Although OC holds some of the best mixed martial arts gyms in the world, major MMA events have been significantly absent from the area. Since UFC 157 came to the Honda Center in February 2013, only two nationally televised MMA cards have taken place in OC since: Bellator 136 at Irvine’s Bren Events Center and World Series of Fighting 28 at the Next Level Sports Complex in Garden Grove, which neither bringing about much fanfare.
That all changed on Friday night when Bellator MMA held one of their biggest events of the year at the Honda Center. Although Bellator 160 was headlined by a lightweight bout in which former UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson broke the shin of former Bellator Featherweight Champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire by checking Freire’s leg kicks with his own shin, it was some of the local combatants earlier in the evening who impressed the most.
The first anticipated matchup of the night was Chinzo Machida – the older brother of former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida – against Orange’s Mario Navarro. Although Machida technically hails from Brazil, he can often be found training alongside his brother at Kings MMA in Huntington Beach under the watchful eyes of the Master Rafael Cordeiro.
As a veteran martial artist, Machida’s striking was simply too fast and too technical for Navarro. The one-sided fight was over in less than three minutes, with Machida dropping Navarro twice with punches before unleashing a barrage of strikes causing referee John McCarthy to stop the fight.
Following a pair of SoCal fights in which La Habra’s Jacob Rosales brawled his way to a decision win over a more technical – yet cautious – Mike Segura (Laguna Hills) and San Diego’s Andy Murad smothered the fan-friendly Jonny Cisneros for 15 minutes, San Pedro’s Gabriel Green gave the growing crowd something more to cheer about when he viciously knocked out Alex Trinidad two minutes into the second round of a back and forth fight.
The final preliminary fight was all about the pro debut of college wrestling standout Joey Davis. The holder of one of the best NCAA wrestling records in history (133-0) dominated opponent Keith Cutrone for three rounds to earn the unanimous decision, and then it was time for the A.J. McKee show.
For those unfamiliar with A.J. McKee, he’s the 21-year-old son of wrestling and MMA veteran Antonio McKee and arguably the brightest prospect on Bellator’s roster. A Long Beach native, McKee made his professional debut at Bellator’s event in Irvine last year and won each of his first four fights within 3:20 of the first round.
Friday’s contest took McKee a bit longer, as OC’s Cody Walker briefly lasted into the second round before submitting to a modified guillotine choke, but the second-generation warrior still appears to be one of the names to watch over the next several years. To cap it off, McKee blamed the delay in his victory on partying too much the night before – because a 21-year-old is still a 21-year-old.
Probably the most polarizing name on the entire card came in Huntington Beach’s own Bubba Jenkins. Ahead of his rematch with the Russian-born Georgi Karakhanyan (who now lives in Riverside), most folks in the Honda Center already felt one way or another about the NCAA wrestling champion, and likely wanted to see the fight end violently for whoever they were cheering for.
Although Jenkins came in riding a three-fight win streak while Karakhanyan had lost two straight since submitting Jenkins early last year, it turned out that the veteran simply had the answer for Jenkins’ hype train once again. This time, Karakhanyan finished the 28-year-old with a right hand for one of the night’s nastiest knockouts before launching himself to the top of the cage to celebrate with his fans. It wasn’t the outcome Jenkins’ local supporters were looking for, but it was one of the more stunning results of the night.
More of this, Bellator!