There’s a new No. 1 contender for the Bellator middleweight title.
In a one-sided if somewhat listless affair, Fabian Edwards outpointed Gegard Mousasi on Friday in the main event of Bellator 296 to claim a unanimous decision and earn a shot against undefeated Bellator middleweight champion Johnny Eblen.
Edwards and Eblen faced off in the cage following the official decision and nearly incited a melee inside Paris’ Accor Arena.
“That was a pretty good performance, but I’m a much, much tougher opponent than Gegard — and you’re going to f****** see that when we fight,” Eblen said.
“We know when the show is — that belt’s mine,” Edwards shot back.
This one is going to be FIRE! @fabianedwards24 will meet middleweight champion @JohnnyEblen on September 23rd at the @3ArenaDublin . #Bellator296 pic.twitter.com/EGhjF4VClV— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 12, 2023
Edwards (12-2), the younger brother of UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards, outclassed Mousasi (49-9-2) from pillar to post to earn the biggest win of his Bellator career.
In a foul-laden contest, the 37-year-old Mousasi consistently found himself a half-step behind his 30-year-old foe, as Edwards picked the legend apart with a steady diet of meat-and-potatoes offense on the feet. Mousasi briefly found successful by turning to his wrestling for the first time in the fourth round and even secured the mount position, but Edwards eventually freed himself and turned the tables with a takedown of his own.
In the end, all three judges scored the bout 49-46 in favor of Edwards, who now moves on to challenge Eblen for the middleweight title on Sept. 23 at the 3Arena in Dublin.
With Friday’s setback, Mousasi has now lost back-to-back fights for the first time in his 20-year, 60-bout career. He previously lost to Eblen via unanimous decision in June 2022.
@fabianedwards24 catches @mousasi_mma.#Bellator296 | @SHOsports | @RMCSport pic.twitter.com/zPaq2e7YQi— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 12, 2023
.@fabianedwards24 lands at will on @mousasi_mma.#Bellator296 | @SHOsports | @RMCSport pic.twitter.com/9w9lTMSPyq— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 12, 2023
That's a big takedown from @mousasi_mma.#Bellator296 | @SHOsports | @RMCSport pic.twitter.com/invMj2bXhm— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 12, 2023
Back and forth in the takedown department, this time it is @fabianedwards24.#Bellator296 | @SHOsports | @RMCSport pic.twitter.com/hH48IG4kyT— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 12, 2023
The night’s co-headlining bout saw former lightweight champion Brent Primus (12-3) punch his ticket to the second round of Bellator’s 155-pound grand prix — and into a title shot against current Bellator lightweight champion Usman Nurmagomedov — with a hard-fought victory over local fan-favorite Mansour Barnaoui (20-5).
In an absolute war of attrition, Primus used his wrestling and a non-stop assault of submission attempts to win rounds two, three, and five. Barnaoui fought back valiantly and at times took the upper hand with ferocious volleys of knees and elbows from the Thai clinch, but in the end, Primus earned a trio of 48-47 scorecards to win a unanimous decision and grit his way through to the tournament’s semifinals.
“I think he has gills in his neck or something like that,” Primus said of his French opponent. “I don’t know what it is, but man, he is one tough son of a gun. Hats off to you, Mansour — you are so tough, bro.”
Tonight's win for @brentprimus155 means he will meet lightweight champion @Usmannmgdv in the next round of the #BellatorLWGP.#Bellator296 | @SHOsports | @RMCSport pic.twitter.com/7wykks1NNL— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 12, 2023
Elsewhere on the card, former three-time Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima (33-11) finally snapped his four-fight losing streak with a victorious debut at 185 pounds.
Matched against red-hot contender Costello van Steenis (14-3), Lima split the opening two rounds before staggering the Dutchman with a flurry of punches to take command of the final frame. Van Steenis survived to the final horn, but Lima ultimately captured a trio of 29-28 scorecards to win a unanimous decision — his first victory since 2019.
“It’s a big weight off the shoulders,” a visibly relieved Lima said. “It’s not easy coming back after a bunch of losses like that.”
@PhenomLima is back!#Bellator296 | @SHOsports | @RMCsport pic.twitter.com/QYeFehDcCl— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 12, 2023
In the opening bout of Friday’s main card, French veteran Thibault Gouti (17-6) scored one of the most explosive highlights of the night with a monstrous second-round knockout of Kane Mousah (14-5) in their lightweight clash. The 36-year-old former UFC fighter caught Mousah clean with a right hand as the pair traded punches along the fence, sending his foe toppling to the canvas at the 3:58 mark of Round 2.
Afterward, Gouti called for his next fight to be against Tim Wilde, who outpointed Chris Gonzalez on the night’s undercard to extend his own five-fight unbeaten streak in Bellator.
Check out complete Bellator 296 results here.
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 12, 2023
The French fans at the @Accor_Arena go WILD as @goutithibault KO's @Kane86mousah!#Bellator296 | @SHOsports | @RMCSport pic.twitter.com/n7nkCFWQT6
!— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) May 12, 2023
This knockout from @goutithibault is even crazier in slow motion! WOW.#Bellator296 | @SHOsports | @RMCSport pic.twitter.com/cEvHDSKFXh