Bellator 40: Ben Askren Kicks Some Ass

On Saturday night, at the First Council Casino, the fine people of Newkirk, Oklahoma, witnessed just about the best wrestling one can find inside an MMA cage. Bellator 40 didn’t have any flashy knockouts or slick submissions, but it did feature three gritty, hard fought decisions, as well as a slugfest between the two largest mammals Bellator has put on MTV 2 yet. The second semifinal fights for both the Lightweight and Welterweight tournaments began and ended with excitement. A heavyweight scuffle between two titans was thrown into the mix because everyone loves heavyweights. Lastly, a nontitle superfight starring sage veteran Nick Thompson against Bellator’s Welterweight Champion and wrestling juggernaut Ben Askren. Let’s get a recap of this relentless action:

­Lloyd Woodard vs. Michael Chandler

In a battle of undefeated records, someone’s “0″ had to go. Besides keeping a clean win/loss sheet, the winner of this 155-pound fight would get a finals showdown with Patricky “Pitbull” Freire. The fight was a clear-cut decision, with Chandler taking the odd numbered rounds and Woodard snagging the sole even numbered round.

Rounds 1 and 3 were more or less a takedown clinic, with Chandler playing teacher and Woodard his tackling dummy. As soon as the first round started, Chandler’s aggressiveness was at full throttle. The University of Missouri alum went straight across the cage, grabbed hold of “Cupcake,” and power-slammed him to the mat. This continued for the next five minutes. Besides the onslaught of takedowns, Chandler never gave up with leaping punches that cut the reach/height advantage Woodard had. “Cupcake” did have his moment in the sun in the second round. With seconds remaining, Woodard took Chandler’s back on the ground and threatened with a rear naked choke. Chandler barely spun out of it.

The final round was a mirror image of the opener with Chandler winning on takedowns and top control. Two rounds to one, Chandler moves on to fight burgeoning knockout artist “Pitbull” Freire in the finals of the Bellator Lightweight tourney.

The judges scored this 29-28, 29-28, 29-28 in favor of Michael Chandler by unanimous decision.

­Eric Prindle vs. Josh Burns

HEAVYWEIGHTS! Who would’ve guessed it? The top brass at Bellator found two of the biggest behemoths alive to tumble in the cage. Josh Burns has to be the largest 5-foot-11-inch man on the planet. Burns is all torso with no neck and arms like jackhammers. Eric Prindle is 6 feet 5 inches–he had to cut 30 pounds to make the 265-pound limit–and he’s a ginger. If a refrigerator with tree trunks for arms had an Irishman’s red beard, that ungodly monster would be Prindle.

There wasn’t a ton of technique in this bout. It was two mythically big men swinging hard for each other’s heads. Both rounds were pretty back and forth, with Prindle landing more effective strikes, but every other minute Burns would bull rush with several punches that would land and stumble the giant Prindle. Some of the best and worst shots in the fight were Prindle’s leg kicks. Every time Prindle threw the outside leg kick it would land with a sick thud, mostly because Burns never checked them. Meanwhile, when Prindle threw the inside leg kick it seemed to find its way to Burn’s crotch and not his thigh. After two tiring rounds of these beasts throwing haymakers, Burns’ facial cuts were apparently too much for the ringside doctor to let it continue. It felt like a tad premature ending to this fight between Conan the Barbarian villains.

Eric Prindle wins by TKO (doctor’s stoppage) at 5:00 in round 2.

­Brent Weedman vs. Jay Hieron

This Welterweight semifinal tourney match-up was between two crafty opponents with a ton of experience (24 fights each). It was a fight of two different halves split over three rounds as Hieron controlled the beginning of the fight and Weedman controlled the end. Hieron clearly won the first five minutes and Weedman took the last five, but the middle five minutes were the key to the scorecard and all three judges leaned toward Hieron.

In the opening seconds of the first round, Weedman caught Hieron with a left fist to the kisser, which dropped “The Thoroughbred” to the mat. Hieron recovered quickly and spent the rest of the round trying to secure Weedman in a D’arce choke. Hieron won that round with the sub attempts and some ground and pound. The second and third round were mostly stand-up with Weedman pushing forward as Hieron counterpunched and stayed out of Weedman’s reach. Round 2 was close, but Hieron’s more precise striking gave him the 10-9 win. As for the third, Weedman’s pressure appeared to have gotten to Hieron. Late into the final round, Weedman swept Hieron’s legs out from under him with a leg kick and took a mounting position. The crowd booed the Hieron decision because it certainly didn’t look like he’d won after Weedman rained punches down on him in the last fleeting moments of the fight. But it was too little too late as Hieron lasted through those worrisome seconds and won on the scorecards.

Hieron moves onto the final round against Rick Hawn in the Welterweight tournament.

The judges scored this 29-28, 29-28, 29-28 in favor of Jay Hieron by unanimous decision.

­Ben Askren vs. Nick Thompson

If Ben Askren shot for a takedown on the Statue of Liberty, he’d get it. Hopefully our Lady Liberty knows how to work a rubber guard and get it back to standing because absolutely no one seems to be able to stop the Bellator Welterweight Champion’s takedown attempts. But it’s not really a shock that a four-time NCAA Division I National Champion finalist and two-time winner who also wrestled for the Olympic team is good at taking people down.

Nick Thompson is a good fighter with a lot of experience. “The Goat” is 38-14 with great victories over Paul Daley, Josh Neer and Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez. Nevertheless, Thompson had zero contingency plans for Askren’s unstoppable takedowns. All three rounds were marked by Askren successfully taking down Thompson and then maintaining control from that moment onward. The closest moment to a finish came in the second round when Askren had a rear naked choke attempt on Thompson.

After the fight the always self-effacing Askren chided himself on not getting the finish with his last four Bellator victories coming by unanimous decision. The BFC Welterweight Champ did his best impersonation of UFC Welterweight Champion, Georges St. Pierre, and threw a verbal jab at Hieron saying he was unimpressed with his performance. Askren now awaits the winner of Hieron and Hawn for his next fight.

The judges scored this 30-26, 30-27, 30-27 in favor of Ben Askren by unanimous decision.

Next week, the 135-pound champion, Makovsky, and the 145-pound champion, Warren, will compete in non-title fights: Zach Makovsky vs. Chad Robichaux and Joe Warren vs. Marcos Galvao–also, the two semi-final fights of the Featherweight tournament: Kenny Foster vs. Daniel Straus and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire vs. Wilson Reis.