Former Bellator light heavyweight champion Phil Davis denied high-profile acquisition Yoel Romero a successful debut, outworking the three-time UFC title challenger en route to a split decision win in the headliner of Bellator 266.
Scores of 30-27 and 30-26 clashed with a lone 29-28 in favor of Romero, who appeared shocked at the end of the three-rounder that there weren’t two more frames in which to argue his case as with his previous promoter, UFC.
But at the end of 15 minutes, Davis had beaten Romero in the area where, on paper, he was best: wrestling. The Division I wrestling champion at Penn State completed five takedowns on the Cuban Olympic silver medalist, ending the fight with a definitive spate of ground and pound.
“God bless wrestling,” Davis said afterward at SAP Center, which hosted the Showtime-televised event in San Jose, Calif. “Best sport in the world.”
Davis had promised Bellator commentator John McCarthy he would use his primary skill set more often as he attempted to build his case for another title shot. Initially, though, he stood at distance with Romero and traded kicks. An arrow-straight 1-2 was repeatedly intercepted by Romero, who tried to fire back on the counter with wide left and right hooks.
“Man, he’s a monster,” Davis said afterward. “I felt that power more times than I wished I had tonight.”
When Davis upped the tempo in the second and Romero appeared to slow, he began to have more success on the feet. But it was when Romero overcommitted on a punch late in the second that the first takedown presented itself for Davis.
In the final round, Davis found the winning formula and repeatedly deposited Romero on the mat. One scramble put the perennial contender back on his feet, but it wasn’t long before he was struggling from the bottom as Davis began to walk away with the fight.
Davis gets back to the win column after a loss to current champ Vadim Nemkov, who along with ex-champ Ryan Bader are the only opponents to defeat him in the Bellator cage. Romero, whose May debut was pushed back by medical clearance issues, drops to 1-5 in his past five outings after a UFC title loss to current champ Isarel Adesanya led to his exit from the octagon.
Full Bellator 266 results:
Phil Davis def. Yoel Romero via split decision (30-27, 28-29, 30-26)