The outcome in the main event of Bellator 160 on Friday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California was as bizarre as it was expected. That is, betting favorite Benson Henderson earned the win over former Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire, but how it happened left as many questions as answers.
With a noticeable size difference in favor of Henderson, the former UFC lightweight king started round one by backing up Freire early. After that, though, he did virtually nothing. Henderson spent almost the entire first round corralling Freire around the cage, but threw with such infrequency that the Brazilian, backing up and circling against the fence, clearly outstruck the American, albeit with his own lack of volume.
Round two appeared to be a continuation of the first until things took an abrupt turn. Freire caught a kick from Henderson, turned him into the fence and landed a few strikes before backing out. Once he did, however, he seemingly signaled to referee John McCarthy that something was wrong. McCarthy, seeing Freire walk toward the cage and away from the fight, immediately waved it off at 2:26 of the second frame.
According to the Spike TV broadcast of the event, Freire may have broken his shin in the first round on one of Henderson's checks of the Brazilian's leg kicks.
"I knew for sure when I checked two of his kicks, if you watch the replay, he backed away, right away, immediately," Henderson said post fight to Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith. "We worked on checking kicks after the Anderson Silva whole thing, that was kind of popular. Everyone was working on checking kicks. So I was definitely working on checking kicks. I didn't think I'd ever end a fight by checking a kick. I guess I'll take a W where I can get it."
The win gives Henderson his first Bellator victory and according to Smith, a title shot against Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler. That event is set to take place in San Jose, California.
"I'm excited. He's a tough dude. I've been looking forward to fighting him for a really long time. People have been talking about this matchup for a long time, so let's put on a show for Bellator fans," Chandler, who was in attendance, told Smith in the cage after the fight.
The co-main event of the evening featured a lightweight contest between two strikers, Saad Awad and Derek Anderson. The fight played out at first as expected with Anderson scoring some early, but Awad scoring hard first and forcing a takedown off of a caught kick. Awad followed it up by nearly scoring a d'arce choke that Anderson was barely able to escape. From his back, however, Anderson nearly scored a triangle that Awad squirmed and pounded his way out of in that Anderson gave it up for an omoplata that forced Awad to granby roll and then to his back, leaving Anderson on top to end the first round.
In the second round, the two were relatively even on the feet before Awad put Anderson on the ground again after catching a kick, but was quickly reversed and had his back taken in the process. From there, Anderson attempted a series of rear naked choke attempts, but never got close enough.
By round three, both fighters had taken their licks. Anderson was the more active active, scoring better combos and pumping the jab. Awad, however, found a home for his counter rights and enduring hand speed. Awad would secure a double leg, but would soon be reversed just before the final bell in a razor thin contest.
In the end, the judges saw it for Anderson, who won via unanimous decision, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28.
Bellator also staged a rematch between two of their top featherweights in Bubba Jenkins and Georgi Karakhanyan. THe pair first met at Bellator 132 in January of 2015 where Jenkins lost via first-round guillotine choke. As it turns out, the Armenian might have the American's number. Jenkins looked smooth and scored with leg kicks early in the first minute, but was pressed close to the cage with Karakhanyan's forward pressure. After Karakhanyan caught the ankle of Jenkins off of a leg kick, Jenkins ended up eating an overhand right that sent the NCAA national champion wrestler crashing to the mat face first. Karakhanyan wins at just 53 seconds into the first frame with a one-punch knockout.
In the opening bout of the night, the progeny of Antonio McKee, AJ McKee, made his Bellator debut. The pair opened the first frame trading and sliding across the cage before Walker was able to score a takedown by grabbing the ankle of McKee. Walker would soon be reversed, however, and largely controlled on the ground through the first frame, avoiding a head and arm triangle submission attempt along the way. Walker would frame for several submissions from his back and even reach turtle, but would pay for it as McKee bombed on him throughout all the transitions.
McKee would pick right up in the second round where he left off. After bombing Walker to the mat, Walker tried to get his base under him. In turtle, however, McKee locked up a power guillotine, sat and rolled into mount to secure it. It worked as Walker tapped at just 32 seconds into the round.