Rich Hale capitalized at a most opportune time.
The 25-year-old Arizonan rode a dominant third round to a split decision victory over D.J. Linderman in the Bellator Fighting Championships Season 4 light heavyweight tournament semifinals at Bellator 42 on Saturday at the Lucky Star Casino in Concho, Okla. All three judges scored it 29-28, two of them for Hale, who advanced to the 205-pound final.
Linderman pressed the fight for much of the 15-minute encounter. However, Hale -- blessed with more than a seven-inch reach advantage -- countered effectively with kicks to the leg, a pawing jab and occasional power punches. Linderman enjoyed his best stretch in Round 2, as he knocked down a back pedaling Hale with a spinning-back fist, delivered a takedown and landed the more effective strikes.
In Round 3, Hale's size advantage came into play. Linderman pinned him to the cage but lost his base and collapsed to his back under the weight of his foe. Hale fell into mount, forced Linderman to surrender his back and went to work on the rear-naked choke. Linderman defended well and survived the submission attempts, but he lost the round and ultimately the fight on the scorecards.
Mann Dominates Arocho
British import Ronnie Mann cruised to a unanimous decision at the expense of an overmatched Josh Arocho in a featured 145-pound tilt. All three cageside judges sided with Mann, a 2009 Sengoku Raiden Championship featherweight grand prix quarterfinalist who posted his third win in as many outings.
Scores were 30-25, 30-27 and 30-27.
It was clear from the start that Arocho was in over his head. The 25-year-old Nebraskan scored with an early first-round takedown, only to see Mann sweep into top position with stunning ease. Mann showered him with punches and elbows for more than three minutes, opening a small cut on Arocho's forehead and damaging both of his eyes.
Rounds 2 and 3 followed the same pattern, as Mann stuffed takedowns, sprawled into top position and chipped away at Arocho with punches and elbows. He added submissions to the mix in the third, as he moved into side control and threatened with a keylock, topside inverted triangle and an arm-triangle choke. None of them finished Arocho, but the fight belonged to the Brit.
"He's a tough lad," Mann said. "He just stayed in there."
M'Pumbu Drops Carpenter, Advances
A lightning strike of a straight right hand followed by a right uppercut wiped out the previously unbeaten Tim Carpenter and left Christian M'Pumbu in tears, his seat in the Season 4 Bellator light heavyweight tournament semifinals secure. Carpenter met his demise 2:08 into round one after referee Kevin Nix intervened on his behalf.
M'Pumbu executed his game plan to perfection. The Paris-based M-1 Challenge veteran peppered Carpenter's legs with a steady stream of quick kicks from the start. Through those, M'Pumbu slowly drew the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt into a chase and waited for the opening. The right hand doubled over Carpenter in a standing position and left him vulnerable to the finishing uppercut. M'Pumbu delivered it with savage precision.
Brian Knapp is a contributor to Sherdog.com.