Bellator 97: two dominant champs dominate
Michael Chandler and Ben Askren did what they do
Funky is Ben Askren’s official knickname. I might suggest "Glue." Or better yet, "Velcro." His tight curly hair looks like one half of that material, and he has a way of sticking to his opponents. He need only make contact with a single point of his opponent, and then he doesn’t let go. He leans on them, tangles them, applies his weight to the exact leverage points to make them work their hardest. He holds them down and hits them.
Askren won the first round while inflicting little damage, but in subsequent rounds he ratcheted up the pressure, eventually out-striking his opponent 293-3 in what seemed like a foregone conclusion. Askren attempted a few submissions, but gave them up when they opened up opportunities to improve his position. Koreshkov came out at the beginning of each subsequent round looking more and more terrified of being taken down. All Askren had to do was fake a takedown and he’d jump backwards. Koreshkov fought gamely at first, but seemed to lose his will.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment was at the beginning of Round 3, when Koreshkov caught Askren with a knee as he shot in for a double leg. It was a good knee, and such a knee is a potential Achilles heel to any wrestler. But if the knee hurt Askren, it wasn’t apparent. He continued doing his thing, which was basically what a cat does to a living mouse. Askren toyed with Koreshkov until he gave up and stopped fighting back, and Askren was awarded the finish by TKO.
“Snap crackle pop,” is how he described his treatment of Koreshkov afterwards, in his post-fight interview with color commentator Jimmy Smith.
It was unarguably a brilliant, dominating performance, but the crowd hadn’t liked it. This is Duke City, after all, and they hadn’t come to watch a wrestling match. During the fight there had been a few half-hearted chants of USA, USA, USA—Koreshkov was, after all, a foreigner—but these were soon drowned by in a sea of boos. This hadn’t been the only wrestling match of the evening. Mohamed “King Mo” Lawal had also dry-humpted his way to a tko victory due to ground strikes.
Perhaps, in hindsight, feeding a wrestler-heavy card to an Albuquerque crowd, following a prelim card that consisted of squash matches where local lambs were sacrificed to Bellator prospects to pad their records and their highlight reels, wasn’t the best idea. And the crowd wasn’t MMA-nerdy enough to appreciate the surprise announcement of Rampage Jackson vs Tito Ortiz, on a November 2nd Pay-per-view. But then, this was a card designed for television. The ABQ fight fans were there to fill the place up, and 3,000 + showed up.
In his post-fight interview, Askren called the crowd communists for booing him, and announced that he’s the best fighter in the world. Ten minutes later, freshly showered, Askren pranced around the cage-side VIP area, completely unmarked, taking thumps-up photos.
The fisticuffs-craving crowd got what it wanted in the final fight, as Michael Chandler quickly and ferociously knocked out David Rickels in 42 seconds to defend his belt. Not much more to say, as it was so quick, except that even in that short window of a performance, it’s clear that Michael Chandler is an explosive, impressive athlete. After the fight Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney called Chandler the best lightweight in the world. One reason he didn’t say the same about Askren is that he hadn’t just signed Askren to a multi-fight contract, as he had Chandler. Askren, in fact, had just fought his final fight on his current contract.
Askren and Chandler. Two different fighters, two different but dominant performances. Two Bellator champions that could give their UFC counterparts runs for their money.