Bellator 282 Report: Johnny Eblen dominates Gegard Mousasi, wins Bellator Middleweight Championship
By: Eric Marcotte
Bellator 282 took place on Friday night, from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The card was headlined by a bout for the Bellator Middleweight Championship, as Gegard Mousasi looked to defend his title against Johnny Eblen. Eblen is undefeated professionally, and he earned this title shot following a strong win over former title challenger, John Salter. Mousasi has been on a strong run since signing with Bellator MMA in 2017, with a promotional record of 7-1, and a win against Eblen here would mark three consecutive title defenses for the champion. This card also featured two quarterfinal bouts in Bellator’s current Bantamweight Grand Prix, with Leandro Higo facing Danny Sabatello, and Magomed Magomedov matched up against Enrique Barzola. Commentary for this card was provided by the team of Mauro Ranallo and John McCarthy, and the analytical team consisted of Josh Thomson, Amanda Guerra, and Raufeon Stots.
*Mandel Nallo def. Bryce Logan by TKO at 1:07 of Round 1
*Aaron Jeffery def. Fabio Aguiar by TKO at 3:30 of Round 2
*James Gonzalez def. Cody Law by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-28, 30-26)
*Ilara Joanne def. Alejandra Lara by unanimous decision (30-26, 29-27, 29-27)
*Sabah Homasi def. Maycon Mendonca by KO at 0:58 of Round 1
*Anatoly Tokov def. Muhammad Abdullah by TKO at 2:28 of Round 1
*Cat Zingano def. Pam Sorenson by unanimous decision (29-26, 29-27, 29-27)
*Alexander Shabliy def. Brent Primus by TKO at 1:22 of Round 2
*Lucas Brennan def. Johnny Soto by rear-naked choke at 3:34 of Round 1
*Killys Mota def. Dan Moret by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Brennan Ward def. Kassius Kayne by TKO at 1:11 of Round 2
*Magomed Magomedov def. Enrique Barzola by guillotine choke at 1:27 of Round 4
*Danny Sabatello def. Leandro Higo by unanimous decision (49-46 all)
*Johnny Eblen def. Gegard Mousasi by unanimous decision (50-45 all) to win the Bellator Middleweight Championship
BRENNAN WARD (15-6, 171) VS KASSIUS KAYNE (12-7, 169.75) – WELTERWEIGHT
Ward nearly caught Kayne in a standing guillotine in the opening seconds of the fight, and despite Kayne successfully escaping the submission, Ward was able to capitalize on the chaos, landing a hard elbow on the break, before taking Kayne to the ground. Kayne escaped to his feet with three minutes remaining in the round, and he caught Ward with some sharp counters as Ward lunged in. Eventually, a big left hand from Ward found its target, rocking Kayne slightly. As Ward looked to follow up on the big punch, Kayne caught him with a knee to the head, and he opted to take Kayne back to the ground instead. Ward worked his way into full mount, where he threw down a number of hard ground and pound shots before attempting an armbar, however, time expired in the round before Ward could complete the submission.
Both fighters landed some strong shots on the feet in the opening minute of round two. Ward rocked Kayne early with a lead right hand, and this time he was able to finish the fight, landing a number of hard shots to the head and body of Kayne, who was not intelligently defending himself against the cage.
WINNER: Brennan Ward by TKO at 1:11 of Round 2
This was an entertaining fight while it lasted, but Ward seemed a step ahead of Kayne throughout it, largely due to his power. Every time he caught Kayne with a big shot, Kayne was rocked, and that damage accumulated quickly, which ultimately led to the second-round stoppage. Brennan Ward’s fights always deliver in terms of entertainment value, and as the broadcast noted after the fight, all eighteen of his fights in the promotion have resulted in a finish, win or lose. Ward’s Bellator record now stands at 12-6, and he has won his last two bouts.
MAGOMED MAGOMEDOV (18-2, 135) VS ENRIQUE BARZOLA (18-5-2, 135) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Barzola tagged Magomedov with a series of body shots early, prompting Barzola to throw a heavy body shot of his own in return. Magomedov caught Barzola with a strong hook as Barzola dug into the body, before Barzola changed levels, successfully taking Magomedov to the ground. It didn’t take Magomedov long to reverse the positioning, and he attempted to take the back of Barzola, who eventually escaped to his feet. Barzola landed a hard left hook on the feet, however, Magomedov responded with a left hand of his own that caused Barzola to stumble. Barzola briefly took Magomedov’s back in a quick scramble, but the fight quickly returned to the feet, and time expired in the round.
Barzola was successful in bringing Magomedov back to the ground, where he attempted to take his opponents back once again. He was successful, but Magomedov did a great job defensively of preventing Barzola from capitalizing on the position and ultimately made it back to his feet. Barzola defended a takedown attempt from Magomedov, before catching him with a number of sharp jabs. Magomedov looked to counter with strong hooks, however, Barzola’s forward pressure was effective, and he was getting the better of Magomedov on the feet here. Magomedov ended the round with a strong spinning back kick that found its target.
Magomedov began to work his jab in the third round, and he was catching Barzola repeatedly, knocking Barzola’s head back. At one point, he partially caught Barzola with a jumping knee, before the fighters traded uppercuts in the clinch. The pace of this fight was remarkable, and both fighters didn’t seem to be slowing down at all. Neither was successful in taking the fight to the ground here in the third round despite numerous attempts, and the fighters stared each other down after the round ended.
About a minute into the fourth round, Barzola shot in for a double leg takedown, but he got caught in a guillotine choke in the process. Magomedov had the choke locked in, and Barzola was ultimately forced to submit.
WINNER: Magomed Magomedov by guillotine choke at 1:27 of Round 4
Unsurprisingly, this was a very competitive, high-level fight. I honestly wasn’t sure who was winning this one going into round four, but Magomedov was able to remove the judges from the equation, catching Barzola in what was ultimately a fight-ending guillotine choke. Magomedov became the first fighter to finish Enrique Barzola here, and this marked his fifth career victory by guillotine. As a result of this win, Magomedov will go on to the semi-finals of the current Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix, where he will face Patchy Mix, who defeated Kyoji Horiguchi in his quarter-final bout.
LEANDRO HIGO (21-5, 134.75) VS DANNY SABATELLO (12-1, 134.75) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Sabatello and Higo exchanged leg kicks throughout the opening minute. Sabatello was finding a home for his right hand early, and he ultimately opted to change levels, where he succeeded in taking Higo down, before working his way to Higo’s back. Higo trapped the hands of Sabatello, and as a result, they spent a couple minutes trapped in a bit of a stalemate, before they were eventually stood up. 10-9 Sabatello.
Sabatello attempted a jumping knee in the opening minute of the second round, before shooting for a takedown that eventually resulted in him taking the back of Higo once again. This time, Higo was expertly able to work his way to the back of Sabatello, and he quickly locked in a body triangle, as he attempted to secure the rear-naked choke. He could not find the choke, but he landed a number of hard elbows to the shoulder of Sabatello before time expired. 19-19.
Both fighters found success on the feet early in the third round. Sabatello shot in for a takedown, and Higo attempted to counter with a guillotine choke, but Sabatello avoided the submission and began to work from top position. Higo seemed content to work from his guard, however, he fell behind in this round as a result. Sabatello as busy enough from top position to secure this round, although the crowd was rather unhappy with the way in which this fight was playing out. 29-28 Sabatello.
Much like the previous round, Higo’s willingness to grapple with Sabatello was betraying him. Higo attempted a choke as Sabatello shot for an early takedown, and as a result, he gave up top position yet again, after Sabatello escaped the submission attempt. Sabatello worked his way to Higo’s back when Higo attempted to pick himself up along the cage. Higo escaped with seconds remaining in the round, and Higo connected with a pair of spinning backfists right before the end of the round. 39-37 Sabatello.
Higo attempted a guillotine choke on Sabatello’s first takedown attempt of the final round, however, Sabatello escaped the submission, and began to work from top position. Sabatello controlled Higo for roughly three minutes, and while Higo was eventually able to get back to his feet, Sabatello took him right back down, ending the fight in top position. 49-46 Sabatello.
WINNER: Danny Sabatello by unanimous decision (49-46 all)
Higo had his moments throughout this fight, but largely, this was a dominant performance from Sabatello, who was consistently able to take Higo down while maintaining top position. I thought Higo was a bit too willing to work off of his back, and that lack of urgency resulted in him giving up a lot of control time to Sabatello. Sabatello went off on the fans in his post-fight interview, who booed him heavily following the decision, before turning his attention to the division’s interim champion, Raufeon Stots, who he will meet in the semi-finals of this bantamweight grand prix. Stots entered the cage to face off with Sabatello and called him a boring fighter, which ultimately led to the fighters being separated by security as things began to get physical between the two. While these types of interactions do very little to stoke my interest in a fight personally, I think the build-up to this fight will be entertaining for those following it, given the fact that Sabatello and Stots are both such strong personalities.
GEGARD MOUSASI (49-7-2, 185) VS JOHNNY EBLEN (11-0, 185) – BELLATOR MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Mousasi pressured forward early but ran right into a heavy right hand from Eblen that dropped him. Mousasi managed to take Scheffel down in the process, and while he was unable to keep him there for any significant period of time, Mousasi bought himself enough time to recover. After escaping to his feet, Eblen recorded a takedown of his own, controlling Mousasi against the cage for a significant period of time. They returned to their feet with a minute remaining in the round, where Mousasi looked to make up some ground. Eblen avoided the majority of Mousasi’s offense and showboated to the crowd before time expired. 10-9 Eblen.
Mousasi connected with a hard jab to begin the second round, prompting Eblen to respond with a heavy left hand. Eblen took Mousasi down after Mousasi rushed in on an attack, and he began to work from side control. Mousasi attempted to scramble out of the position, but Eblen was a bit quicker, and maintained dominant position, seating Mousasi down with his back to the cage. Mousasi escaped to his feet with just over a minute remaining in the round, but ate a huge left hand from Eblen, as well as a strong right hook just before the end of the round. 20-18 Eblen.
Eblen was really doing significant damage with his right hand, catching Mousasi repeatedly in the opening minute of round three. Mousasi seemed very flat-footed, and was a stationary target at times as Eblen landed these big shots. Mousasi was actually slightly ahead on the total strike count, but the difference in power between the shots landed was huge, and the champion was falling behind in this fight. 30-27 Eblen.
Eblen successfully backed Mousasi into the cage early in round four, where he was able to take the champion back to the ground, facing little resistance. Eblen took the back of Mousasi, where he attempted to lock in a rear-naked choke, but Mousasi was able to escape the submission, before returning to his feet. Mousasi attempted to pressure forward, but was immediately taken back to the ground. 40-36 Eblen.
Eblen tagged Mousasi with a strong right hand to begin the final round. Eblen recorded yet another takedown with three minutes to work, seating Mousasi against the cage one more time. Eblen took the back of Mousasi as the champion looked to pick himself up against the cage, and when Mousasi finally made it back to his feet, Eblen threw him right back to the ground. 50-45 Eblen.
WINNER: Johnny Eblen by unanimous decision (50-45 all) to win the Bellator Middleweight Championship
Eblen dominated Gegard Mousasi for twenty-five minutes here, in what was unquestionably the greatest performance of his career to this point. After dropping Mousasi early in the fight, Eblen was able to take Mousasi down at will, all while dominating Mousasi on the feet as well, repeatedly tagging him with heavy shots, while not taking many damaging shots in response. It really was a tremendous performance from Eblen, and we saw Gegard Mousasi get dominated in unfamiliar fashion throughout this bout. Anatoly Tokov is perhaps the most likely first challenger for Eblen’s championship, but it would not shock me if Bellator decided to run this fight back either, just given Mousasi’s name value. Personally, I would like to see Mousasi move back to the light heavyweight division, as there are some interesting matchups for him there stylistically, but he has not fought at 205lbs in nearly a decade, so that may not be something that’s of interest to Mousasi at this point in his career