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FLASH: Wrestlers dominate Bellator 97, as Chandler, Askren, Lawal, Jenkins & Bunch win bouts



King Mo Lawal enters the arena prior to his bout in Bellator 97 in Rio Rancho, N.M. Lawal, a World Team member in freestyle before getting into MMA, won the Bellator Lightheavyweight Tournament. Photo by Sal Marandino.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. – It was a great night for past wrestlers in Bellator 97, a Mixed Martial Arts competition at the Santa Ana Star Center which showcased on Spike TV live on Wednesday night. Five well-known wrestlers who compete with Bellator had strong performances.

In the Main Event, a Lightweight World Championship fight, wrestler Michael Chandler scored a quick 44 second first round TKO of David Rickels. Chandler followed a strong punch which sent Rickels down with immediate followup strikes, and the bout was stopped.

Chandler was an NCAA All-American for Missouri, and he trains in High Ridge, Mo. Chandler moved to 12-0 with Rickels dropping to 14-2.

“You have got to love wrestling. I love my job,” said Chandler. “I train my butt off every day and lay it on the line. Nothing can be bad if you train your butt off.”

In a Welterweight World Championship title bout, 2008 U.S. Freestyle Olympian Ben Askren dominated Andrey Koreshkov of Russia with a fourth round TKO in 2:58. Askren moved to 12-0 as Koreshkov dropped to 13-1.

In the first period, Askren took Koreshkov to the mat with a headlock, and threw in the legs. He got into a strong choke position bout couldn’t finish but began his striking assault.The second period, an Asrken ankle shot let to a scramble and Askren came out on top. Askren sunk in the double grapevine and continued to strike and control the entire round to chants of USA, USA.

The third period, started with a quick Askren takedown and he continued to punch and dominate the action the entire round from top. In the fourth round, Askren hit a double leg takedown and again got dominant control and exacted more pounding before finally the referee stopped the fight when Koreshkov could not defend himself.

In addition to competing in the Beijing Olympics, Askren was a two-time NCAA champion and four-time finalist for the Univ. of Missouri. He is training out of his home state of Wisconsin with his Askren Wrestling Academy.

“I am the best fighter in the world. Let’s get them in the cage and I can prove it,” said Askren.

In the Light Heavyweight Tournament final, King Mo Lawal won a third round TKO over Jacob Noe in 2:51. Lawal was dominant throughout, with strong wrestling skills and a relentless striking attack on the mat. Lawal moved to 11-2 and Noe dropped to 12-2.

In the first period , which had a lot of close ground positions, Lawal executed a single leg and a powerful double leg.
The second period featured Lawal getting another takedown followed with a series of strikes from the top position which he maintained the entire round. The third period started with another double leg takedown. After Noe got to his feet, Lawal hit another takedown, and the referee stopped the fight after repeated strikes. After the bout, Lawal threw his fighting gloves to the USA Wrestling delegation.

“Let me give a shoutout to USA Wrestling. Today was a tribute to wrestling. We couldn’t be here without wrestling. I couldn’t be outshined. I have to show the technique coach (Kevin) Jackson showed me,” said Lawal in his interview in front of the crowd after the fight

Lawal was a member of the 2005 U.S. World Freestyle Team and a runner-up at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He was an All-American for Oklahoma State, and won an NCAA Div. II title for Central Oklahoma. He trains in Las Vegas, Nev.

Bubba Jenkins used an all-around attack, with a strong ground and pound flurry in the second round to score a technical fall knockout of Mike Barreras in the second round of a preliminary lightweight fight.

It was a fight between two wrestlers, as Jenkins was an NCAA champion for Arizona State and NCAA runner-up at Penn State, while Barreras was a four-time Div. II All-American, competing for Adams State and Central Oklahoma.

Jenkins, who trains with longtime USA Wrestling Grappling Coach Ricardo Liborio in Florida, moves to 4-0 in his MMA career, as Barreras drops to 5-7.

The match showed some great action, both in the striking and the grappling portions. Jenkins hit a number of forceful takedown throws, and fought off some attempted choke holds by Barreras. The local crowd supported Barreras throughout the fight, as he trains full-time in Albuquerque.

“My lungs got burned out a bit. I’ve never been to the second round and its been a year since I fought, but overall I felt I did a good job for Bellator,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins’ delegation wore shirts which said “Wrestling Saves Lives.”

“Being involved with wrestling, with the movement and the decision wrestling has with the Olympics, I felt it was a great idea to represent that,” said Jenkins.

In a preliminary bantamweight battle, Shawn Bunch earned a split decision victory over Russell Wilson, taking the scorecards of two of the three officials scoring the three-round bout. Bunch was the more active and aggressive competitor in the first two periods, but spent most of the third period on the mat in the guard taking numerous strikes from Wilson. Bunch moved to 2-0 in his pro career, while Wilson dropped to 1-3.

Bunch was a 2009 U.S. Freestyle World Team member, and second in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Wrestle-off. He was an NCAA runner-up for Edinboro.

“A split decision. I could have won the whole thing. I was excited to be out there. I knew I won the first two rounds. The third round, I kinda coasted a little, to relax and to finish it out. I think I did a good job,” said Bunch.

Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney talked about the importance of wrestlers to MMA.

“People don’t recognize how important wrestling is,” said Rebney. “You look at the guys in our cage, competing on an elite World-class level. Look at Askren, Chandler, Mo, Bubba and Bunch. The list goes on and on. These guys came out of wrestling programs.”

All of the past wrestlers talked about their pride in coming from the wrestling community, and their belief that wrestling was a major reason for their success in the Mixed Martial Arts.

“We are blue collar wrestlers and the whole wrestling community is a tight-knit community. Wrestling is based on hard work. We pride ourselves in what we are doing within the whole MMA world,” said Jenkins.

The big news of the night was the announcement of a pay-per-view fight between Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz, both legendary MMA fighters with a wrestling background.

Prior to the fight, there was a special clinic featuring World wrestling champions Joe Warren and Les Gutches at Jackson Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, which was a big success. MMA legend Frank Shamrock, a big supporter of wrestling, was there to film the clinic for Spike TV, as well as Greg Jackson, one of the top coaches in the sport and the owner of the gym. Jackson hosted dozens of young wrestlers for this special clinic and presentation.

Main Card

Lightweight World Championship: Michael Chandler defeats David Rickels via TKO (strikes) – Round 1, 0:44.

Welterweight World Championship: Ben Askren defeats Andrey Koreshkov via TKO (strikes) – Round 4, 2:59

Light Heavyweight Tournament Final: King Mo defeats Jacob Noe via TKO (strikes) – Round 3, 2:51

Heavyweight Tournament Final: Vitaly Minakov defeats Ryan Martinez via TKO (strikes) - Round 3, 4:02

Featherweight Feature Fight: Patricio Pitbull defeats Jared Downing via TKO (strikes) - Round 2, 0:54

Preliminary Card

Catchweight Feature Fight (158 lbs.): Will Brooks def. Cris Leyva via TKO (strikes) - Round 3, 2:20

Bantamweight Tournament Semifinal Fight: Rafael Silva def. Rodrigo Lima via submission (rear-naked choke) - Round 3, 2:03

Bantamweight Tournament Semifinal Fight: Anthony Leone def. Frank Baca via submission (rear-naked choke) - Round 3, 1:07

Lightweight Feature Fight: Bubba Jenkins defeats Mike Barreras via TKO (strikes) - Round 2, 1:05

Catchweight Feature Fight (190 lbs): Jeremy Kimball defeats Keith Berry via KO (punches) – Round 2, 1:45

Bantamweight Feature Fight: Adrian Cruz defeats Felipe Chavez via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 4:24

Bantamweight Catchweight Fight (150 lbs): Javier Palacios defeated Richard Jacques by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

Bantamweight Feature Fight: Shawn Bunch defeats Russell Wilson via split decision (29-28, 28-29,29-28)

Featherweight Feature Fight: Donald Sanchez defeats Cliff Wright Jr. via split decision (29-28, 28-29 , 29-28)




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