It was a rumble in the bayou as the heavyweight tournament fighters clashed in the Bellator cage in Lake Charles, Louisiana on Saturday night. Supported by an undercard stacked with talent, Bellator 52 was perhaps the organization’s most high octane night thus far of its fifth season. Starting off the night, “The Monster” Ron Sparks (5-0) opened up the tournament against Mark Holata (7-3) and ended the bout in routine fashion. “The Hurricane” Abe Wagner (10-4) and “The American Soldier” Eric Prindle (7-1) went toe-to-toe for the win and for the fans. Then 2008 Sambo Champion and Xtreme Couture fighter Blagoi Ivanov (5-0) took on tournament alternate Zak Jensen (10-8). In the main event South African powerhouse “Goliath” Neil Grove (11-4) and tournament dark horse “300″ Mike Hayes (14-4) slugged it out in tit for tat style for three rounds. All in all it was a stellar night of heavyweight action that showcased the deepening talent pool of Bellator Fighting Championships.
Ron Sparks vs. Mark Holata: Opening the night in a fashion that could have spoiled the fans too early was ron Sparks vs. Holata. The two large men circled each other while Holata pawed out jabs to the big Louisville, Kentucky brick wall that is Ron Sparks. Sparks answered back with some range-finding jabs himself to gauge the distance and keep Holata in check. It wasn’t until Holata finally decided to get in the pocket and trade with Sparks that “The Monster” unleashed the fury of his hands. Landing a hook that shook Holata’s dome, Sparks then continued his onslaught with another hook and lunging straight that floored the former Tulsa football player. Sparks dug into the canvas and landed several hammerfists that put Holata into a deep sleep, resulting in the referee pulling Sparks away from his prey less than two minutes into the first frame. He celebrated his win by saluting the crowd and earned a roaring applause in return. It took only 84 seconds for Sparks to have his hand raised with another knockout added to his undefeated record. When asked by Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith about the rest of the tournament, Sparks smiled and said, “There’s alotta big guys in here but I’m the Monster.” Sparks via KO (Punches), Round 1
Abe Wagner vs. Eric Prindle: Former Army Special Forces Boxing Champion Eric Prindle took on Titan FC veteran Abe Wagner in the second fight of the night that could have earned bragging rights for toughest man and “Fight of the Night” honors. They touched gloves in the center of the cage and the fight began. Wagner took the lead early, staying on his toes and avoiding the heavy boxing of Prindle. Picking his shots wisely, he used speed to rock Prindle with some well placed combos. Wagner took an even better lead when the fight hit the mat and controlled his combatant, eventually getting the mount to rain down punishment. Prindle rolled out of danger and a new stone began rolling as Prindle used his superior striking skills and immense size to bully Wagner and control him for the final two rounds. Prindle dazed Wagner with strong George Foreman-like combos but Wagner never went down from the punishment. As a final act to steal the fight he shot for a single-leg that Prindle brushed off easily then took a dominant position that he used to further seal his place on the judges’ scorecards and earn his place in the semi-finals. Prindle via Unanimous Decision
Blagoi Ivanov vs. Zak Jensen: Due to the VISA issues that clouded over Thiago Santos (4-1) in the days leading to the event, Zak Jensen was given the green light to take on Blagoi Ivanov, the man who dethroned “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-4) in the Russian Sambo tournament in 2008. Ivanov and Jensen came out with their hands up and chins tucked, but it was Jensen who had to pay the piper. Ivanov used superior boxing to bloody Jensen’s face and quick movements to avoid Jensen’s counters. Ivanov popped shot after shot into Jensen’s face but still Jensen came forward with a wicked smile on his face. His unrelenting will earned the respect of all in the event center but it wasn’t to gain the upper hand against the Sambo champion. As the fight progressed Ivanov showed his Sambo roots, using hip tosses and trips to send Jensen to the canvas where Ivanov then worked his offense on the mat. It wasn’t until the second round that Ivanov tripped a gassing but headstrong Jensen to the floor to lock on a standing Guillotine Choke that Jensen failed to tap to and went to sleep as a result. Ivanov had nothing but praise for Jensen for taking all he had and coming back for more, but it will be the Sambo master who comes back for more of the Bellator Season 5 Heavyweight Tournament. Ivanov via Technical Submission (Guillotine Choke), Round 2
Neil Grove vs. Mike Hayes: It was the smallest man in the tournament against one of the biggest and most dangerous when Mike Hayes faced Neil Grove in a bout that turned out very differently than pundits expected. The majority of the first round was spent with both men sizing up the other. Hayes used leg kicks and fast jabs to keep Grove off-balance and wear down his speed. Grove seemed a little shy to pull the trigger and let his dynamite-filled hands go. It wasn’t until the later rounds that Hayes began to take the lead with his more active offense but Grove’s few shots that landed were doing the right damage to Hayes’ face by badly swelling his right eye and drawing blood. The leg kicks were finally taking their toll on the lead leg of Grove in the third stanza; his speed was greatly reduced and his lunging punches were off target. In the final frame, Grove unleashed an onslaught of strikes that could have been the end of Hayes but instead he stayed calm and escaped the bombs that Grove threw at him. Grove didn’t slow as he tried for a takedown that Hayes reversed then took control of the rest of the round with several submission attempts and more effective offense. In the end it was the more effective striking and ground game that earned Mike Hayes that hard fought decision win and the final place in the tournament semi-finals. Hayes via Split Decision
Ron Sparks himself stated that he is slated to fight Eric Prindle next and was looking forward to a good fight; that being said, that leaves Blagoi Ivanov and Mike Hayes go toe-to-toe within a few weeks time.
Click here to see a full list of Bellator 52 results.
Editor’s Note: MMA Gospel writer Cole Moorman attended Bellator 52 and spoke with several fighters. Photos of the fights will be posted later this week.