Bellator Welterweight Champion Ben Askren successfully defended his belt against Tournament Champion Jay Hieron and Eric Prindle and Thiago Santos both advanced to the Finals of the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament with first round finishes at Bellator 56 last night.
Hieron began the title fight with an impressive opening round, defening against Askren’s takedowns and controlling the pace. Askren got off to a slow start but warmed up as the fight went on, as his takedowns prevailed in the second, third, and fourth rounds. Hieron sensed he was down heading into the fifth and final round, and came out with heavy hands, including a crowd igniting spinning back kick to the chest of a stunned Askren. However, when it came time to raise the winner’s hand, one judge saw the fight in favor of Hieron while the other two sided with Askren, 48-47. Askren now awaits the winner of the Season 5 Welterweight Tournament, which will be decided at Bellator 57 in a Finals fight between Ben Saunders and Douglas Lima.
Neil Grove had a second shot at tournament glory after filling in for the injured Blagoi Ivanov, and was set to square off against “The Big Monster” Thiago Santos. “Big Monster” survived Grove’s first attack and then dropped him with his first punch — an overhand right. Santos then followed him to the ground and took over Grove’s back to submit the former tournament finalist by way of rear naked choke 38 seconds into the first round.
Prindle too would advance to the Finals following a heavy handed punch as he knocked Ron Sparks out cold while countering a leg kick. Sparks delivered an outside leg kick to Prindle early and let his right hand drop below his chin. It was at this point that the former five-time All Army Boxing Champion dropped him with a swift left hook and followed him to the mat for two more punches before a referee stoppage. The win was ruled a knockout for Prindle and took just 40 seconds.
“This is why you can’t blink when our heavyweights are mixing it up,” Bellator Chairman & CEO Bjorn Rebney said. “Thiago Santos is a world-class jiu-jitsu player and showed his evolution as a mixed martial artist by putting Neil Grove down with a big punch; and Eric Prindle proved he’s an absolute beast by knocking out a heavy-handed heavyweight in Ron Sparks. I cannot wait for this final on November 26 at Caesars in Atlantic City.
“With Ben and Jay, I thought it was a good fight. I think Ben is being hard on himself and Jay is a world-class welterweight. No one’s going to come in here and outwrestle Ben, and Jay presents a lot of problems for his opponents. I thought they both put on a strong show.”