Gegard Mousasi, who left the UFC on a five-fight winning streak, was one of many UFC stars who came to Bellator as free agents and were expected to walk through the competition and capture a championship belt.
On Friday night, in his Bellator debut at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., Mousasi barely escaped with his win steak still intact, suffering a broken orbital bone while winning a decision that could have easily gone the other way. Still, it was a win, and Shlemenko himself was a former Bellator middleweight champion who had his hand raised the last seven times out — one of which was later overturned due to a positive steroid test.
Mousasi will still be a heavy favorite to win if he gets a title shot at the victor of the Dec. 9 title bout in Florence, Italy between Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho and challenger Alessio Sakara. But his struggling was almost apropos for the plight of a lot of the major UFC signings.
When Viacom opened up the checkbook for Scott Coker to sign a number of top UFC title contenders more than a year ago, there was certainly an expectation that the former Octagon stars would wind up with a number of, if not most, of Bellator’s championships.
But what’s happened instead is that while the grass may seem greener on the other side — and the money apparently was — when it comes to UFC stars going to Bellator, as well as the reverse, the wins only seem to get more difficult.
At this point, there is one former UFC star who serves as a Bellator champion: Light heavyweight Ryan Bader. Bader debuted on June 24 in Madison Square Garden by beating the other UFC free agent signing that had captured a Bellator title, Phil Davis. Both had been major contenders in the UFC at light heavyweight, but neither had gotten a championship fight in the Jon Jones-dominated division.
Benson Henderson, a former UFC lightweight champion, failed at both welterweight and lightweight in his Bellator title quests. Josh Thomson, who was being groomed for a title shot at lightweight, never got there. Lorenz Larkin failed in a welterweight title shot against Douglas Lima. Rory MacDonald, who along with Mousasi was probably the fighter most expected to end up as a champion in Bellator in quick order, gets his shot on Jan. 20 against Lima.
Roy Nelson and Matt Mitrione are both unbeaten in Bellator at heavyweight — a division that hasn’t carried a champion in years — but both haven’t dominated either. Nelson was able to outwrestle Javy Ayala in his debut to win a decision, but was being beaten on his feet the entire fight. Mitrione was nearly taken out in his debut by Carl Seumanutafa before coming back to win. He was also in a double knockdown, but recovered faster, in an amazing finish where he beat Fedor Emelianenko.
Of the major signings, the ex-UFC stars overall have a winning record at 15-10, but several of those fights were not against Bellator’s top guys.
On the flip side, four Bellator champions have gone to UFC and haven’t fared even as well as that.
The major success was Eddie Alvarez, Bellator’s two-time lightweight champion. Alvarez, who left the promotion as champion, went to UFC and has gone 3-2. He hasn’t been given any easy fights, and lost his debut to Donald Cerrone. But unlike the others, Alvarez rebounded. His first two wins were over big names — Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis — and he became the only person to win titles in both organizations when he knocked out Rafael dos Anjos to win the UFC lightweight title. He then lost the title to Conor McGregor in the main event of one of the biggest shows in UFC history, UFC 205, the promotion’s debut in Madison Square Garden.
Hector Lombard was 31-2 and Bellator middleweight champion when he came to UFC without ever losing his title. He was being groomed for a title shot against Anderson Silva, then promptly lost his UFC debut. He ended up winning only three of his 10 UFC fights, with one additional win overturned by a steroid test positive.
Will Brooks, who was champion in Bellator’s strongest weight class, lightweight, also came into UFC with an 18-1 record without losing his Bellator title. He figured to at least be a strong title contender, but instead has gone 1-2 and isn’t even in the current contender discussions. Lyman Good, a former Bellator welterweight champion, came to the UFC five years after losing his Bellator title and has gone 1-1 as a prelim level fighter.
The UFC’s weekend show, Saturday night in Gdansk, Poland, was one where a star should have been made in Darren Till. Till stopped Donald Cerrone in the first round and it was the type of win that should have instantly made Till a star, particularly given Cerrone’s name value. But much of the fan base didn’t see it, given the show was on UFC Fight Pass and didn’t air during prime time. Still, the people in charge saw it, and Till is now a genuine welterweight player, instead of just someone with a great looking record who has major questions about his ability to handle top-level fighters.
Let’s look at how Fortunes Changed for Five stars of the UFC show.
DARREN TILL — Now 16-0-1 with a stoppage win over Cerrone, Till could have easily staked a claim of wanting the winner of the Nov. 4 fight in Madison Square Garden with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (13-2-1) against Jorge Masvidal (32-12). That would figure to be the right direction for him, but instead he and Mike Perry (11-1) went back-and-forth in Poland after Till’s win. That’s a fight that would have interest, but there’s a big if. Perry faces Santiago Ponzinibbio (25-3) on Dec. 16 in Winnipeg. If Perry doesn’t win, Till should be looking elsewhere.
DONALD CERRONE — Saturday’s loss was the third in a row for Cerrone (32-10, 1 NC). Cerrone has accomplished far too much and is too popular a fighter to get cut on this kind of a streak, but it does lead to questions being asked given all the wars he’s put his body through. The Perry vs. Ponzinibbio winner would really be better suited for Cerrone, as either one with Cerrone should be a real test to see where Cerrone now stands.
KAROLINA KOWALKIEWICZ — Kowalkiewicz (11-2), the Poland native who was the biggest crowd favorite on the show, looked impressive with her stand-up in decisively taking a decision from the UFC-debuting Jodie Esquibel (6-3). Like everyone at strawweight, the shadow of Joanna Jedrzejczyk looms large. Kowalkiewicz talked about wanting to face Jessica Andrade (17-6). That would be a viable top contenders match, except Jedrzejczyk has already beaten both of them. Kowalkiewicz had at least a moment where she hurt Jedrzejczyk more than anyone has to date, but she still lost four of five rounds to the champion.
JAN BLACHOWICZ — Blachowicz (20-9), a former star and champion with the KSW promotion in Poland, got a choke out of nowhere on Devin Clark to pick up a performance bonus on Saturday. A good next opponent for him would be C.B. Dollaway (16-8).
ASPEN LADD — Ladd moved to 6-0 in stopping Lina Lansberg in the second round in her UFC debut. The strong showing should get her a bigger name next. A few names that look like good competition would be Katlyn Chookagian (9-1) or Leslie Smith (10-7-1).