Sonnen outlasts Rampage, advances in Bellator tournament
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Chael Sonnen overcame a significant weight disadvantage for a unanimous-decision victory over Rampage Jackson in the opening fight of Bellator’s Heavyweight World Grand Prix on Saturday night.
Rory MacDonald also took the mixed martial arts promotion’s welterweight title from Douglas Lima, overcoming grotesque injuries to his left leg and nose to claim a unanimous decision at Bellator 192.
Sonnen (30-15-1), the loquacious former UFC middleweight title contender, was outweighed by 31 pounds on the scales Friday. He still used his superior wrestling skills and tenacity to grind out a decision over Jackson (37-13), the former UFC champion, before a lively crowd at the famed Forum.
“I’ve got the biggest arms, I’ve got the greatest charm and I do all the harm,” Sonnen said.
Jackson tossed Sonnen dramatically onto the mat during the first round, but the veteran brawler struggled to create any more highlights. A frustrated Rampage tapped the mat in front of him in the third round, daring Sonnen to stand and bang.
Instead, Sonnen took him down again and finished up a 29-28 decision on all three judges’ scorecards.
The 39-year-old Jackson’s first career meeting with the 40-year-old Sonnen was the first bout in an eight-man tournament designed to crown Bellator’s first heavyweight champion since 2016. The field also includes MMA luminaries Fedor Emelianenko, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Matt Mitrione, along with undersized veteran fighters Ryan Bader and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal.
Sonnen will fight the winner of Emelianenko’s upcoming bout with Mir in the tournament semifinals in early summer.
MacDonald (20-4) has been ticketed for Bellator stardom ever since he left the UFC and joined its biggest rival in 2016 following back-to-back losses to Robbie Lawler and Stephen Thompson. MacDonald, who beat current UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley in 2014, is likely the best pound-for-pound fighter on the Bellator roster, and he intends to hold the promotion’s titles in multiple weight divisions.
“He’s the best fighter I ever fought,” MacDonald said. “I feel like we’re the best two welterweights in the sport.”
The title bout was remarkably even, with MacDonald controlling much of the action on the ground when Lima (29-7) wasn’t peppering his oft-injured nose with jabs. MacDonald developed a huge welt on his shin midway through the fight, but it didn’t appear to limit his movement.
Lima knocked down MacDonald with a sweeping kick in the third round and appeared to be close to finishing early in the fourth, but MacDonald persevered. MacDonald dominated the fifth round on the ground and cut Lima near his eyes.
MacDonald eventually had his hand raised to the displeasure of Lima, a Brazilian fighting out of Atlanta. MacDonald was carried out of the cage and transported to a hospital as a precaution.
“I think I have a person growing inside me,” MacDonald said of his leg injury.
Former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler returned from his first loss since 2014 with a one-sided decision victory over Goiti Yamauchi, who was bloodied and nearly finished on the ground. Chandler is likely to get a rematch next with Brent Primus, who claimed the title last year when Chandler was forced to stop by an ankle injury.
Aaron Pico, Bellator’s 21-year-old blue chip prospect from nearby Whittier, also wowed his home crowd with a vicious body-punch stoppage of Shane Kruchten in the first round of their featherweight fight.
The lively Forum crowd included several fighters with UFC ties, including champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino, Nate Diaz and Dan Henderson. Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay and Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth also attended.