Lombard, Pearson victorious Down Under
The UFC had a card that was televised on FX on Friday night, and Bellator had one on MTV2. Flipping back and forth between the channels seemed like the sensible thing to do because, if nothing else, it kept my sunken spirit away from CNN's reporting of the unspeakable tragedy in Connecticut for a few hours.
The Down Under main card was upside down, with the opening fight, not the main event, being the evening's most intriguing with the biggest stakes.
It was a home game of sorts for Hector Lombard, the former Olympic judoka from Cuba who spent much of his mixed martial arts career living and fighting in Australia. He was in desperate need of the comforts of home, really, because upon joining the UFC this past summer amid the kind of hype you might expect to see anointing a fighter on a 25-fight unbeaten streak, he dropped his first fight in the big show, losing a split decision to Tim Boetsch in July. He needed a win. Badly.
And Lombard (32-3-1, 1 NC) fought like a man desperate to impress. Against jiu-jitsu leg breaker Rousimar Palhares (23-5), he set his GPS to the smartest route to victory -- keeping the fight standing, thereby nullifying the Brazilian's lethal submission game -- and never allowed himself to drift into a detour of over-aggressiveness.
That's not to say Lombard lacked aggressiveness; he just never got lost in the moment, maintaining control -- of Palhares and, more important, of himself -- from start to finish. Even when the fight went to the mat, after Lombard floored his foe with a right hand and swarmed on him, Hector quickly realized that Palhares was not so hurt as to render him not a danger. So Lombard tied him up until the fight was stood up.
From there he stalked Palhares, hurting him with a left hook, dropping him with a short left hand and unleashing bombs on the ground before the stoppage at 3:38 of the first round.
Asked about the finish as a slo-mo video of the beatdown drew a groan from the crowd, Lombard said, "I wanted to do that to Bisping. Bisping, where are you?" That might seem random, but calling out Michael Bisping is written into the contracts of every UFC middleweight. And with this victory, Lombard now can hold his head high and call himself a UFC middleweight in good standing.
Alexander Volkov and Richard Hale entered the heavyweight tournament expecting it to be the road to a title shot. But when champion Cole Konrad abruptly retired from the sport in September, the tourney suddenly was for the belt. Talk about raising the stakes.
If only Volkov and Hale could have risen to the occasion as well.
The best thing about this fight, really, was the unrelenting prefight trash talk and staredowns. These guys made it seem like we were in for fireworks. Instead what we got was a circle dance.
Hale did score a flash knockdown with a right hand near the end of the first round, but that was pretty much his only flash of anything. For the rest of the fight, Volkov kept his distance and countered everything Hale threw -- which wasn't much. Hale appeared unable to figure out how to attack, so for the most part, he didn't. And that allowed Volkov to establish his jab, which kept the fight tilted his way to the end.
"Please, somebody pinch me," Volkov said after the three 49-46 scorecards were read, "because I think it's a dream." A pinch would have been the most damaging blow he took all night.
Then again, Volkov withstood way more damage than Dave Jansen did. Jansen was scheduled to take on Marcin Held in the co-main event, the finale of the promotion's lightweight tournament. But Jansen instead got to sit in the first row and watch the heavies go at it, after his fight was canceled. Why? Because Held couldn't get in the building.
The Bellator event was held in The Venue at Horseshoe Casino. And the casino doesn't allow anyone under age 21 to enter -- not even the 20-year-old fighter whose face is on the poster that no doubt had been displayed all around the gambling hall. Have you ever heard of a more bizarre fight cancellation? Don't expect any future events to be held at Horseshoe Casino, whose decision-makers come out of this situation looking like a different part of the horse's anatomy.
Apparently, Ross Pearson and George Sotiropolous built up some animosity while serving as coaches for an Australia vs. Great Britain season of The Ultimate Fighter. I wouldn't know about that, personally, because this version of the reality show was broadcast in Australia.
So it was my first time seeing Norman Parke, the Northern Ireland fighter who captured the lightweight tourney with a unanimous-decision win over Colin Fletcher, and also Aussie Robert Whittaker, who took the lightweight tourney with a decision win over Brad Scott. Both winners were in control and impressive.
I'd seen Pearson before, of course, but not like this. As he said after scoring a third-round knockout, in trying to explain what he did right, "Not being like the bull that I normally am, being too aggressive. I thought about it, picked me shots, made him miss and seen the openings."
The openings in Sotiropoulos' standup game, you could drive a London two-decker bus through them. It must have been tough for Pearson to remain patient. But he did.
He scored a knockdown in each round and vigilantly avoided the mat -- that is, the only place where Sotiropoulos could win. After wobbling and flooring the Aussie in each of the first two rounds, Pearson came roaring out for the third and rocked his opponent with a left hook. Sotiropoulos tried to protect his fuzzy head, whereupon Pearson attacked the body. And when the hands came down to protect there, it was all but over. Pearson finished the job with a three-punch combination that sent Sotiropoulos to the mat with a thud and brought referee Marc Goddard charging in to halt the beatdown at 41 seconds of the round.
And that's no bull.