Originally published at Bellator 259 Report: Cris Cyborg stops Leslie Smith to retain championship
Bellator 259 Report: Cris Cyborg stops Leslie Smith to retain championship
By: Eric Marcotte
Bellator 259 took place on Friday night, from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. In the card’s main event, Cris Cyborg attempted to defend her Bellator Women’s Featherweight Championship against Leslie Smith. The two fought previously at UFC 198 in 2016, a fight that Cyborg won by TKO less than two minutes into the first round. Since that fight, Cyborg has compiled a record of 7-1, claiming Bellator’s Women’s Featherweight Championship in January of last year. Since her fight against Cyborg, Smith has won four of her five fights, last defeating Amanda Bell to earn this title opportunity. Elsewhere on the card, former Bellator Bantamweight Champion, Darrion Caldwell, returned to the 135lbs division to face Leandro Higo. This was a rematch as well, with Caldwell winning their first fight by first-round submission in March of 2018.
Commentary for this card was provided by the team of Mauro Ranallo and John McCarthy, and the analytical team consisted of Jenn Brown and Josh Thompson.
*Alexander Shabliy def. Alfie Davis by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Danny Sabatello def. Brett Johns by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Leah McCourt def. Janay Harding by triangle choke at 2:42 of Round 2
*Davion Franklin def. Tyler King by KO at 2:02 of Round 1
*Aviv Gozali def. Sean Felton by heel hook at 1:17 of Round 1
*Sumiko Inaba def. Kristina Katsikis by TKO at 3:35 of Round 3
*Grant Neal def. Tyree Fortune by rear-naked choke at 4:20 of Round 1
*Saad Awad def. Nate Andrews by KO at 3:16 of Round 1
*Hannah Guy def. Valerie Loureda by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
*Jaleel Willis def. Maycon Mendonca by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
*Austin Vanderford def. Fabian Edwards by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Leandro Higo def. Darrion Caldwell by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
*Cris Cyborg def. Leslie Smith by TKO at 4:51 of Round 5 to retain the Bellator Women’s Featherweight Championship
ALFIE DAVIS (14-3, 155.1) VS ALEXANDER SHABLIY (19-3, 154.8) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Shabliy began the night with a series of strong low kicks. Davis circled the cage and looked to counter when Shabliy got overly aggressive. Shabliy landed a strong combination in the counter when Davis stepped forward about halfway through the opening round. Davis defended a takedown attempt but attempted a spinning kick that resulted in Shabliy successfully bringing Davis down while he was turned. 10-9 Shabliy.
The second round continued with the same pattern, albeit with lower output from Shabliy. Davis circled and was having trouble creating his own offense. Late in the round, Shabliy cut Davis open around his left eye, and this was the difference-maker in what was a close round beforehand. Davis really went on the retreat after the left hook that caused the cut, and Shabliy took this round as well on my scorecard. 20-18 Shabliy.
Shabliy landed a right hand, as he continued to advance. He landed a strong left hook a minute later, a shot he had been looking for all fight. Shabliy took Davis down and began to work from half guard. Shabliy retained top position for the remainder of this round and secured the fight. 30-27 Shabliy.
WINNER: Alexander Shabliy by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
Shabliy landed the better strikes, significantly more strikes, got the takedowns, and continuously advanced. Aside from a spinning back kick in the second round, he didn’t do anything flashy, but it was a very strong performance from Shabliy, who controlled this fight with his strong fundamentals. This was his debut in Bellator, and he will likely find himself ranked after defeating the ninth-ranked Alfie Davis.
BRETT JOHNS (17-2, 135.4) VS DANNY SABATELLO (10-1, 135.6) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Sabatello immediately went for a takedown, and quickly took Johns’ back. Johns picked himself up, but couldn’t quite shake Sabatello off his back. Sabatello repeatedly dragged Johns down, and Johns repeatedly worked his way back to his feet. The entire round progressed like this, so it was a rather clear opening round for Danny Sabatello. 10-9 Sabatello.
The second round began just as the first one did, as Sabatello wasted no time in bringing Johns to the ground. This time, when Johns attempted to scramble, Sabatello was able to seize top position and began to work from the guard of Johns. Johns was able to escape to his feet after threatening a triangle but found himself with Sabatello on his back in the same position they spent the entirety of the first round in. 20-18 Sabatello.
Johns went for a guillotine as Sabatello shot again, but it just resulted in Sabatello moving into a dominant position on the ground. He took the back of Johns yet again, and this round looked just like the previous two. Johns had nothing to offer Sabatello, and Sabatello cruised to a unanimous decision victory. 30-27 Sabatello.
WINNER: Danny Sabatello by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
Sabatello took this fight on short notice, but you wouldn’t know that from the way he dominated this fight. Johns had a brief moment of hope in the final minute when he secured a takedown of his own, but he wasn’t able to do anything with it. This was a fantastic performance from Sabatello, and this fight marked Sabatello’s Bellator debut.
JANAY HARDING (6-5, 145.1) VS LEAH MCCOURT (4-1, 149.4) – FEATHERWEIGHT
McCourt missed weight by 3.4lbs and was fined a percentage of her fight purse.
McCourt quickly wrapped Harding up against the cage, in pursuit of a takedown. She was ultimately successful, but Harding quickly got to her feet and attempted a takedown of her own. McCourt defended the attempt but found herself with her back against the cage for a prolonged period of time. With thirty seconds remaining in the round, McCourt tripped Harding to the ground, and that may have been enough to steal her the round.
Harding began to swarm McCourt on the feet in the second round, landing numerous punches and a head kick that McCourt wasn’t reacting well to. McCourt shot for a takedown, but Harding took top-position and began to rain down ground and pound strikes. Harding landed a strong up kick, and Harding fell down into her triangle attempt. McCourt was able to tighten the choke, and Harding was forced to tap out.
WINNER: Leah McCourt by triangle choke at 2:42 of Round 2
McCourt looked like she was moments away from being finished, but that up kick changed the direction of the fight, and she was able to finish it from the bottom with that triangle choke moments later. McCourt is now 4-0 in Bellator, and while she missed weight for this fight, she is deserving of praise for the heart shown in her second-round come back here.
DAVION FRANKLIN (2-0, 264.8) VS TYLER KING (12-9, 246.3) – HEAVYWEIGHT
Franklin was hurting King with everything he landed in the opening minute. He eventually dropped King with a pair of powerful hooks, and King was out.
WINNER: Davion Franklin by KO at 2:02 of Round 1
From the first shot, Franklin landed, you knew which way this one was going. Franklin’s power was too much for King, who has been knocked out in the first round six fights in a row now. This was Franklin’s third professional fight, and he definitely has the potential to quickly ascend the Bellator heavyweight ladder.
AVIV GOZALI (5-0, 155.7) VS SEAN FELTON (5-2-1, 154.3) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Just over a minute into the fight, Gozali pulled guard, and immediately locked in a heel hook, forcing Felton to submit.
WINNER: Aviv Gozali by heel hook at 1:17 of Round 1
Pulling guard isn’t always the smartest move in MMA, but it worked beautifully for Gozali here. Gozali is understandably confident in his grappling, as this was his sixth first-round submission, in his sixth professional fight. Each of those fights has taken place in Bellator, and he is certainly making a name for himself in the promotion.
SUMIKO INABA (1-0, 125.5) VS KRISTINA KATSIKIS (1-1, 125.8) – FLYWEIGHT
Katsikis completed an early takedown, but could not hold Inaba down for long. They wrestled against the cage for some time, and after landing a number of elbows, Inaba was able to take Katsikis down. Katsikis worked her way up, but ate a strong series of strikes upon returning to her feet, and looked as though she was in rough shape as she attempted to cover up and survive the remainder of the round against the cage.
Inaba got right back to work, as Katsikis swung wildly at the air in front of her. Inaba was able to bring the fight back to the ground and attempted to take Katsikis’ back. Katsikis turned into it, and she was able to maintain the dominant position for a brief period of time before she attempted a leg lock. Inaba was able to move into top position and land some ground and pound, and the fight was almost stopped right before time expired.
Inaba continued to dominate this fight. Katsikis was beaten up, exhausted, and perhaps too tough for her own good. Inaba landed numerous combinations of punches and head kicks, but it was the liver kicks from Inaba that were really eating away at Katsikis. Eventually, the fight was stopped when it became clear to the referee that Katsikis had nothing left to offer, as Inaba teed off on her against the cage.
WINNER: Sumiko Inaba by TKO at 3:35 of Round 3
This became a very one-sided fight by the final round. This was only Inaba’s second professional fight (and Katsikis third), but luckily for her, Scott Coker knows how to build prospects. She has won both of her fights by TKO, which will make for solid promotion for her next appearance.
GRANT NEAL (5-0, 204.4) VS TYREE FORTUNE (5-0, 205.3) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
Fortune defended a takedown to begin the fight. Fortune landed a strong left hook, and Neal connected with a body kick moments later. Neal was successful with his second takedown attempt and was able to take Fortune’s back. He locked in the rear-naked choke, and Fortune tapped out.
WINNER: Grant Neal by rear-naked choke at 4:20 of Round 1
Neal was clearly the more comfortable fighter on the ground, and once he was able to take the fight there, he made short work of Fortune. Neal is now 6-0 professionally, with five of those wins coming in Bellator.
The broadcast aired a promotional video for Floyd Mayweather versus Logan Paul after this fight.
SAAD AWAD (23-13-1, 1 NC, 155.1) VS NATE ANDREWS (16-3, 155.7) – LIGHTWEIGHT
They traded hands, and Awad looked to take the fight to the ground. Andrews defended the attempt and they separated. Award dropped Andrews hard with a right hand but didn’t follow up on it. He allowed Andrews back to the feet, and dropped him again with an accidental headbutt. The fight was paused due to the illegal blow, but Andrews didn’t take much time to recover. The fight resumed, and Awad dropped Andrews again with another right, and allowed him back to his feet once more. Awad landed one last powerful right that sent Andrews to the ground, and he called the fight himself, telling Dan Miragliotta to stop it.
WINNER: Saad Awad by KO at 3:16 of Round 1
Awad’s back was against the wall after going 0-4-1 throughout his last five fights, and he was a sizeable underdog here. His power was the difference maker here, as he repeatedly sent Andrews to the floor before the fight was eventually stopped. Awad is a long-time Bellator veteran, and I imagine that run will continue after this emphatic victory.
There was over an hour between this fight and the Loureda/Guy fight that opened the main card.
VALERIE LOUREDA (3-0, 125.8) VS HANNAH GUY (2-1, 125.2) – FLYWEIGHT
Loureda knocked Guy down with a left hook in the opening minute. She allowed Guy to return to her feet and landed an overhand right, as well as another left hook. Loureda sprawled on a takedown attempt, but Guy was able to take Loureda’s arm, and she worked hard for an armbar. Loureda was able to escape, and she returned to her feet. Guy attempted to bring the fight back to the ground, but Loureda was able to defend her attempts (with the help of a cage grab). Close round, but I gave it to Loureda for her early knockdown. 10-9 Loureda.
Loureda defended an early takedown attempt in the second round but chose to engage Guy on the ground, and Guy was quickly able to reverse her way on top. Guy moved into full mount, and she began to set up a mounted triangle while dropping down numerous right hands. Loureda managed to escape the position, and momentarily had top position, but Guy went for another armbar. Loureda escaped yet again and landed a spinning backfist when they returned to the feet. 19-19.
Guy attempted a guillotine choke seconds into the final round, to no success. Loureda went on the attack, and there was a brief moment where she had Guy hurt near the cage. She backed off when Guy pulled guard and allowed Guy to return to her feet. Guy marched forward in pursuit of a takedown; however, she was repeatedly unsuccessful as Loureda was able to defend her attempts. Late in the round, Loureda went for a spinning attack, and Guy charged forward, finally taking Loureda down. She wasn’t able to get a finish, but this was a very close round. I narrowly gave Guy the edge, as she was the aggressor throughout the round and came close to locking in a pair of submissions. 29-28 Guy.
WINNER: Hannah Guy by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
I thought this fight was super close, but the right fighter ultimately got her hand raised. She was leagues ahead of Loureda on the ground, and while Loureda certainly had the stronger moments on the feet, she just didn’t have enough of those moments to walkway with the win. This marked Guy’s Bellator debut, as well as Loureda’s first professional loss.
JALEEL WILLIS (14-2, 170.3) VS MAYCON MENDONCA (11-4, 170.9) – WELTERWEIGHT
Mendonca was actively attacking the lead leg of Jaleel Willis, so Willis brought Mendonca down in response. Mendonca picked himself up against the cage, but was unable to escape the body lock of Willis, and was ultimately taken back down. They spent the majority of the round wrestling against the cage, with Willis in the dominant position. 10-9 Willis.
Mendonca landed an overhand right and flurried forward with his best strikes of the fight thus far. Willis landed numerous leg kicks but was often just out of range with his punches. Late in the round, Willis secured a takedown. Much like the first round, Mendonca was able to return to his feet against the cage but found himself controlled for the final portion of this round. 20-18 Willis.
The final round began with a groin shot to Willis, and the fight was paused momentarily. Mendonca was looking for a big shot to end the fight, but the most impactful shot he connected with was another kick that landed low. Mendonca went for a flying knee, and this was the moment that Willis needed to close the distance and wrap Mendonca back up against the cage. They separated, and Willis landed a counter right hand. Mendonca connected with a spinning back kick to the head and another jumping knee. Willis attempted to secure one last takedown to end the fight but was unsuccessful. I scored the fight 29-28 for Willis.
WINNER: Jaleel Willis by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Willis was able to control Mendonca against the game for prolonged periods of time throughout the first two rounds, and that earned him the nod here. Mendonca tagged him with some good shots throughout the fight, but Willis’s chin held up, and he picked up his sixth consecutive win here. He is now 3-0 in Bellator MMA.
AUSTIN VANDERFORD (10-0, 185.3) VS FABIAN EDWARDS (9-1, 185.5) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Vanderford pressed forward and secured the early takedown. Edwards was able to escape, and connected with a straight left hand, as well as a pair of solid kicks to the body. Edwards continued to throw that straight left hand, and Vanderford seemed to be having a bit of trouble closing the distance. Late in the round, Vanderford was able to secure another takedown and rode out the rest of the round in top position. Tough round to score.
The second round began with a kick to the groin of Vanderford. He did not take much time to recover and pressured forward in pursuit of a takedown when the fight resumed. Edwards defended his early attempts and landed a number of hard elbows in the process. Eventually, Vanderford was successful, sitting Edwards down against the cage. Following a brief scramble, Vanderford was able to move into a better position, as they moved away from the cage, and Vanderford was able to work from half guard. 20-18 Vanderford.
Vanderford threw a right hand and quickly changed levels to get Edwards back to the ground. While he wasn’t able to advance his position or threaten any submissions, Vanderford controlled the entirety of the round from top position here. Edwards caught Vanderford with an elbow from the bottom that had him gushing blood, but Vanderford ended things with strong ground and pound to remove any doubt who won this round. 30-27 Vanderford on my scorecard.
WINNER: Austin Vanderford by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
The fight was much closer than the scorecards indicated. You could make a genuine case for scoring this fight for Fabian Edwards, but I saw it the same way as the judges this time. This was a fine performance from Austin Vanderford, and the case was made for him to fight for the middleweight championship in his next bout. Gegard Mousasi would be a sizeable step up in competition, but Vanderford is nearing the top of Bellator’s middleweight ladder, and I could definitely see that fight getting made in the future. Vanderford is now 5-0 in Bellator MMA.
DARRION CALDWELL (15-4, 135.6) VS LEANDRO HIGO (20-5, 137.5) – BANTAMWEIGHT
This was a rematch of a fight from 2018 when then-champion Darrion Caldwell successfully defended his title by submitting Higo in the first round. Higo missed weight for this fight by 1.5lbs.
Caldwell was able to take Hugo down ninety seconds into the fight and found himself in Higo’s guard. Caldwell threw down some vicious elbows that cut Higo open. Higo threatened a triangle at one point, as well as a leg lock, but this was largely a dominant round from Caldwell. 10-9 Caldwell.
The doctor was brought in at the beginning of the second round to examine the cut on the head of Higo and determined he could continue. Higo kicked Caldwell’s leg out from under him and immediately jumped on him. While Caldwell was able to secure top position quickly, he was doing a whole lot of nothing while Higo was extremely active, working from his guard. The entirety of the round progressed like this, with Caldwell never really attempting much from top position. 19-19.
Higo attempted a takedown after catching a kick from Caldwell, but it was Caldwell who out scrambled Higo, and he took Higo’s back against the cage. Caldwell was unable to take Higo down, as the commentary team criticized his inactivity. Higo landed an illegal knee to the head and lost the top position that he gained following a sprawl. Caldwell shot again and was almost caught in a guillotine choke. Higo wasn’t able to finish it, but he was able to take Caldwell’s back. Caldwell turned out of it and ended the round on top with about ten seconds remaining. 29-28 Higo.
WINNER: Leandro Higo by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
Once again, despite long periods of top control, Darrion Caldwell lost this fight due to inactivity. He had a great deal of success in the opening round with his ground and pound, but never went back to it. Higo on the other hand was constantly active off of his back, and he ultimately got his hand raised because of that. Higo has now won his last three fights (although it is important to note that he missed weight in both of his last two fights). Caldwell has now lost four of his last six fights, in which has certainly been an unpredictable turn of events for the former Bellator Bantamweight Champion.
Mauro Ranallo interviewed Logan Paul before the main event. Ranallo asked Paul if he has considered having an MMA fight, and Paul stated that he will likely have a fight in the sport at some point. Ranallo invoked the words of the great Kevin Garnett in regards to Paul’s chances of beating Mayweather, stating “anything is possible”.
CRIS CYBORG (23-2, 1 NC, 144.6) VS LESLIE SMITH (12-8-1, 143.6) – BELLATOR WOMEN’S FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Cyborg and Smith fought previously at UFC 198 in 2016. Cyborg won via first-round TKO.
Cyborg landed a strong flurry of strikes in the opening minute, attacking the head as well as the body. Unsurprisingly, Cyborg was getting the better of their exchanges on the feet, and a 1-2 from Cyborg dropped Smith near the cage. Cyborg engaged her on the ground and began to work from side control. As Smith attempted to work her way up, Cyborg suplexed Smith to the middle of the cage. Smith recovered and ended the round on her feet.
Smith pushed forward but was continuously getting caught by Cyborg when she closed the distance. Cyborg continued to attack the body, and she landed powerful combinations whenever Smith decided to trade. She landed a number of leg kicks throughout the round, and both the leg kicks and the body shots were having a clear effect on Smith as the round progressed. A powerful right hook from Cyborg rocked Smith, but she was able to survive Cyborg’s flurry, and she made it out of the round yet again.
Cyborg got a brief takedown to begin the third round, but Smith quickly escaped to her feet. Smith was taking a ton of damage on the feet, but kept in the fight, and landed slightly more than she did in the previous rounds. Cyborg still controlled the action on the feet and ended the round with two more takedowns.
The momentum of the fight did not deviate in the fourth round. Cyborg continued to land the harder shots, and it felt as though there were very few paths to victory for Leslie Smith. A right hand from Cyborg knocked Smith to the ground while she was off balance. Cyborg took Smith down near the cage towards the end of the round.
Bellator’s stats said that Smith had landed a total of 32 strikes by this final round. Cyborg took Smith down and began to work from side control. Smith worked her way back to her feet, and she continued to move forward, in an attempt to get something going for herself. She was unsuccessful, and Cyborg dropped Smith hard with a right hand towards the end of the fight. Cyborg swarmed her with ground and pound shots, and the fight was eventually stopped.
WINNER: Cris Cyborg by TKO at 4:51 of Round 5
Leslie Smith was incredibly tough and almost went the distance, but this was a very one-sided fight. Cyborg was patient, picked Smith apart for five rounds, and ultimately got the late finish. She has been one of the top fighters in the sport for over a decade, and Cyborg has continued to add to her game this late into her career. With this win, she improved to 3-0 since moving to Bellator, and she called out Cat Zingano in her post-fight interview.