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Bellator 96 Was The Best Show You Didn’t See

Bellator 96 Was The Best Show You Didn’t See

We’ve got a little time until the next UFC. But, I’m not a fan of any one promotion. I’m a fan of good MMA, and there’s plenty out there to be excited about.

Are you a MMA fan? I’ll bet that Wednesday’s Bellator 96 show had something for you. In fact, each fight could give you another reason to watch.

(Sadly, you’re not alone if you missed it– it doesn’t seem to have found its audience yet, with less than half a million viewers. It’s not a new show, but it is on at a new day on a new network.)

The evening’s first bout, between Blas Avena and War Machine (aka Jon Koppenhaver), was better than expected.  I expected a lot of forward movement and combination punching from War, but War Machine showed – get this — good hips. Whoa. Maybe some of you who follow his other career opportunities are more aware of this than I. But yeah, the guy moved well, positioning into a butterfly guard nicely following an Avena takedown, and later slicing through Avena’s guard following a takedown of his own. The strikes from a front side crucifix (the “Ivan Salaverry” position) earned the first round TKO, but the groundwork which led to it is what caught my attention.

So… action, and some good technique, too? Reason One.

The heavyweight tournament was next, as Ron Sparks got sparked (!) by the still-undefeated Vitali Minakov with a big overhand right. “The New Emperor” shows some nasty knockout power to go with a promising sambo background. Add a familiar quote, “I have come to bring glory to my motherland,” and it would seem we’ve got Fedor Emelianenko Light. I guess we’ll see how “light” as he steps up in competition, but it’ll be fun watching him continue to develop.  That’s something to watch – hey, two fights, two reasons to tune in.

In the other heavyweight semifinal, late replacement Ryan Martinez scored a quick takedown and blasted Rich Hale with lefts on the mat for another quick knockout. What struck me here was Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith’s unusual insight: southpaw Martinez had to switch to orthodox lead to assist another rotund slugger, Roy Nelson, in Nelson’s preparation for UFC 161 — and then back again for this bout.

Renato “Babalu” Sobral’s third round TKO loss to Jacob Noe was a tough one. In breaking down the event, Carlin Bardsley hesitated to call Babalu a “legend”, and I can see his point, that Sobral was never quite at the very top of the game. Still, he was definitely an important and charismatic fighter who scored wins over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (and many others) over 16 years. If you’re watching him, you’re watching history.

In his excellent 2007 travelogue “The Last Wrestlers,” Marcus Trower described meeting Babalu on a trip to Brazil. Trower wrote that the star-studded Gracie Barra camp “appears to defer to him on an unspoken level. He is its magnetic north, the man whom everyone else aligns himself towards.” You don’t see a man like that every day, and to see him lay his gloves down on the mat to signal his final bout is something special.

The night ended with King Mo KO’ing Seth Petruzelli with another page from Fedor Emelianenko’s book, the standing guard pass to an overhand right. In fact, that’s p.191 of Fedor’s instructional book. BAM!

Bellator 96 was action, insight, history, and a lot of concussive power — hey, not a perfect show, but a perfectly good couple of hours of free TV for any MMA fan.


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