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Bellator 165 results: Michael Chandler takes thrilling split decision over Benson Henderson

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Five years to the day after his breakout victory over Eddie Alvarez, Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler scribbled another massive MMA name onto his résumé.

Chandler won a thrilling affair over former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson on Saturday night in the main event of Bellator 165, eking out a split decision to successfully defend his 155-pound strap on Spike TV at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

Chandler (16-3) started the bout strong, badly hurting Henderson (24-7) with a volley of huge right hands before hitting Henderson with a highlight-reel suplex. But Henderson has long been one of the toughest lightweights in the game, and The MMA Lab product fought tooth and nail over the final four frames to inch back into the contest, even nearly submitting an exhausted Chandler with a Hail Mary rear-naked choke attempt in the closing minutes of the fight.

"Benson's a heck of a competitor," Chandler said afterward. "You can't be perfect in here, you've just got to find a way to win. That's what I did."

A potential fight between Chandler and Henderson has been discussed in the lightweight division for years, as the two reigned concurrently atop their respective divisions in Bellator and the UFC throughout the majority of their title runs. The match-up ultimately lived up the hype too, as a lopsided opening round gave way to a competitive contest that saw both men take the upper hand at various points in the fight.

Henderson came out firing in round two and immediately went to work badly bruising Chandler's lead leg with low kicks, while also landing several hard knees to the jaw and often smiling after doing it. Chandler countered by closing the distance and controlling the action with his wrestling, leading to a series of wild scrambles as Henderson fished for submissions from the bottom while Chandler fought to maintain position.

With Chandler fading late, Henderson nearly hit a miracle finish in the final round by taking Chandler's back, sinking in both hooks, and cranking as hard as he could on Chandler's neck. It wasn't enough though, as two judges scored the contest 48-46 and 48-47 for Chandler, while one gave it 48-46 for Henderson.

Afterward, with his Bellator record improved to 13-3, Chandler called out ex-UFC and Strikeforce lightweight Josh Thomson for his next title defense.

"San Jose, if your boy Josh Thomson steps back into this cage and does not stand across the cage from me, he is an absolute coward," Chandler announced to the crowd. "I'd love to run it back with Benson Henderson, put the paint on him next time. Tonight, even though I won, it wasn't my night. I will be back, believe it."

In the night's co-main event, welterweight showstopper Michael Page (12-0) maintained his undefeated record, but it was far from a pretty performance. The 29-year-old Page took a split decision over longtime veteran Fernando Gonzalez (25-14) in a frustrating bout that saw plenty of movement from both competitors, but very little in the way of actual exchanging.

It was a match-up that was supposed to be the toughest test of Page's career, but instead "MVP" spent a majority of the bout circling Gonzalez, taunting him, and attempting to bait Gonzalez to come inside, in a contest that effectively turned into a caged game of cat-and-mouse. Gonzalez refused to take the bait though, choosing instead to stick on the outside and allow Page to lead the dance.

Referee Jason Herzog eventually issued a warning to both fighters for inactivity in the third round, resulting in Gonzalez finally closing the distance and driving Page into the fence, but very little came out of the position. In the end, two judges saw the contest 29-28 for Page, while the lone dissenter scored it 30-27 for Gonzalez, ultimately giving Page his eighth straight win under the Bellator umbrella.

Elsewhere on the card, undefeated lightweight Adam Piccolotti (9-0) preserved his perfect record with a hard-fought victory over Brandon Girtz (14-5). Despite being known for his tricky submission game, Piccolotti won this one on the feet, sticking on the outside and picking Girtz apart with his length and speed.

Piccolotti's best weapon was a crushing flying knee to the chin of Girtz, which he landed several times, only to see Girtz eat it and continue to march forward while swinging and missing with big hooks. Girtz finally mixed things up and looked to wrestle in the third round, but by then it was too little, too late, as all three judges scored the contest 29-28 for Piccolotti.

"[People] said win this fight and I'm a contender. What's up? I'm a contender," Piccolotti said. "Don't say prospect anymore, I'm coming. I'm trying to make waves in the lightweight division. Keep ‘em coming and I'll keep beating ‘em down."

Keri Anne Melendez couldn't have asked for a better MMA debut. Melendez (1-0), the wife of former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, picked up a scorching knockout in just 47 seconds over previously undefeated flyweight Sheila Padilla (2-1), downing Padilla with a thunderous right hand in an early exchange. The 32-year-old Melendez followed with two more right hands, and that was all she wrote. Check out video of the finish here.

"I think it's time to pass the torch," an ecstatic Gilbert Melendez said to his wife afterward. "We got a bad Melendez here and I'm very proud of her. There's a lot more of that to come, guaranteed."

The night's Spike TV broadcast opened with a light heavyweight fight that may as well have been a jiu-jitsu match, as Linton Vassell (17-5, 1 NC) captured a one-sided unanimous decision over UFC veteran Francis Carmont (25-12).

For the most part, the 33-year-old Vassell ran a mat clinic on Carmont, locking up Carmont's back with a tight body triangle throughout all three rounds. Vassell never came close to finding a finish, but all three judges gave him the victory (30-26, 30-26, 30-25), pushing the Englishman's record to 6-2 in the Bellator cage.

On the Bellator 165 preliminary card, Kevin Ferguson Jr. (0-1), aka "Baby Slice," suffered a surprising second-round submission loss to Aaron Hamilton (1-1) in his professional MMA debut. Ferguson, the son of late Bellator star Kimbo Slice, scored a trio of takedowns and looked to control the action with his wrestling in the opening round, but ultimately succumbed to a guillotine choke at 3:00 of the second frame after losing an anaconda attempt in a scramble. Video of the finish can be seen here.

For more on Bellator 165, check out complete event results.