With a UFC pay-per-view as opposition, Saturday's Bellator 221 show from the Rosemont Horizon outside Chicago is flying under the radar despite featuring a main card that includes a champion vs. champion grudge match, the return of former WWE Champion Jack Swagger, and the semifinals of the Welterweight Grand Prix.
In the main event, lightweight champion Michael Chandler will look for the first defense of his gold in his third reign against featherweight champion Patricio "Pitbull" Freire. Chandler faced Freire's brother, Patricky, twice and defeated him both times. The last was a 2016 knockout that earned him his second 155-pound title and saw him call out Patricio after the fight.
In the co-main event, Douglas Lima will fight the undefeated Michael "Venom" Page in the Welterweight Grand Prix semifinals. Lima is coming off a fifth round submission win over Andrey Koreshkov while Page is coming off a lackluster decision win against rival Paul Daley.
Also on the main card, Jake Hager (aka Jack Swagger) looks for the second win in his young MMA career against T.J. Jones while Pat Curran returns to take on featherweight contender A.J. McKee. Tywan Claxton vs. Michael Bennett rounds out the main card.
Our live coverage of this DAZN event kicks off at 9 PM Eastern.
Mauro Ranallo and John McCarthy are on the call.
Tywan Claxton (5-0) def. James Bennett (4-2) via third round TKO (ref stoppage) (2:09)
Despite these two having virtually identical records, there was a clear advantage in Claxton's favor from the starting bell that gave him an easy victory.
Claxton dominated Bennett upon taking him to the mat in the first round, landing heavy ground and pound shots that kept Bennett on the defensive for a 10-8 mark on my scorecard. That continued in the second round as Claxton landed a big flying knee to start the round and kept the pressure on with more ground and pound for another 10-8.
Bennett showed a little more fight in the third round with a submission attempt from the bottom but lost the advantage within seconds. This was a case of two fighters on completely different levels. Claxton laid in heavy ground and pound punches and elbows to which Bennett had no answer for, causing referee Kevin McDonald to stop the fight.
Post-fight, Claxton praised Bennett for his toughness and didn't have a mark on him while Bennett's face was all swollen up.
Jake Hager (2-0) def. T.J. Jones (1-2) by first round submission (2:36)
Ranallo said when Jones got the opportunity for the fight, he was at 320 pounds. Yikes. Jones, a meat plant worker, has fought sparingly to be kind and seemed happy to just be there during this whole process. Hager, the former Jack Swagger, still did his whole "We The People" catchphrase and has a new 'Swag' t-shirt he sported to the cage.
As expected, this was a squash.
Hager took him down within ten seconds and started laying in heavy right hands. Hager was continutously working for an Americana armlock submission, but Jones was able to hold him off. Hager kept working and locked on a head/arm choke for the tap but held it on a few seconds longer which didn't endear himself to referee Mike Beltran or the crowd.
Post-fight, Hager said he meant no disrespect by holding on the submission but the crowd wasn't having it. Hager said he was "rock hard with emotion" and had a boner. Alright then. He was encouraging the fans to keep booing, completely going into WWE mode.
A.J. McKee (14-0) def. Pat Curran (23-8) by unanimous decision
McKee remained undefeated, but did so in a safe and rather lackuster fashion, taking two judges' scorecards 30-27 and another by a 30-26 tally.
Curran is a former two-time Bellator champion and a long-time promotional fixture while McKee is a longtime Bellator prospect finally moving up to some name value competition. However, Curran has been off for nearly two years and showed his ring rust.
McKee won a rather slow first round 10-9 that elicited some crowd boos, hitting some leg kicks and a takedown. Curran hit a takedown in the second, breaking out of an offensive funk, but didn't do much else with it other than defend against Mckee who opened up a cut from the bottom, giving the undefeated prospect another 10-9.
Post-fight, McKee brushed off the fans' boos and didn't call for a title shot, also quite lackluster.
Between rounds, Matt Hughes was shown as cageside, an interesting choice to me considering his recent public issues.
Welterweight Grand Prix Semifinal: Douglas Lima (31-7) defeated Michael "Venom" Page (14-1) by second round knockout (:35)
Mamma Mia, indeed.
The unheralded Lima flatted the outspoken Page in the second round of their Grand Prix semifinal clash.
Page had hurt Lima with a glancing right hand and was looking to land some more offense, but Lima hit a right leg kick to Page's leg as he lunged that swept him down. As Page rose back up, Lima hit a right hand right on Page's chin that knocked him out cold. Two more hammer fists and it was a wrap.
The first round was a bit of a slower pace as Lima tried to figure out Page's unique offense. He eventually hit a takedown to which Page really didn't have an answer for, harkening back to his fight against Paul Daley two months ago.
Lima advances to the the finals and will face either welterweight champion Rory MacDonald or Nieman Gracie who fight in June at Madison Square Garden.
Patricio "Pitbull" Friere (29-4) defeated Michael Chandler (19-5) by first round KO to win the Bellator lightweight title (1:01)
Friere is now Bellator's second-ever "champ-champ" (Ryan Bader) as he also holds the company's featherweight title. Yet, this was a completely unsatisfying win.
Friere clipped Chandler with a right behind the ear that dropped him. Pitbull then swarmed and hit several left hands to which Chandler which he really didn't eally defend, but he didn't appear hurt. The referee stopped the fight and that was that. Fans hated the stoppage which seemed quick.
Friere didn't commit to dropping the lightweight title as he previously said he would. Chandler said he wanted to do it again.