Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bellator 33: Alvarez vs. Huerta; a live experience

6PM, 30 minutes before the first fight and as the Liacouras Center begins to slowly fill with fans, my view is unlike any other. While this is not my first live MMA event, it is my first sitting at press row. As can be expected, excitedly nervous is the best way to describe my feeling as I traveled here. However, upon entering the arena and finding my place among my peers, it's as though I've been here many times before. That's because while my experience as a journalist may be minimal, my knowledge of the sport and the event I'm about to cover is not.

In only it's third season, Bellator Fighting Championships has made quite an impact in the MMA landscape. Their tournament format, producing champions in the various weight classes, has proved quite successful and has produced many exciting fights. Tonight's main event between lightweight (155lbs.) champion Eddie Alvarez (21-2, 12 KO's, 7 subs) and former Sports Illustrated cover boy, UFC veteran Roger Huerta (25-5-1, 11 KO's 5 subs) in a non-title fight was no different.

Hometown hero Alvarez, fighting his first fight ever in Philadelphia, did not disappoint as he put on a spectacular show in front of his fans. Using beautiful boxing combinations and devastating leg kicks, all with blazing speed and pinpoint accuracy, he TKO'ed Huerta in the second round, forcing the doctor to stop it before the third round.

Huerta in his usual, exciting, take the fight wherever it goes style gave it all he had, but on this night it wasn't enough as Alvarez just looked like the top three lightweight in the world that he is. What really surprised me was how much quicker Alvarez was than Huerta in every facet of the game, especially striking; anyone that is familiar with Huerta knows that speed is not something he usually defers to his opponent, yet on this evening it looked like Alvarez would be better suited being called "Fast Eddie."

Upon seeing the referee signal the fight was over, Alvarez climbed the cage to acknowledge the crowd and did his trademark back flip off the top of the cage. When asked in the post fight interview how he felt about hearing the fans chant his name, an overwhelmed Alvarez said, "What can I say, I love you guys." Asked about a future title fight against season two lightweight tournament winner Pat Curran, Alvarez's response, to the joy of the crowd, "I say let's do it right back here in Philly."

In the co-main event of the evening, welterweight (170lbs.) champion Lyman 'Cyborg' Good, (10-1, 5 KO's 1 sub) faced former 2008 U.S. Olympic wrestler and two-time division one national champion Ben 'Funky' Askren (7-0, 1 KO, 3 subs). Next to Alvarez, Good, who grew up in Spanish Harlem, NY, received the biggest ovation of the night. No doubt from the many fans that came down the turnpike from NYC and the fellow Puerto Rican fans who were in attendance for local favorite Alvarez.

In what was almost an exact replica of the Anderson Silva/Chael Sonnen classic in the UFC two months ago, Askren used his superior wrestling to handle Good over the course of five rounds. Unlike Silva though, Good was able to do damage from the bottom to Askren, even when he found himself underneath Askren's full mount position throughout.

I said almost an exact replica because with less than two minutes in the fifth and final round, Good threw an upkick from the bottom that caught the curly-haired grappler flush on the jaw. Inevitably, just like Silva against Sonnen, Good was able to catch Askren in a triangle choke that looked pretty tight. However, unlike the UFC middleweight champion, Good did not grab Askren's leg while he was on his knees, thus allowing him to stand and eventually break free of the hold. Askren held on and was able to win a unanimous decision and "wrestle" the title away from Good.

The first fight of the live television broadcast, started things off with a bang as welterweight action between 2004 U.S. Olympic Judoka Rick Hawn (9-0, 7 KO's) and Levon 'DaMaynman' Maynard (10-7, 5 KO's, 3 subs) lasted just under five minutes. Using crisp strikes with both his hands and feet, Hawn showed why, even as a judo player, he has seven KO's in his nine fights. However, it was Hawn's bread and butter that set up the beginning of the end, as a beautiful over the shoulder judo throw right before the end of the round put Hawn in position on top of Maynard to rain down punches to his defenseless opponent.

Also on the main card, Brazilian featherweight (145 lbs.), Wilson Reis (11-2, 7 subs), now fighting out of Philadelphia, needed all of that hometown cooking as he eked out a split decision victory over Deividas Taurosevicius (12-5, 8 subs). In a fight that I saw 29-28 for Taurosevicius, Reis came on strong in the third round with some wild punches. However, other than a weak triangle choke attempt in the second round, it was all the offense I felt Reis mustered the whole fight. Nonetheless, it kept the hometown winning flavor intact for the night.

On the under card, featherweight Fran Evans, in his pro debut, was a local boy who made good as his slick submission game was enough to pull off a triangle choke on his opponent in just over three minutes of the first round. Also on the under card, Nick Cottone (9-2-1, 3 KO's 4 subs), from right up the turnpike in New Jersey, used his dominant wrestling to control his opponent and grind out a workmanlike decision.

All 'n' all, it was a great night of fights. With their outstanding production value, including their in house video packages, their timing in between fights, which kept the energy level high and an exciting card, it was on par with anything I had ever experienced at a live UFC event. Bellator 33: Alvarez vs. Huerta was definitely a live experience in every sense of the word.

I want to personally thank Brad Bruggemann and (MMA Radio for the Average Joe) for the media credential hook-up to Bellator 33.

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