At Bellator 226, the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix got off to a great start. Ryan Bader’s heavyweight title reign, not so much.
On Saturday night at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., Bader made the first defense of his Bellator heavyweight title, but while Bader is leaving California still the champion, it didn’t come in the manner he was hoping for. In the main event of the evening, Bader put his belt on the line against the surging Cheick Kongo. Unfortunately, what started off as a fun fight ended in calamity as Bader poked Kongo in the eye while ground-and-pounding the French fighter against the fence. The eye poke rendered Kongo unable to see and the doctor called off the fight just 3:52 into the first round, resulting in a no-contest. The two will likely run the fight back in the near future but the outcome left fans with a lackluster ending and that’s a shame because the rest of the card was quite good.
The rest of the card was devoted to the beginning of the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix, and in the first bout of the tournament, Emmanual Sanchez punched his ticket to the next round by submitting Tywan Claxton in the second round. Claxton had success with his takedowns early but was unable to hurt Sanchez and in the second round the takedown betrayed him as Sanchez was able to lock up a triangle choke from the bottom. It took awhile but eventually, Sanchez solicited the tap and moved on to the quarterfinals.
In the second fight of the Featherweight Grand Prix, Pedro Carvalho proved why many consider him to be the dark horse of the tournament, submitting veteran Sam Sicilia with a face-crank. Carvalho dominated most of the fight, wearing Sicilia out on the feet before locking in the fight ending submission in the second round.
The third bout of the Featherweight Grand Prix saw former champion Pat Curran make an early exit from the tournament as Adam Borics beat Curran down in the second round. Early on the fight was a feeling out process but as both men got more comfortable in the cage, Borics began to assert himself. A flying knee late in the second round dropped Curran and then Borics flurried on him until the bell sounded, but referee Frank Trigg had seen enough, stopping the fight. Borics advances to the second round of the tournament while Curran limped out of the cage, apparently having gotten injured during the end of the fight.
It was a bad night for former champions as in the final Grand Prix bout of the evening, Derek Campos took a dominant decision over former two-time champion Daniel Straus. Early in the first round, Straus slipped after getting hit by a strike and then Campos worked Straus over on the floor for most of the round. That created a blueprint for Campos for the rest of the fight, where he would consistently take Straus down and nearly submit him with arm-triangle chokes. Straus hung tough but in the end was unable to get any offense going, losing two 10-8 rounds over the course of the fight. Campos’ win snapped a three-fight losing streak for the former lightweight and advances him to the quarterfinals of the tournament.
In the main card opener, Daniel Carey upset prospect Gaston Bolanos, submitting him in the first round. Carey found his opportunity with time running down in the round and locked in an arm-in guillotine choke that put Bolanos to sleep. The win moved Carey to 3-2 inside the Bellator cage and could set Carey up as a potential alternate should something happen to one of the other competitors.