Last night MMA fans of Newkirk, Oklahoma witnessed a night of explosive fights and finishes, courtesy of Bellator 43. The twists and turns of the Bellator Season 4 Welterweight Tournament also came to a close, as a tourney champion was declared and dubbed the next man to take on reigning Bellator Welterweight Champion Ben Askren (8-0) for the belt. IFL veteran “The Thoroughbred” Jay Hieron (19-4) took on undefeated Judo Olympian Rick Hawn (11-1) in the main event and tournament final. Returning middleweight finalist “The Beast” Bryan Baker (12-2) teed off with UFC and Strikeforce veteran “Diesel” Joe Riggs (33-14). Former WEC Bantamweight Champion “The Rage” Chase Beebe (17-5) faced Bellator veteran Jose Vega (9-5); with a ticket into the Season 5 Bantamweight Tournament hanging in the balance only one could proceed to a shot at glory. A late main card addition in the form of a heavyweight tilt between heavy hitter “The Monster” Ron Sparks (4-0) and journeyman Vince Lucero (20-19) opened the event of the MTV2 broadcast.
Ron Sparks vs. Vince Lucero: Both Sparks and Lucero are both big men and can pack a heavy punch, especially Sparks. A sign of respect is shown between the men then the action begins. Sparks lands several powerful leg kicks to the lead leg of Lucero and is landing a number of strikes. After several leg kicks, Sparks slams another kick to Lucero’s leg and Lucero goes down; Sparks jumps on him, getting into side control. Sparks starts working for a surprising Keylock. He torques it and thereafter it doesn’t take Lucero long to tap. The referee calls a stop to the bout at two minutes and eighteen seconds into the opening frame. Fans could have Sparks’ participation in the next heavyweight tournament to look forward to. Sparks via Submission (Keylock), Round 1, 2:18
Chase Beebe vs. Jose Vega: Next up, BJJ wizard Beebe takes on the gritty Vega. The pair of 135lb-ers come out, touch gloves, and are ready to start the fight. Both men are standing in the pocket and are playing the striking game. It doesn’t take long for Beebe to take the fight to the mat and work for a Guillotine Choke. Vega fights out of it easily and the fight returns to the feet. Vega’s gameplan is to keep the fight standing and avoid the ground game of “The Rage”. Beebe is holding his own on the feet, using his reach to keep Vega at bay. He then works for a takedown and is successful, getting Beebe back to the mat. Vega has different plans, though, as made evident by his defensive ground game that allows him to climb back to his feet. Vega presses Beebe against the cage and the former WEC champ works for another choke. Vega goes for a single-leg and gets up. This, however, hammers the nail into his coffin as Beebe locks in a fight-ending Guillotine Choke. Beebe celebrates by cutting back flips and front flips and getting a hug from Gilbert Grappling teammate and UFC lightweight “The Carpenter” Clay Guida (28-11). The end comes at four minutes and six seconds of the first round and gives Beebe five first round submission wins in his past six victories. Beebe via Submission (Guillotine Choke), Round 1, 4:06
Joe Riggs vs. Bryan Baker: The third main card event sees a seasoned veteran take on a young rising star, both possessing heavy hands and a willingness to stand and bang. Baker is looking to build off his win over the battle tested “Gumby” Jeremy Horn (87-21) at Bellator 30 while Riggs is looking to get back to the winning side as he takes a fresh start at middleweight. Riggs assumes the southpaw stance and Baker utilizes an unorthodox stance; the two men circle, respecting the other’s skills. Baker starts off the action with a kick that is blocked by Riggs’ left arm. “Diesel” fires a one-two combo that doesn’t do any damage but is lightning fast. He follows it up with a jab then a left cross. At the same time, Baker throws a right kick that lands to Riggs’ groin. After the break the two are pressing the action, Baker is moving about more while Riggs follows. Baker however is making the mistake of walking towards Riggs’ left side – his power hand. Baker throws a high kick that Riggs blocks but it still causes him to lose his balance. The young Baker is using his reach to keep the experienced Riggs at bay until they tie up and Riggs lands big shots to Baker’s ribs. The round ends and both men return to their corners.
Round two is underway and the action is at the same pace as the first with both men showing respect and trying to find openings in the other’s game. Baker backs Riggs up to the fence and throws punches, but the experience of Riggs shows and he weaves away from Baker. Baker is walking down Riggs at will now and clips him with a right hand. Riggs seems fine but Baker clinches him against the cage and throws knees to the body then shoots for a takedown. Riggs stuffs it and shows some life when he answers with some strikes. “Diesel” has his hands low as does Baker; Riggs throws another one-two combo and Baker pops Riggs’ chin with a solid left hook, folding the UFC vet at his opponent’s feet. Baker doesn’t even pounce on him – he knows it’s over. The victor raises his hands and celebrates with his corner. The fight ends at three minutes and fifty three seconds of the second round. Baker has consecutively defeated two respected veterans by dominant performances. He caps off the night by getting down on one knee in the middle of the cage and asking his girlfriend to marry him. She says yes and the two embrace. It’s Baker’s night and its clear that he should be in the next tournament. Baker via Knockout (Punch), Round 2, 3:53
Rick Hawn vs. Jay Hieron: It’s time for the main event. Former IFL Welterweight Champion Jay Hieron has had a rough road from his time with Strikeforce to his win over Brent Weedman (18-6). With a win over undefeated Rick Hawn he will win the tournament and gain a title shot – however, Rick Hawn is looking to spoil “The Thoroughbred’s” hopes and take his place in the cage against Askren. The fight begins with a touch of gloves and the action starts. Hieron starts the pace with leg kicks and range-finding punches. He throws a spinning back kick and pushes Hawn back; Hieron is staying on his toes while Hawn remains heavy on his feet. A close kick to Hawn’s groin feeds the fire to push the action as Hawn comes forward but Hieron is using his reach and his kicks to keep Hawn at a distance. Hieron is landing leg kicks to the lead leg of Hawn at will, Hawn isn’t checking the kicks but is coming forward with crisp boxing. The round ends with Hawn coming forward with winging punches but Hieron simply moves out of the path of Hawn.
The second round begins and Hieron picks up with his pace again. The former IFL champ is staying in the pocket more and throwing more punches. Hawn is still trying to find his own stride with his strikes but Hieron is beating him to the punch, literally. The Judoka’s punches are almost fencer-like as he throws his body into each punch. Hawn comes forward with a flurry and lands a punch, causing Hieron to lose his balance but he recovers quickly. Hawn is coming forward more while Hieron seems to be slowing down but he’s keeping up with his kicks. Hieron eats a one-two combo from Hawn and stumbles a bit, but he smiles at Hawn and the two tie up. Then, it’s Hieron that takes the fight to the mat just as the frame draws to a close. It’s a very tough round to score but the final minute was all Hawn moving forward and taking the pace away from Hieron, likely helping him steal the round from “The Thoroughbred”.
The third and final stanza comes as the deciding factor of the Bellator Season 4 Welterweight Tournament finals, as each fighter has taken a round a piece. They met in the middle of the cage and Hieron is back on his toes and moving about; Hawn stalks Hieron around the cage. The Judoka lands faint punches and Hieron lands another spinning back kick to Hawn’s body. Hieron slips away from Hawn’s punches and pops his opponent’s body with a hook. Hieron keeps rubbing his nose and his right eye is very red – Hawn’s punches throughout the fight are hitting their marks. Hawn continues throwing the winging punches and Hieron is slipping and countering each one. Hawn’s Mike Tyson-style of coming forward and punching is doing the most damage. Hieron is fading more as the fight goes on, evident by his low hands and the fact that Hawn is still pushing the action strongly. The final minute is counting down and Hawn is pressing harder to the end. Hieron is still backing away from Hawn’s onslaught of strikes, and in the final five seconds both men go for broke with a combo of punches and kicks. The match ends and both men raise their hands as they return to their corners to await the judges’ decision on whether it was Hawn’s aggressive, steady pressure or Hieron’s counter striking that takes the fight and the tournament. The verdict reveals that Hieron won Rounds 1 and 2 and the nod goes to Jay Hieron in a razor thin Split Decision. Hieron sends his regards to his mother and sends a message to the cocky Askren to shine his belt. Hieron via Split Decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28), Round 3, 5:00
Click here for the full list of Bellator 43 results.