Ortiz actually looked pretty good in his attempt to claim the Bellator light heavyweight title Saturday, but the end result was an expected one: A successful title defense by undefeated Liam McGeary in the first round.
The event itself, Bellator: Dynamite 1, had its share of hits and misses. Let's get into the action of this card, along with a back-and-forth lightweight title fight at WSOF 23 from Phoenix, with a full list of fighter grades.
There were a fair share of "dark horse" predictions heading into Bellator's one-night tournament, but at the end of the day, Davis was the clear-cut favorite to win it all -- especially when Muhammed Lawal was forced to bow out with an injury. Even as the favorite, Davis exceeded expectations by accumulating two finishes in his first two Bellator appearances. When was the last time Davis finished an opponent before Saturday night? You'd have to go back to October 2012. Say what you want about a drop in competition, two finishes -- against a former Bellator champ and once-upon-a-time UFC contender -- is impressive.
I mean, it's fairly absurd Holder was involved in something promoted as a title fight, but as far as Branch's performance is concerned, it was elite. Branch, who by the way trains with Bellator's Liam McGeary, doesn't have much in terms of the "it" factor that makes him memorable, but since leaving the UFC in 2011, this guy is 9-1 with five finishes. He's not getting a lot of attention despite holding belts in two weight classes now, but his overall game doesn't have a lot of holes and he's arguably turned himself into a top-10 middleweight right now. Is it a given Branch would get blown out by Michael Bisping, Gegard Mousasi, Dan Henderson? I'm not sure it is.
Thomson knows exactly what to do with a gimme fight like the one he was presented with here. Bronzoulis is a journeyman who was never going to match Thomson's offensive grappling. It was a great opportunity for him and it looked like he came in shape, but this was always going to be all Thomson. JT says he's not trying to skip any lines. I'm saying that's silly talk. He might have come into Bellator on a three-fight skid, but honestly, I don't need to see Thomson work his way up any Bellator ladders. Give him the champ, Will Brooks, and do it immediately. That's the best 155-pound fight to make at Bellator.
Bellator Dynamite 1 (light heavyweight championship)
Defeated Tito Ortiz (Sub1/4:41)
I know what you're thinking: How does McGeary deserve an A after letting old man Ortiz drag him down and ground and pound him for nearly an entire round? And I hear you -- but I just don't think McGeary really cared about Ortiz taking him down in that first round, so why should we? At the end of the day, McGeary knew he could tap Ortiz from the bottom. If those two fought 100 more times (and who wouldn't be down to watch that?), I think it looks like this pretty much every time. McGeary gets taken down. McGeary taps Ortiz. Rinse and repeat. There might come a time when McGeary really has to defend the takedown -- it might come in his next defense against Phil Davis -- but that time wasn't Saturday. There was never a time during that fight I didn't feel like McGeary knew exactly what he was doing. He deserves a high mark.
Bellator Dynamite 1 (light heavyweight tournament)
Defeated Linton Vassell (UD)
Speaking to Lawal's coaches, it sounds as though he probably injured his ribs as he suplexed Vassell to the canvas in the second round of their semifinal. It's a bummer, because Lawal probably didn't even need to hit that move. Vassell had slammed him earlier in the round and Lawal wanted revenge. He came close to knocking out Vassell in the opening 10 seconds and in my eyes, he physically looked the best he has in awhile. Mo has dealt with nightmarish knee injuries, which have compromised his movement, but he had a spring in his step Saturday that I felt he lacked in previous fights. Lawal-Davis is a finals matchup I'd still have interest in seeing.
Fodor could easily be mistaken as a publicity stunt, given his "superhero" shtick, which blew up to mainstream levels earlier this year. The most impressive thing about Fodor here is he fought Yong. This one actually got pretty ugly early for Fodor. Yong isn't a world-class talent but he's athletic and was firing bullets at Fodor in that first round. Fodor ate some on the chin but didn't crumple as it would have been pretty easy for him to do. He actually showed pretty good pocket awareness, slipping haymakers after he was buzzed and throwing back pretty effective counters. Whether he's still a publicity stunt or not in your eyes, he's got fight in him.
It's pretty much always the same story with Gaethje: The WSOF lightweight champ is undeniably talented and thrilling to watch. But try to picture his style against elite talent? It's hard to see it ending well. Offensively, he's the equivalent of a wooden club, haphazardly wrapped in barbwire. There's not a lot of finesse going on here. It's easy to forget Gaethje is a former collegiate wrestler -- until you see it pop up, such as when he slammed Palomino to the canvas in the opening round. I would personally like to see Gaethje use his skills a little more and brawl a little less, but that's just who he is. Until he faces opposition capable of exploiting it, his style works.
Bellator Dynamite 1 (light heavyweight)
Lost to Muhammed Lawal (UD)
Gotta defend yourself, Linton. That's what Saturday comes down to for the Brit. His defense was so poor, it actually cost him a trip to the finals when Lawal got injured. According to the tournament rules, Vassell should have gone to the finals instead of Carmont -- but the California commission refused to allow it because he had taken so many blows to the head during his two rounds with Lawal. That's a problem. And this guy trains in a very dangerous environment. He spars, regularly, with UFC's Anthony Johnson. You'd think Vassell would understand the value of good striking defense. He showed grit surviving that first round and did some nice things in the second, but it wasn't a great night for him overall.
Bellator Dynamite 1 (light heavyweight)
Lost to Phil Davis (Sub1/4:39)
During his title reign, Newton never had to deal with the wrestling skill (or athleticism) Davis possesses, but it was a little eye-opening to see just how helpless he was in the face of that. To a degree, sure, chalk this up to a bad matchup. But at the same time, Newton is too good of a martial artist (or at least we thought he was) to get run out of the building like that. This is a cruel sport, as we know. A guy can win 13 of 14 fights over the course of four years, as Newton did, and then all of a sudden, you're an afterthought because you suffer back-to-back losses. That's the scenario Newton is staring at, though. They say you're only as good as your last fight and Newton's last fight was pretty terrible.