The Three Title Fights of Bellator 106

Bellator 106 – Night of Three Title Fights

Bellator 106 this past Saturday featured three, count them, three title fights (although one was interim) and six of the best fighters on their roster. The fights for the most part delivered, clearly highlighted by the epic war between Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez in their rematch. All three fights went to decision, and both the lightweight and featherweight titles changed hands, but two of the fights were split in the eyes of the judges. Emanuel Newton pulled off yet another upset over King Mo Lawal and Pat Curran fell to impressive challenger Daniel Straus, four years after their first fight. In the main event, Alvarez walked away the new lightweight champion with a slightly controversial split decision victory over Michael Chandler.

1. Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler

These guys need a break. That was an epic fight, truly a five round, back and forth war between two fighters who just wouldn’t back down or surrender. We saw big shots to the head and body, punches, kicks, slams, takedowns, cuts and pouring blood and nearly completed submission attempts, sometimes all in one round. It was reminiscent of Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis in their first fight, a fight full of reversals and big momentum changes. But those guys weren’t willing to just push through and absorb shots to land their own, while both Chandler and Alvarez ate their share of blows. These guys were killing each other out there and it showed on their faces. So they need a break.

Fans most likely want to see a part III and the split decision victory also justifies a rubber match, so we will probably get part III. There are way too many question marks because of the split that went to Alvarez. Title fights ending in split decisions usually mean rematch. One judge thought Chandler won (and so did I), even though he looked much worse for wear. Alvarez didn’t exactly come out unscathed either, so it will raise some questions as to the wisdom of letting these two warriors battle it out one more time.

There was probably a lot of cringing and grimacing from those who support the fighters and many casual observers as well. Humans aren’t designed to be consistently hit and beaten, and the long term effects of this damage really is unpredictable until the time actually comes. But if you put it to the fighters as to whether they want to fight, you’re certain to get a “yes”.

As a fight fan I want to see them fight again, but there’s a part of me and everyone that is reluctant to encourage these guys to meet again. Their third fight is going to be a replay of their first two, which were long, taxing fights that really took a lot out of them. If/When they fight again, let’s hope it’s not as damaging as their second fight. They both proved their unquestionable toughness and heart already, and they pushed each other to the very edge. They don’t need to do that again.

2. Pat Curran vs. Daniel Straus

Pat Curran wasn’t bad at all in his title defense. He was good. But Straus was just a bit better. Much like Alvarez and Chandler, we’re very likely to see these two meet in the cage again very soon. Straus acknowledged that in his post fight interview and the closeness of their second fight warrants a rubber match to see who really is the better fighter.

Between now and then Curran has to do two things. First, improve his wrestling and takedown defense, to the point where he’s better than Straus in that department. In that next fight, he better be able to take the fight to Straus on his terms, meaning he has to be able to fend off Straus and his takedown attempts, and get back to his feet quickly when he does get taken down. He also has to be able to take Straus down occasionally, just to keep him honest. If all Straus has to worry about is Curran’s striking, he can focus solely on that, while this past Saturday Curran had to worry about both the striking and wrestling of Straus. Curran isn’t one dimensional by any means, but he didn’t have the options to go to that Straus did and that was the difference in the fight.

The second thing he has to do, if he doesn’t work on that wrestling, is make his striking so deadly accurate that he won’t need to shoot for takedowns. Curran’s striking is probably already as good as it’s ever going to be and it’s very good already, so option number one is more likely to happen than option number two. Again, Curran’s striking didn’t let him down against Straus. Granted he didn’t knock Straus out like in their first fight, but his striking was good enough. It was Straus and his ability to mix things up that won the fight.

Straus is the champ now and it’s up to Curran to go and take the belt from him. The ball is in his court now and he has to go back to the drawing board and look at what he can do to improve his fight game.

3. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal vs. Emanuel Newton

Did Lawal get the memo that he lost the first fight? He came out like it was burned into his mind with a brand, but as the fight wore on, he looked gassed and didn’t have the same authority when it came to implementing his takedowns. That’s a sign of poor conditioning and possibly an inadequate training camp, which is possibly a sign that he didn’t take Newton that seriously.

For whatever reason, Lawal took his foot off the pedal. There were moments when he had Newton backing up right against the cage, but he paused and didn’t pursue further. Lawal thought he was winning the fight, so that’s one explanation for his decision to pace himself and stay content with the standup. But there’s a difference between thinking you’re winning in a close fight and knowing you are dominating in a one-sided one. Lawal had a chance to do the latter, but he didn’t seize it.

This victory, in many ways, is a much more legitimate victory for Newton than his first KO win over Lawal was. Everyone and his mama thought Newton got lucky or Lawal underestimated him. Not the case this time. They went the distance and Newton touched up Lawal a few times, while figuring out how to fend off Lawal’s increasingly futile takedown attempts. He essentially shut down Lawal’s offense, and over the course of the fight, he looked much fresher and stayed very active while throwing a variety of feints and strikes.

Lawal was the aggressor, but he didn’t a good enough job of avoiding the endless counterstrikes thrown by Newton. How many spinning back kicks, head kicks, leg kicks, body kicks and every other kick in the book did we see from Newton that night?

Lawal still has more upside and in the long term is probably the better fighter. If you make them fight the same guys, Lawal will probably fare better than Newton. But when matched up against each other, Newton is better.

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