By Brian Woodman Jr.
The event Bellator: British Invasion garnered mixed reactions from the crowd that gathered at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Feb. 27. British fighters Liam McGeary (10-0), Paul Daley (36-13-2) and Linton Vassell (15-4) all won their fights that evening and were well received while the co-main event drew a surreally hostile audience response.
Bellator brought legends from MMA’s past to the arena to greet enthusiastic fans that gathered for the fights. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, BJJ and UFC pioneer Royce Gracie and Russian MMA icon Fedor Emelianenko shook hands and posed for pictures as the organization promoted a June 20 fight between Kimbo Slice and Ken Shamrock.
The co-main event, which was a heavyweight bout between former UFC heavyweight Cheick Kongo (22-10-2) and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (15-4), drew an unbelievable amount of cat calls boos from the audience. King Mo, who moved up from light heavyweight, won a split decision in what was the worst received fight of the evening.
King Mo dominated all three rounds by bringing Kongo to the ground, although little happened as lay on the ground clinching each other. The crowd periodically chanted “stand them up” and referee John McCarthy did so with about 20 seconds left in the third round. Kongo occasionally attempted to press the action with punches and kicks, throwing a back fist and some punches in the last 10 seconds as King Mo backpedaled. A deafening chorus of boos drowned out the King’s speech following the fight.
The main event saw Bellator’s light heavyweight belt change hands from Emanuel Newton (25-8) to McGeary following an unanimous decision. McGeary’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu served him well during the first three rounds of the five-round bout as he brought Newton to the ground while attempting several leg triangles and other submissions from the bottom, side and top.
McGeary periodically dropped bombs on Newton while they struggled on the ground, but in the final two rounds McGeary seemed visibly tired. When McGeary secured one leg triangle around Newton’s neck, the then-champion stood up and dropped is opponent on the ground. Newton changed position often as he worked to avoid being submitted.
Vassell defeated Rameau Sokoudjou (16-13) after the referee waved their light heavyweight fight off at 3:18 into the second round. Although Sokoudjou scored at least one takedown in the first round, Vassell dominated the fight and unsuccessfully tried to sink a rear naked choke. An unruly crowd expressed support for Sokoudjou but Vassell remained dominant and bully mounted him toward the end of the fight.
Daley dominated the standup in his welterweight fight with Andre Santos (37-10) despite a bloody nose in round two, at one point raining punches on his downed opponent. Daley opened the third round by catching Santos with a punching combination, dropping him and dropping bombs on him. He caught Santos with a knee at 2:51 and dropped more punches on him during the last minute; Santos turned the tables and mounted Daley as the fight ended. The British fighter still won by unanimous decision.
Six fighters from Connecticut also fought on the card. One of them, Waterford’s Brennan Ward
(10-3), opened up the main card by submitting Curtis Millender (7-1) with a rear naked coke in one minute and 37 seconds during the first round.
“I’m doing this for Connecticut,” said Ward, a former Bellator Middleweight Tournament winner who made his welterweight debut that evening. Ward, who was clearly an audience favorite, said afterward it was good to earn the victory following two defeats.
Bantamweight Blair Tugman (7-5) of North Haven opened the preliminary card with a bout against Marvin Maldonado (2-4-1). Tugman took Maldonado down during all three rounds but could not submit him despite attempted guillotines and rear naked chokes. Tugman still remained dominant throughout the fight and won an unanimous decision.
Welterweight Neiman Gracie (3-0) submitted Bobby Flynn (4-3) at about 2:20 in the first round by stretching his neck during the next fight.
Middleweight Tamdam McCrery (13-3) submitted Jason Butcher (8-2) at 1:06 into the first round with an arm bar. MCCrory bowed after the speedy finish.
Groton’s Josh Diekman (15-6), despite a flashy entrance and vocal audience support, submitted to Raphael Butler (8-2-1) at 1:04 into the first round of a heavyweight bout. Butler, who was booed by the crowd, methodically exchanged exploratory blows with area favorite Diekman before securing a guillotine choke and lifting him off the ground.
Hartford-based featherweight Matt Bessette (14-6) defeated Josh Laberge (9-5) late into the second won by TKO following a stoppage by the cage side physician. Laberge went for a few punching combinations early in the first round, also attempting a few Muay Thai plums, but Bessette dominated the majority of the fight.
Dean Hancock of Danbury won his professional debut that evening by submitting Derby’s Mike Mangan (0-3) by rear naked choke at about 1:30 into the first round of a lightweight fight. Mangan opened energetically and pressed the action but Hancock clinched early with him and attempted a guillotine choke, dominating the bulk of the action in the short fight.