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Fortunes changed for five on busy MMA weekend

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Bellator

Saturday’s head-to-head battle, with the UFC and Bellator both airing shows on paid streaming services, saw no clear-cut or decisive winner.

The UFC put on the more exciting main card, with four of the six fights being bouts that could win Fight of the Night honors on many, if not most shows.

Bellator, on the other hand, had the more newsworthy show with two championship fights.

Saturday night looks to be more of the norm going forward, with fights on streaming services that will service the hardcore existing fan, but do little to make new fans and hurt the creation of new stars because they aren’t seen by large numbers of fans. It’s part of the growing pains of technology, where big money is offered to get these services off the ground, and there’s more money for the companies for putting these shows on these platforms, but until the complete fan base subscribes, the impact of the shows to the public lessens.

UFC Fort Lauderdale, in particular, was the type of a show that you would want as many fans as possible to see, because it was a good showcase for the fighters that got big wins, notably Jack Hermansson, Mike Perry, and Cory Sandhagen.

With Bellator 220, the situation is even more noteworthy, because DAZN is a $19.99 per month service, far more expensive than most in the genre. ESPN+, which charges $4.99 per month, is practically a must nowadays to follow the UFC, and is situated at a cheap enough price point that the existing fan base in time should mostly sign up. The lone negative is less free television of big fights impedes making newer fans. But the UFC still has a regular television presence, such as Saturday having three fights on ESPN2 that included name fighters Jim Miller, Angela Hill, and Court McGee, and four on ESPN that included Andrei Arlovski, Ben Saunders, and Carla Esparza.

The UFC’s main event came down to the fifth round, with Hermansson upsetting Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in a fight that greatly changed the future prospects of both. Perry scored the biggest win over his career over Alex Oliveira in the bout that got the Fight of the Night honors. Veteran Glover Teixeira had a thriller, in a come-from-behind second-round stoppage over Ion Cutelaba. Sandhagen made a name for himself with a split-decision win over bantamweight title contender John Lineker in a fight that could have easily gone the other way.

Yet even with all of that, only one search term on Saturday night from either show cracked the top 20 Google searches for the night. That was Greg Hardy. The controversial former NFL star was put in an enhancement match on the UFC show, in the co-main event spot on a card filled with name fighters. Hardy got a quick win over Dmitrii Smoliakov. With the exception of Hardy, the search results showed these events were not mainstream talk that night, as compared to the usual Bellator major shows and many UFC Fight Nights.

The lack of cracking the top 20 is more notable for Bellator, since this was one of its biggest events of the year. The show neither got the heavy promotion one would give a legitimate pay-per-view, but the price was still significant, with it being unavailable on television. But for the promotion, the DAZN deal is a game-changer financially. But it also keeps the majority of fans from watching the show and following the key fighters closely.

And Bellator had a lot to talk about.

The main event, a welterweight championship fight, saw Rory MacDonald go to a majority draw with Jon Fitch. The decision was heavily booed although it wasn’t so much a bad decision as a very lucky one for MacDonald.

Fitch clearly won rounds three and five. MacDonald clearly won round two.

There were similarities in rounds one and four. In round one, MacDonald landed the best punch right away, while Fitch outwrestled him and controlled much of the round, but didn’t significantly hurt MacDonald. Round four was more pronounced. MacDonald early in that round hurt Fitch standing, to where Fitch looked in real trouble. But once Fitch got it to the ground, he controlled the rest of the round and was landing constant blows from the top. MacDonald came closer to finishing but Fitch controlled and dominated more of the round.

In the end, two of the three judges gave the swing rounds to MacDonald, and with Fitch’s 10-8 third, a round he dominated from start-to-finish, the result was a draw.

This led to a very unique situation. The rules of the tournament were in the advent of a draw, since somebody has to advance, the three judges would then be forced to pick a winner. The fight would be ruled a draw still, but that pick would get to advance.

But that wasn’t the case here, because the tournament was built around the idea that there would be three championship fights during the tournament. MacDonald, as champion, retained his title with the majority draw, and because the championship had to be at stake going forward, he had to advance. This was even though the only judge who had a winner on his card, had the fight scored for Fitch.

And then, when the fight was over, it was very clear that MacDonald was questioning whether he should be in the sport, noting that he’s not sure he has it in him to have the killer instinct.

MacDonald went into the tournament as the favorite, the champion who at 29, had beaten a significantly higher level of competition than anyone else. Fitch, at 41, looked to be a name fighter from the past who would be a recognizable figure, but MacDonald’s variety of skills made the Canadian the clear favorite.

With Fitch, you know the gamplan. It’s simply relentless wrestling. But Fitch was able to implement that gameplan even when MacDonald knew what was coming and had both a youth and overall skill advantage.

And then, even when Fitch had every right to be mad about the decision, he came into the press conference with a smile on his face, and talked like this was likely his last fight. He noted a promise he made to himself in 2016, after getting an exam that revealed neck damage and a troublesome brain scan, that he would retire after his next loss. He has continued winning since, and didn’t lose here either. But he felt that time was running out due to age and injuries. He was in this tournament largely to win the $1 million bonus that goes to the winner. With that seemingly no longer being possible, he questioned fighting again.

Let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars from Saturday night.

RORY MACDONALD — MacDonald (20-5-1) retained the title, but it was not a strong all-around performance and anyone who saw his reaction after the fight had to see red flags.

Even worse, the tournament schedule was that the champion was to defend against Neiman Gracie (9-0) on June 14 in Madison Square Garden. Gracie said he thought Fitch won four of the five rounds. He was so sure about the outcome that he was in the cage, prior to the announcement of the winner, talking to Fitch about what he presumed was their impending fight.

Like almost every fighter with the Gracie name, Neiman’s specialty is the ground. Of his nine wins, eight were by submission within two rounds. But MacDonald is a huge step up in competition. Still, if Gracie could get to fight to the ground as often as Fitch did, he’s a finisher from that position as opposed to a grinder.

ILIMA-LEI MACFARLANE — Bellator’s women’s flyweight champion, Macfarlane (10-0), made her third successful defense in a fight she struggled in.

Macfarlane was admittedly very tired, with her constant driving with her legs for takedowns that weren’t easy to get. The champion’s legs were tiring and opponent Veta Arteaga (5-3) was beating her in the stand-up. After two rounds, two judges had it 19-19 and one had both rounds for Arteaga.

In round three, Macfarlane got the takedown and landed an elbow that left a sick-looking divot on Arteaga’s forehead. Bloody was flying like crazy. The cut, while not near the eye, was so long and deep, that you could see Arteaga’s skull through it. There was no way the fight could continue.

Macfarlane immediately told Arteaga that she was giving her a rematch, feeling that nobody was satisfied with a cut stoppage and that Arteaga was wanting to continue. She reiterated that at the press conference, saying she knows her next opponent.

Later, when the discussion came up that Bellator would likely be returning to Honolulu, where Macfarlane grew up, in December, she said that was where she would want to fight. Macfarlane drew a sellout this past December as the local star and created an atmosphere rarely seen in MMA at that show. She noted that between moving into a home in San Diego this summer, and wanting to take a few vacations, that late in the year sounds about the time she wants to fight again.

Scott Coker wasn’t as strong about Arteaga getting a rematch. While the fight was competitive, and Arteaga had looked stronger until the elbow landed, it was a legitimate stoppage win.

Bellator isn’t deep in contenders in that division. If not Arteaga, other possible contenders on the roster are Juliana Velasquez (8-0) or the winner of a June 22 fight in London between Kate Jackson (10-3-1) vs. Lena Ovchynnikova (12-5).

JACK HERMANSSON — Hermansson (20-4) scored easily the biggest win of his career in basically eliminating Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza from title contention. The fight went back-and-forth, coming down to the last round, which Hermansson won decisively.

Coming off his submission win over David Branch, Hermansson now has to be talked about when it comes to the top of the middleweight ranks.

Champion Robert Whittaker vs. interim champion Israel Adesanya is the next division title match. There also looks to be a Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa fight, which the UFC has attempted to put on multiple times.

So Hermansson’s next fight should be with either Chris Weidman (14-4) or Kelvin Gastelum (15-4).

MIKE PERRY — Perry (13-4) was one of the most talked-about fighters of the weekend, winning a war with Oliveira by taking the third round. A good next opponent for him would be Leon Edwards (17-3).

GLOVER TEIXEIRA — It’s been five years since Teixeira, now 39, challenged Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title. He’s gone 7-3 over that period and his role now is to be a gatekeeper of sports to the top rung of the division.

Ion Cutelaba (14-4, 1 no contest) looked like he was ready for the test in the first round with a big quickness edge and landing hard blows. But Teixeira hung in, and came back to finish him in the second round.

Dominic Reyes (11-0) is the next light heavyweight who the jury is out on, and makes sense to face Teixeira next. Another good opponent would be Nikita Krylov (25-6).