Bellator’s welterweight tournament kicked off on Friday night with four very good bouts that set the semifinalists who will take each other on for a chance at Ben Askren. While I’m still not ready to say that any of our four remaining welterweights will be able to stay vertical long enough to (literally) wrestle the title away from Askren. However, we are certainly assured of an entertaining conclusion to the tournament, with some fun stylistic matchups possible between the four remaining combatants.
Koreshkov Stands Out Among Welterweight Semifinalists
Every one of the 170 lb. victors on Friday night had their moments, but the one who made the biggest impression on me was Andrey Koreshkov, who at times looked extremely tough while beating Jordan Smith by unanimous decision.
Koreshkov’s standup takes advantage of his great quickness and superlative timing, as he lands advanced techniques like spinning wheel kicks and knees on opponent’s takedown attempts with relative ease. He also understands that one of the keys to striking success is leading with different types of strikes so that your opponent doesn’t get your style down and render you ineffective. Koreshkov led with lefts, rights, jabs, power shots, knees (using both legs), and kicks. If he has a hole in his game, it’s his grappling, where he uses nice ground-and-pound when he postures up, but also camps out and allows himself to be put in bad positions and submission attempts. His submission defense is capable enough, but eventually he’s going to get tapped if he doesn’t increase his awareness on the mat.
Koreshkov’s fellow Russian fighter, Michail Tsarev, also impressed me, though he was considerably more one-dimensional. I enjoyed so many aspects of Tsarev’s game- the old school can opener to pass Tim Welch’s guard, the shoulder in the throat to make Welch uncomfortable while in half-guard, and his use of a headlock to pass guard right after a nice single leg takedown in round three- but his standup needs work. He tends to leave his chin in the air and hands low.
Former champion Lyman Good looked okay, but he was simply stronger and better in the clinch than opponent Jim Wallhead. I liked seeing Good use his jab later in the fight to keep Wallhead off of him, and it’s hard not to be impressed by Good’s use of uppercuts from the single collar tie, but I’m not sure how well he projects against the others in the field. It seems like he’s just a stylistic nightmare for Wallhead, really. I certainly didn’t see anything that shows me he can fight Askren to a different conclusion than he ended up with the last time, when he was taken down and controlled en route to a five-round decision loss.
Finally, we have Marius Zaromskis. Zaromskis is a bit of a mixed bag. He’s constantly praised as an elite striker, but he’s also seen getting outstruck regularly, like he did against Nordine Taleb on Friday night. Zaromskis’ ground game was an unexpected treat when referee Dan Miragliotta actually allowed him to use it, but I don’t know that I see him taking down Koreshkov, Tsarev, or Good with such ease, and he is very hittable on his feet.
–I really liked the video packages that they used to introduce the welterweight fighters to viewers. It’s a quick, effective way to make even first-time viewers more invested in the fights to follow. The UFC should do more of that and focus on the fighters’ backgrounds and stories instead of the standard “I’m going to knock him out” smack talk or pre-fight cliches.
–I think if “Judo” is your nickname and half of your fight takes place in the clinch, you should at least attempt a throw of some sort. I’m sure “Judo” Gene LeBell would agree with me.
They do have a rules meeting before the fight; he should have known before that.
-Jimmy Smith, commenting on Michail Tsarev’s puzzling decision to throw multiple upkicks at Tim Welch’s head when Welch was on his knees attempting to pass guard. Smith was exactly correct. An intentional foul should always result in a point deduction (more on that later); ignorance of the rule is no excuse.
Adventures in Refereeing
Standin’ Dan Miragliotta was in full effect Friday night, imposing his own idea of what MMA should look like on the fighters and fans. Aside from his awful decision to not take a point from Tsarev when he intentionally upkicked Welch right in the face multiple times, Standin’ Dan showed the kind of attention deficit disorder that led me to give him his nickname in the first place.
At some point during the Taleb-Zaromskis fight, Miragliotta said, “Screw this grappling crap” and decided that no grappling would take place under his watch. In the second round, Zaromskis was in half-guard when a hasty standup occurred; Taleb had been tooling Zaromskis in the standup, so the decision actively gave Taleb an advantage. In the third round, Zaromskis planted Taleb on his back and instantly got side control. He got just 37 seconds to ply his trade, though, before Standin’ Dan had seen enough. With 45 seconds left in a round that Zaromskis had to win in order to win the fight, Miragliotta again showed favor to Taleb, who similarly needed a standup to avoid losing the judges’ favor while spending the rest of the round on his back.
Fortunately for Zaromskis, the judges (including a temporarily insane Ricardo Almeida, who somehow turned in a 30-27 scorecard in favor of the Croatian fighter) scored the bout for him, despite Miragliotta’s constant efforts to negate the takedowns that Zaromskis worked so hard to get. Still, how long will fighters, fans, and the media continue to ignore Miragliotta’s hyper-active, anti-grappling officiating style? Somewhere along the line, Miragliotta decided that it’s his job to make fights entertaining, rather than to facilitate a fair sporting contest in an objective manner that ensures the safety of the participants, which is his actual job.
Movin’ On Up Award
All of the four winners are literally moving up in the division with their wins, but this will go to the fighter who I was most impressed with, which is Andrey Korechkov. Excellent striking and stamina was shown by the Russian fighter, although I’m still leery of the positions he allows himself to be put in on the mat.
Beautiful Loser Award
Nordine Taleb wins this for a valiant effort which he debatably won. Taleb outstruck Zaromiskis with great use of range and movement and a wide variety of techniques and combinations. He lead with low kicks, jabs, a left hook as he circled, and kept Zaromskis frustrated for much of the fight. In particular, he had a lead uppercut, straight left, right hook combo in the second round that was just great. You don’t see enough combinations like that in MMA, even at the higher levels of the sport.