There is always a tinge of oddity to Bellator events but no one could have quite anticipated the weird narrative which played out in their big New York debut on Saturday.
From the bizarre fashion Michael Chandler relinquished his lightweight crown, to the extremely rare double knockdown exhibited by Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko, Bellator 180 was a showcase of strange.
But everything that could have went wrong, did so, and it couldn’t have happened on a worse stage as the event was supposed to be the crowning moment for a promotion snapping at the heels of the UFC.
And if all that wackiness wasn't enough for you, we've got Chael Sonnen v Wanderlei Silva next.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) June 25, 2017
Indeed, under stewardship of the well-respected promoter Scott Coker, the Viacom-backed company are quickly developing into a genuine competitor for an MMA landscape dominated by the UFC.
Big money free agent signings such as welterweight star Rory MacDonald and former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson has allowed Bellator to stamp their own authority on a MMA market which is beginning to gain mainstream notoriety.
What won’t have helped their cause, though, is how their maiden event in the Big Apple turned into a car crash.
Still, it was impossible to turn your eyes away, so we analyse the major talking points from Madison Square Garden after a fun night for the fans but a bad night for Bellator.
Chael Sonnen has long been considered one of the best trash talkers in MMA but his ability to cut a promo hasn’t always translated into success in the cage.
But after a decade of disagreement with Wanderlei Silva, Sonnen ground out a clean sweep on the judges’ scorecards in the main event to earn his first win since 2013.
It also went some way to banishing the memory of the former UFC star’s pitiful Bellator debut defeat to Tito Ortiz.
Fedor Emelianenko will forever be remembered as one of the best to do it.
Yet, the 40-year-old Russian is seemingly intent on tarnishing his legacy and his first-round KO loss to Matt Mitrione is further evidence of that.
It’s time to retire even if he came to close to an unlikely victory of his own following a freak double knockdown. Both Mitrone and Emelianenko were decked by twin right-hands but the former recovered quickest to apply the finish.
Sweet symmetry but not a sour ending for the Last Emperor.
They don’t make them tougher or more courageous than Michael Chandler and Saturday was justification of that sentiment.
Chandler lost his lightweight belt to Brent Primus in bizarre circumstances as after rolling his ankle in the first round, the ring-side doctor pulled him out of the bout.
It wasn’t without valiant effort, though, as Chandler incredibly nearly knocked out Primus despite his flopping ankle restricting him to fighting on one leg.
To add insult to injury, he was sent sprawling to the canvas after his stool was pulled out from under him as he stood up during the doctor’s assessment and roared to continue fighting.
No moment illustrated the narrative of Bellator’s night better than that.
Last night in Bellator: Fighter sustains injury, docs assess, doc pulls stool, fighter wipes out, is told he lost pic.twitter.com/h8co9OOH6V— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 25, 2017
The Aaron Pico train hadn’t even left the station but the hype has already been derailed.
The 20-year-old was labelled as a next generation superstar with ESPN profiling him and posing the question “Is he the greatest prospect in MMA history?”.
But just 24 seconds into his pro-MMA debut, some 31 months since signing a development deal with Bellator, he was tapped out by Zach Freeman.
The sequence was horrible. Pico ate knee, failed with a terrible clinch, attempted a wild swing, got caught with an uppercut then failed to protect his neck before the world-class wrestler was tapped immediately to a guillotine choke.
In a world where first impressions are everything, Pico gave nothing to shout about.
Pico: this doesn't define me. It's my first fight.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) June 25, 2017
It wasn’t all bad news for Bellator. Gallagher, the rising Irish star and team-mate of Conor McGregor, produced a stunning first-round submission against Chinzo Machida to send the Emerald Isle contingent inside MSG wild.
The 20-year-old proceeded to call out Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire who responded on Twitter by saying: “I’ll fight you in Croke Park. Bring your daddy @TheNotoriousMMA to see you get beat up from the front row.”
Larkin followed the trend of UFC turned Bellator fighters who have lost on debut. Benson Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Josh Koscheck all lost their first fight under the Bellator banner and Larkin joined them as Douglas Lima cruised past him to earn a comfortable decision.
Larkin was dropped in the second and struggled to get past Lima’s long arms to land anything clean as the welterweight champ eased to victory to defend his belt.
In one of Bellator’s deeper divisions, Larkin will have to earn his way back up to another title shot.
At 37 years old and with the UFC middleweight belt wrapped around his waist, it’s fair to say Michael Bisping’s prime has come a little later than most, especially when you consider he debuted with the promotion 11 years ago this week.
Indeed, Bisping stopped Josh Haynes in the second round to be crowned the The Ultimate Fighter season three winner – a light-heavyweight tournament.
He fought at 205lbs for four fights before dropping down to 185lbs, the division he now rules.
Philippine boxing great Manny Pacquiao arrived in Australia ahead of his title fight with Jeff Horn and declared: “I will be going home as world champion.”
The “Pac Man” touched down in Brisbane late Saturday from Manila with a large entourage for his World Boxing Organization welterweight title bout at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane next weekend.
“In all my years of boxing, I have never been as motivated and fired up as this fight,” he told reporters at the airport.
“My team is very happy with my preparation. I am looking forward to this and I will be going home as world champion.”
Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 knockouts) is a clear favourite against Horn, although the Filipino great has not stopped an opponent since his 12th round TKO of Miguel Cotto in 2009.
The eight-weight world champion has said he is using the bout as an opportunity to prove he remains a global force at the age of 38 as he juggles boxing with a full-time job as a senator in the Philippines.
“I’m so thankful for this great opportunity to be here in Australia and fight here, and the warm welcome of the people here,” Pacquiao said.
“I think this is one of the biggest crowds that I’m going to fight to. I love the fans shouting and cheering for me, or for Horn. I like that, it’s exciting.”
Pacquiao, who briefly retired early last year before making a successful comeback against Jessie Vargas in Las Vegas in November, will need to be on song against the unbeaten Horn, who has won 16 of his 17 fights with one draw.
A relatively unknown physical education teacher, the 29-year-old Australian has been dubbed the “fighting schoolteacher” by promoters, who say the 50,000-seat Suncorp Stadium is almost sold out.
“I consider him a tough opponent,” Pacquiao said. “I never underestimate my opponent. He’s undefeated, he’s young. I like aggressive fighters.”
Floyd Mayweather will come out of retirement to meet UFC lighweight champion Conor McGregor in an eagerly anticipated boxing match at the T-Mobile Arena on August 26.
Mayweather will be aiming to become the first boxer to go 50-0 while the Irishman will be competing in his first ever professional boxing bout.
As you can imagine the clash has polarised opinion across the globe so our expert writers have offered their views.
Do you think Mayweather v McGregor will damage boxing’s credibility?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers debate his future.
Floyd Mayweather Jr insists he is “giving the people what they want” by agreeing to the carnival clash with Conor McGregor on August 26. And while that may be the case in casual circles, in a wider context it’s not what the sport needs, or indeed wants.
Boxing has enjoyed a meteoric resurgence in 2017 to starve nonsensical suggestions that the sport is dead. Although the May/Mac hybrid event won’t kill it off entirely, it’s certainly a stab in the back.
The fight completely goes against the notion of competition because it’s a foregone conclusion, with the 49-0 boxer, the best of his era, sealing the prestigious 50-0 mark against a complete novice.
But it’s not just the predetermined outcome which will hurt boxing’s credibility, it will be the nature of it. The lingering stench left by Mayweather’s lopsided win over Manny Pacquiao two years ago has only just dissipated with his exit from the ring allowing the likes of Saul Alvarez and Anthony Joshua to flourish.
Their brand of violence has come to hallmark a fine year which has stimulated interest in boxing, but Mayweather’s defensive style is the complete antithesis, a skillset which disillusioned a wider audience.
In MMA, McGregor has almost exclusively fought as a counter-puncher and against a defensive boxer like Mayweather it will make for periods of painful inactivity. A one-sided battering, or even an attempt to brawl from the Irishman could be viewed as entertainment even if not competitive.
But chances are Floyd will walk to victory by barely throwing or receiving a punch.
It also comes just three weeks before a genuine fight of the year candidate in Alvarez v Gennady Golovkin. May/Mac sucks the oxygen out of that contest while also siphoning the life out of a sport which has been reborn in Mayweather’s absence.
This clear moneygrab is an abuse boxing doesn’t deserve.
Because of the nature of the personalities involved and the acknowledgement they’re doing this purely for money, the public should be able to separate this from the rest of the boxing world and see it for what it is.
At best, a more legitimate real-life version of Rocky v Thunderlips or, at worst, a freak show in which the very worst aspects of the fight game are broadcast before, during and after what will undoubtedly be a one-sided contest.
Conor McGregor’s first professional boxing bout against one of the greatest of all time will be short. The Irishman is essentially being paid $80 million to step into a ring and get beaten up.
And that ludicrous and trivial nature of the contest means nobody is going to be taking it seriously. Providing McGregor avoids severe injuries he’ll return to the UFC soon enough considerably richer and it won’t affect his standing in MMA, while Mayweather will return to retirement to buy some Bugattis.
When you factor in the pantomime that we’re going to be subjected over the next two months in terms of the verbal build-up, it’s going to be a circus. Entertainment over sport.
It would be a real concern if this fight had happened 12 months ago when the sport was at its lowest ebb as a series of faceless champions wore belts nobody cared about, and the biggest names sleepwalked through bouts. Mayweather v McGregor would have been viewed with excitement, as a means of jolting life into the fight game.
And, that, would have led to real damage because, then what comes next? Does that then dictate the future of the sport? But with Joshua-Klitschko and a reinvigorated heavyweight division plus Golovkin-Alvarez to come, the landscape has shifted considerably.
Boxing is in a healthy place and strong enough to keep August 26 as the fun but ultimately gaudy sideshow it deserves to be.