Daniel Straus and Patricio "Pitbull" Freire went toe-to-toe in their trilogy fight for 25 minutes in the main event at St. Louis' Scottrade Center, with Freire's featherweight title hanging in the balance.
And while Freire went for broke in the late rounds, which have traditionally been Straus' Achilles heel, this time, Straus held on for the decision. The American Top Team fighter became a two-time champion with his 49-46, 48-47, 48-47 unanimous decision over Freire.
"It was an extremely tough Patricio yet again," Straus (25-6) said in a nod to his opponent. "I'm sure he's going to want to get it back."
Both fighters pushed a frenetic pace from the outset, but Straus turned the fight in his favor with a bomb of a straight left hand late in the second round. Straus rained down elbows and punches from top position, but Freire managed to keep his cool and keep from getting finished.
Straus seemed well on his way to victory by the time the fourth round rolled around, but by this point, a broken left hand, which Straus said occurred in the opening round, began to catch up with him, as he noticeable throw more elbows and fewer punches from the left. Freire picked up the pace in the fourth. He turned it up further in the fifth, gettting Straus' back and sinking in a choke, but Straus managed to ride it out and get to safety and finally earn the win over Freire after dropping their first two matchups.
Straus had previously held the title from Nov. 2013 until March 2014, winning and losing it back to Pat Curran. Freire beat Curran for the belt in Sept. 2014 and had won seven in a row before Friday's setback.
In the co-feature, submission whiz Marcin Held went for it in the opening round of his Bellator lightweight title fight against champion Will Brooks, going for submissions left and right and trapping him in a deep kneebar.
After that, though, Brooks took over. Fighting through a jacked knee from the first round kneebar, Brooks went to his wrestling base and worked over Held from the top for the better part of the final 20 minutes.
Brooks scored a unanimous decision, with a bizarre 50-45 to go with a pair of 49-46s for his second successful lightweight title defense.
"In the first round, when he got me down, my knee popped I thought I was okay," Brooks said. I the second, I thought I gotta get through this and survive ... do I want to make it through the fight and live another day, or mess around and get in trouble?"
It was the cap of an eventful week for the champion, who was allegedly assaulted by the Freire brothers in the fighter hotel on Wednesday, then missed weight on his first attempt Thursday before making it on the second attempt.
"Earlier this week an unprofessional thing took place, and I was a big part of it," Brooks said of the hotel incident. "I apologize to the organization."
The first time Michael Chandler met David Rickels, Chandler finished the fight in less than a minute. This time around, Rickels lasted into the second round, but that's the best you can say for "The Caveman."
Chandler, the former Bellator lightweight champion, put on a vicious display in the second round to finish Rickels. The time of the TKO stoppage was 3:05 of the second round.
Chandler dominated the first round both in the standup and on the ground. In the second, the two were standing and trading when Chandler loaded up on a huge right hand and landed right on the nose, crumpling Rickels to the mat. Chandler went for a guillotine, then opened up a nasty striking assault on Rickels' busted nose to finish the fight.
Chandler (13-3) won his second straight fight; Rickels (16-4,1 NC) has dropped three of his past five. Chandler, who lost three straight fights before righting the ship in his past two, made his case for a title shot.
"I want the belt so bad, I can taste it," Chandler said. "The dry spell, 668 days without a win, I can taste it. I want the winner [of Brooks-Held]."
Brooks had an answer for Chandler after his win over Held: "What's the score? I think it's 2-0," said Brooks, who has twice defeated Chandler. "We'll see what happens."
A heavyweight rematch more than three years in the making turned into a short and bad night for James Thompson. Thompson suffered a leg injury landing awkwardly on a Lashley single-leg. Then Thompson rained down punches from the top until the fight was waved off at the 54-second mark.
"That feels good man, said Lashley (14-2). "I had a great training camp I feel light, I feel fast, I feel like there wasn't anything out there I couldn't do today."
The main-card opener featured an upset, Emmanuel Sanchez scored a split-decision victory over Justin Lawrence in a featherweight bout. Sanchez (12-2), a Roufussport fighter, took two out of three 29-28 scores for the win.
Lawrence got the better of a first-round that was mostly conducted in the clinch. The second round also appeared to be going to a stalemate, but Sanchez landed a nasty, fighting-turning head kick which landed flush on the jaw in the closing seconds to steal the round.
In the third, Lawrence ended up in top position, but Sanchez was active from the bottom, landing strikes and going for submission attempts for the bulk of the round. That was enough to get him two out of three judges' cards. Lawrence (8-3) had a four-fight win streak snapped.
The 36-year old Thompson lost in his first fight in 18 months. Thompson won their first fight in India in 2012. Lashley has won seven straight fights since.
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