both standing and on top once the two hit the mat. Awad used his famed hand speed and punching power to back Rickels up initially only to force Rickels to the mat for the latter half of the frame with a scoop double leg. From there Awad maintained top control, although was not necessarily able to score heavy blows or threaten clear passes. Rickels, however, remained active off of his back and nearly stood with his back against the fence before the round ended.
Awad cracked Rickels with a right hand and a scoop double to strart the second frame, but as Rickels managed to work himself back to his feet, 'The Caveman' executed a trip takedown of his own. It was short lived, however, as Awad rolled Rickels off of his base to resume top position. Rickels remained committed to the pace of the first again and yet again found a way to stand and press Awad into the fence. While initially battling Awad's hand speed in the first frame, Rickels turned the tables on a fatigued Awad. As he pressured the Californian into the fence, he landed two left hooks and a right hook that sent Awad crashing to the mat face first.
Controversy ensued as the bell sounded just moments after Awad collapsed. As Rickels walked to his corner, referee Troy Waugh watched Awad for any sign of movement of an ability to continue. As the Spike TV broadcast later indicated, Waugh did not believe Awad was in a position to continue and waved the fight from there. Rickles pockets $100,000 and now becomes the season 8 lightweight tournament champion. He will face Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler at a future date to be determined.
The rest of the main card consisted of two tournament qualifier bouts for Bellator's upcoming Summer Series tournaments.
The first of two tournament qualifier bouts featured Luis Melo vs. Trey Houston in a welterweight tilt. The two clinched early and engaged in a wild brawl, but a lift from Melo's back saw the Brazilian briefly hit the mat. As the two stood soon thereafter, Melo drilled Houston in the groin with an inadvertnent. The two quickly continued and Melo soon found himself on top of Houston after a takedown. Melo was eventually able to pass to side control, although the American was at times able to recapture half guard. From there Melo scored on top for the majority of the round save for one brief moment where Houston scored with several punches as he marched Melo down.
Houston opened the second frame returning to what earned him some promise in the first round, creating a brawl and using his physical size to charge forward with punches. One of them connected and knocked Melo to the ground where he nearly secured a rear naked choke in a back take exchange. The Brazilian persevered, however, escaped the submission attempt and was eventually able to scored on a takedown of his own after landing several hard uppercuts.
The third round barely existed at all as Melo immediately took a physically exhausted Houston to the mat. Out of energy, Houston conceded the pass to mount where Melo quickly secured the head and arm triangle to win at 1:09 of the third round. The Brazilian now moves onto the welterweight Summer Series tournamnet.
In the opening bout of the evening and a bantamweight tournament qualifier match, Bellator veterans Ronnie Mann and Rodrigo Lima face another in a bout that would ultimately be one-sided.
Mann took center of the cage and was able to side step Lima's wild punchers while landing his right straight to begin the first round, but it was Lima who would stay more active and score punches of his own. In fact, a solid one-two halfway through the first but Mann down, but the Brit was able to recover and return to his feet. The former featherweight would recover and continue stalking eventually being able to land a flurry of his own near the final minute of the first frame.
During the second round, Lima continued to throw flurries and even attempted a takedown, but Mann was able to easily stuff it. Mann continued to press forward, pressuring Lima to back up and force the Brazilian to exchange to give him the opportunity to counter. Lima, however, was able to score with his jab throughout the course of the round as well as the rest of his arsenal of feints, hooks, combinations and more active footwork.
By the third frame, Lima was able to secure a takedown and work superior top control for the majority of the round. Working from half guard, Lima not only kept Mann pinned on his hips and shoulders, but negated any submission opportunities. Mann was able to begin a scramble towards the end of the frame, but worked himself into a loose triangle attempt from Lima in the process. The Brazilian won the bout 30-27, 30-27, 30-27 and earned a spot in the Summer Series bantamweight tournament.