It could very well be the most bittersweet victory of Eduardo "Dudu" Dantas' career, but the 24-year-old Bellator MMA bantamweight champion will gladly take it over the alternative.
Dantas (15-3) finished his teammate, friend and coach, Marcos Galvao (13-6), at 3:01 of Round 2 at the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C., to retain the belt in devastating form.
"I'm sad and happy," said Dantas, as he held back tears. "Sad because I have to fight my friend. And happy to still be champion of Bellator."
The bantamweights, housed at Brazil's iconic Nova Uniao camp that includes Jose Aldo and many others, didn't take a step back despite the circumstances.
Dantas' speed edge over Galvao was obvious from the opening bell. The champion, fighting for the first time since suffering an unexpected and costly knockout in Brazil against Tyson Nam, danced around his friend. He also delivered head-popping jabs preceding other attacks.
The 31-year-old challenger tied up with his fleet afoot friend and slowed the fight down for a short stretch in the first, but he could only contain Dantas for so long. The champion unloaded with a left hook at the minute mark in Round 1 and was ahead after five minutes.
Any hopes for Galvao washed away early in the second. Dantas targeted the head, body and legs, with all manner of strikes, and there wasn't much that could be done about it. At least not the way "Dudu" put attacks together to that point.
When a high kick slammed into Galvao's head, Dantas went for the finish, smartly picking his shots until a picture-perfect uppercut floored his teammate. Dantas unloaded three hammerfists and Galvao appeared to go limp before the referee stepped in.
Cramer wins in wild fight
Judges saw it unanimously for Cramer (30-27, 29-28, 29-28), who advanced to face Brett Cooper in the round of four.
There was no feeling-out process. The opening 30 seconds revealed haymakers and power punches from Rogers, and an equal response from Cramer. Rogers appeared to have an early grappling edge after he beautifully twisted and turned Cramer to the canvas, but the 27-year-old American Top Team product reversed his heavy-hitting opponent into top position.
This sort of exchange happened several times throughout the fight.
Rogers did his best work in Round 2, evening up two of the judges' cards thanks to a strong start. Cramer attempted to rally with a takedown and good work from top control, but Rogers popped to his feet in the last 30 seconds of the second and sealed the round after a heavy exchange.
The third was wild.
Cramer opened with a meaningful counter-right, moved inside where he connected again and appeared to be able to move Rogers around the cage. But the 28-year-old "Professional Predator" was unrelenting with power shots, missing some spectacular uppercuts and straights in combination. The signal was clear, though, as Rogers wasn't going to go down doing anything but swinging.
Cooper dominates Paraisy
Cooper's pressure and wrestling ability forced Paraisy to compete most of the 15-minute contest from his back, where he hung around but did little else.
Paraisy touched Cooper with leather in the first minute, and the 25-year-old Californian responded by pressing inside and finishing several hard takedowns.
The French fighter could not counter Cooper's grappling, and repeatedly found himself elevated before being slammed to the canvas. Cooper really dialed it up in the second round, securing dominant positions while hurting Paraisy (10-3-1) with a series of rights and lefts from top control. Despite the one-sided nature of the contest, Cooper didn't come close finishing Paraisy. Coasting through an easy third, Cooper took his fifth consecutive victory.
Marshall stops Spang in Round 1
"I felt it solid," said Marshall, who turned 37 last week. "It was a great punch. Andreas is an excellent striker. Really, really tough. Really strong guy. The bottom line is you mess with 'The Rhino,' you get the horn."
Spang backed Marshall up with a counter-right in the first minute of the fight, but the Californian pressed the action when he could, which was most of the time.
After referee Dan Miragliotta restarted action in the center of the cage following a dead-locked clinch near the fence, Marshall (16-6) and Spang (8-3) unleashed power shots. A right hand to the jaw sent Spang tumbling to the canvas while Marshall turned his back and walked away. Spang, 34, appeared able to fight on as he sat up and leaned forward, but Miragliotta saw enough and called a halt to the contest.
"I think I sent out the message that [the semifinalists] better work on their wrestling, [and just] leave the striking to me," Marshall said.
Aliev to semifinals
Aliev, 28, was up 20-18 after two rounds thanks to sneaky right hands and the ability to handle Parlo in the clinch. Several times Aliev locked up and tripped Parlo to the canvas, though Aliev did not inflict any sort damage on his European counterpart.
Parlo made it a fight in Round 3, especially in the last 90 seconds after a swift kick to Aliev's liver prompted the Russian to his back.
Parlo remained on top until the final bell but failed to find the stoppage he needed.