UNIONDALE, N.Y. — “The Last Emperor” is going to be fighting for a major tournament title in 2019.
Fedor Emelianenko stopped Chael Sonnen via TKO at 4:46 of the first round Saturday night in the main event of Bellator 208 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. The bout was a semifinal of the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix. Emelianenko dropped Sonnen in the opening exchange and didn’t let up from there.
With the victory, Emelianenko will take on Ryan Bader in the finals of the tourney Jan. 26 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Bader defeated Matt Mitrione at Bellator 207 on Friday night to earn the berth.
Emelianenko landed big shots to start the fight and put Sonnen on his butt almost immediately. Sonnen was fighting from behind — and on the bottom — the rest of the way. Sonnen was able to land a takedown and get Emelianenko’s back at one point. But Emelianenko caught Sonnen coming in and finished it up on the ground with punches.
Emelianenko (38-5) has now won two straight in Bellator, including the first-round of the Bellator grand prix, a 48-second knockout of Frank Mir. The Russian legend, one of the best heavyweights of all time, has won seven of eight victories. Emelianenko, 42, said he was impressed with what he saw of Bader working out earlier in the week, though he didn’t watch the fight with Mitrione.
“He’s a great, very strong fighter,” Emelianenko said through an interpreter. “I was able to watch him during the open workouts. I can see that he is very great and very serious.”
Afterward, Sonnen said he was hurt early and felt like he was “drowning” in the cage.
“Everything he did hurt,” Sonnen said. “Everything he did had bad intentions. He was very fast, he was very powerful. He looked like he did when I watched him on TV, but I could feel it.”
Sonnen (30-16-1) beat Quinton Jackson via unanimous decision in the grand prix first round. This loss snaps a two-fight winning streak for the Oregon native. Sonnen, 41, is 2-2 since coming out of retirement to begin fighting for Bellator in 2017.
Benson Henderson is still Benson Henderson. He proved that in the co-main event Saturday night, soundly beating a very game Saad Awad by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26). Awad connected with a big right hand — his most effective technique historically — in the third round, but Henderson outwrestled and outgrappled him throughout. In addition, Henderson landed a host of hard body kicks that slowed Awad.
Henderson (25-8), the former UFC lightweight champion, has won two straight now with his Bellator contract coming to an end. The Arizona resident has evened his Bellator record at 3-3 since coming over from the UFC in 2016. Henderson, 34, should get a big fight in the 155-pound division next.
Don’t look now, but Cheick Kongo is on a knockout streak. The longtime MMA veteran starched Timothy Johnson at 1:08 of the first round Saturday night and finished on the ground with some hard ground and pound.
Kongo (29-10-2) has now won seven straight and Johnson was coming off a win in the UFC. The French heavyweight has won a pair in a row via first-round knockout. Kongo, 43, also owns a victory during this current run over UFC heavyweight Alexander Volkov and seems like a force in the division, despite not being in the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix.
Emelianenko’s team picked up a win earlier in the card, with Anatoly Tokov beating former champion Alexander Shlemenko by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27). Tokov was a small favorite, but by far the lesser known fighter. He was able to do enough on the feet and keep Shlemenko — and his spinning attacks — honest with takedown attempts and clinch work.
Tokov (27-3) has won three in a row now, all of them in Bellator. The 28-year-old Russia native very likely earned himself a significant middleweight fight with the victory. Shlemenko (57-12) has now lost three in a row.
Corrales (16-3) has won four straight since moving to The MMA Lab in Arizona. The California native was on a three-fight losing streak before this recent run to begin his Bellator career. Corrales, 32, likely earned a big featherweight fight next with the victory.
On the prelims, Serra Longo prospect Dennis Buzukja defeated Ryan Castro by first-round knockout in his pro debut and former Olympic boxer Jennifer Chieng made her pro debut a big one, knocking out Jessica Ruiz in the first round.