In the battle of unbeaten light heavyweight prospects, it was Brazilian tactician Philipe Lins who emerged with his undefeated record intact, submitting Austen Heidlage with a first-round rear-naked choke in the main event of Bellator 121 to advance into the semifinals of Bellator's 205-pound Summer Series tournament.
Lins (9-0) waded inside from the early going, closing the distance with his strikes before tripping his American foe to the canvas. Heidlage (7-1) scrambled but ultimately gave up his back, and that advantage was all it took to signal the beginning of the end. Lins utilized a tight body triangle to remain locked like a backpack on Heidlage as he rose to his feet, then stayed patient and clenched his arms around Heidlage's jaw in a modified neck crank, finally securing the choke and coaxing the tapout 2:45 into the opening round.
"I'm doing work on this jiu-jitsu for a long time, working with my masters right here, and I owe everything to them," the victorious 28-year-old said through a translator.
Recent Bellator signee James Thompson (20-14, 1 NC) immediately made his presence felt in co-main event action, stopping one-time tournament winner Eric Prindle (8-6, 1 NC) early in the first round with a volley of punches that left the American turtled up on the mat.
Known for his explosive starts, Thompson instead stalked Prindle against the fence, then methodically dumped him onto his back and went to work. "The Colossus" scrambled into side control, then unloaded a flurry of hard punches and knees until referee Rob Hinds called an end to the contest just 1:55 into the opening frame.
"I've got a big thank you to Bjorn," said Thompson, who is now undefeated over his last six fights. "He took a risk. Everyone thought I was done. Even though I'm still pretty, they thought ‘The Colossus' was over. Bjorn took a chance on me, and it just so happens he took the right chance."
Thompson then turned toward Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and addressed him directly. "Bjorn, listen, people know ‘The Colossus.' They know I'm not just here. I turn up to fight. What about the heavyweight title? I'll fight ‘em all. Not at the same time, but I'll fight anyone. [How about] Cheick Kongo, aka ‘The Nut Cracker?'"
Elsewhere on the card, another former Pride FC veteran, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (15-12), romped over Terry Davinney (10-8) in his Bellator debut, scoring the first submission win of the Cameroonian's nine-year MMA career after battering his foe for a majority of the opening frame.
A heavy underdog, Davinney pursued the takedown early on Sokoudjou and even mildly succeeded, however "The African Assassin" quickly swept into an open half guard then proceeded to rain down heavy punches and elbows from the top, nearly causing referee Rob Hinds to stop the contest. The assault didn't stop there though, as Sokoudjou effortlessly advanced into mount, then took Davinney's back and mercifully snaked his arms around Davinney's throat for the fight-ending rear-naked choke.
"My message [to Bellator light heavyweights] is, I'm here," Sokoudjou said. "I didn't end up in the tournament. It wasn't my choice, but I needed to give Bellator a reason to put me in the tournament. So I just had to do what I do: win fights."
On the opposite side of the light heavyweight bracket, Egidijus Valavicius (27-10) rebounded from a shaky opening round to edge out Carlos Eduardo (11-4) and advance into the semifinals on the strength of a narrow split decision victory.
Eduardo spent much of the first frame dominating position and winging short punches from top control, however Valavicius dialed up his aggressiveness over the remaining 10 minutes, outstriking Eduardo by a margin of 92-to-36 and shaking off a nasty inadvertent headbutt to steal the decision, 29-28, on two judges' scorecards. With the win, Valavicius advances into the tournament semis, where he'll meet red-hot prospect Liam McGeary.