Rafael Lovato Jr. upset the applecart in the Bellator London main event at the SSE Arena on Saturday, using his legendary grappling ability to stifle Gegard Mousasi over 25 minutes to claim the promotion’s middleweight title.
Lovato Jr. dominated the opening two rounds. He made no secret of his intent to take the fight to the ground, and Mousasi seemed to have no answer for his crushing pressure over the first 10 minutes. However, the defending champion regained some momentum in the third when he was able to take top position and land some big, grounded strikes. He kept the fight on his terms in the fourth and again had success with his punches from top position.
The jiu-jitsu ace attacked takedowns liberally in the final round, taking Mousasi down within the first thirty seconds. Likely knowing that the round would decide the fight, he didn’t allow the champion out from under him for the remainder of the contest.
When the judges’ scorecards were finalized, one judge scored the bout a draw whereas two others saw Lovato taking the contest 48-47.
#AndNew - @LovatoJrBJJ gets the win and the belt at #Bellator223.— Bellator Europe (@Bellator_Europe) June 22, 2019
A very happy birthday indeed! pic.twitter.com/hlrJYoyVVK
Melvin Manhoef showcased some of his signature striking ability in his return to action, but he wasn’t able to muster a fight-finishing sequence for Kent Kauppinen. The Brit claimed first blood by dropping the veteran with a four-punch combination.
@Team_Manhoef and @KauppinenKent clash in round one and it's scary!!#Bellator223 is LIVE on @Channel5_TV and on The Bellator App.— Bellator Europe (@Bellator_Europe) June 22, 2019
In return, Manhoef melted the Englishman with a right hand before the final bell sounded. A head kick early in the second round seemed to stun Kauppinen, and Manhoef poured on the pressure after taking top position, landing several clean elbows. Although Kauppinen tried to rally in the third, he was unable to score with the same damaging blows at the same frequency of his legendary counterpart.
Reality television star turned MMA fighter Aaron Chalmers returned to winning ways with a confident grappling display, finishing unknown commodity Fred Freeman with a second-round triangle in their 160-pound catchweight bout. Noticing the speed advantage Freeman had on the feet, Chalmers began to force grappling exchanges on his opponent early in the first round.
Chalmers dominated the second round from top position and as soon as Freeman managed to gain top position, he got caught in a triangle that stopped the contest in the final minute of the stanza.
Paul Daley blasted his way through the striking exchanges with Erick Silva to claim a one-sided decision win over the Brazilian. Daley threw caution to the wind in the second round, wobbling Silva with an uppercut. He continued to pummel Silva for the remainder of the fight, which eased him back into the win column following his loss to countryman Michael Page.
Round two gets going with a bang for @Semtex_170!#Bellator223 pic.twitter.com/TZTJd6PTMV— Bellator Europe (@Bellator_Europe) June 22, 2019
James Gallagher collected his second consecutive win since his knockout loss to Ricky Bandejas after being forced to go the distance for the first time since his Bellator debut against Jeremiah Labiano. “The Strabanimal” showcased his stellar grappling game in the first and third rounds, taking Labiano down of the fence and controlling the fight from top position.
✊ @StrabanimalMMA is your winner at #Bellator223 tonight as he gets his hand raised via unanimous decision. pic.twitter.com/zKbT5twYgm— Bellator Europe (@Bellator_Europe) June 22, 2019
Earlier in the night, Fabian Edwards improved his undefeated record to 8-0 with a decision over Jonathan Bosuku. Those who hoped that the London event would setup a clash between Edwards and Mike Shipman had their hopes dashed when Dutch prospect Costello van Steenis stopped Shipman in the second round of their bout.
Check out the full results here.