LONDON -- Rafael Lovato Jr. pulled off a major upset in the main event of Bellator 223 in London on Saturday, defeating Gegard Mousasi by majority decision (47-47, 48-47, 48-47) to become the new Bellator middleweight champion.
The fourth-degree jiu-jitsu black belt and multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion started and finished the fight strong, out-grappling Mousasi (45-7-2) for long-enough periods to extend his undefeated streak to 10-0 and leave Wembley Arena with the championship.
The London crowd were fully behind 54-fight veteran Mousasi, whose defensive skills were tested throughout the contest, and though he was able to stuff a number of takedown attempts by his challenger, the Dutchman found himself frequently up against the cage, fighting Lovato's hands or underneath the American, fending off submission attempts.
After two impressive rounds for Lovato, 35, Mousasi appeared exhausted, but "The Dreamcatcher" summoned the strength to strike his way back into the fight, cutting his opponent open from the top in the third round, leading the right side of the challenger's face to swell. Lovato survived, but the momentum had begun to swing, and Mousasi finally found sustained success on the feet in the fourth round, dropping his opponent with a one-two along the cage midway through the round. By now, the side of Lovato's face that wasn't swollen was smeared with blood, and it was the challenger who appeared fatigued, while Mousasi was buoyed by a second wind.
Many in attendance will have felt that the middleweights entered the final round with the judges' scorecards tied at two rounds apiece, with both men needing to impress to clinch the victory. Despite Mousasi's vast experience advantage, it was Lovato who was able to impose himself, forcing the champion to the mat and taking the 33-year-old's back as the round wore on. Though the American was unable to secure the rear-naked choke he sought, he had done enough to convince two of the three judges in London that he should leave the capital with the middleweight title.
"We did it," the tearful new champion said. "I want to thank Mousasi for the opportunity.
"I know everyone was here cheering for him," Lovato Jr. continued. "[But] you guys are here sharing the greatest moment of my life with me."
The 'Jimmy show' comes to London as James Gallagher edges Jeremiah Labiano
James Gallagher made it back-to-back wins in 2019 with a unanimous decision victory (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) against Jeremiah "The Kid" Labiano in a 140-pound catchweight bout.
Chants of "Ole" rang round Wembley Arena as Gallagher controlled Labiano (12-7) in the clinch against the cage early on, with "The Strabanimal" soon tripping his American opponent to the delight of the London fans. Gallagher remained in control for the majority of the first round but didn't advance his position much or threaten "The Kid" with any substantial submission attempts or strikes.
In the second round, Gallagher showed off some crisp striking in the early moments, but in a later exchange, Labiano appeared to catch the 22-year-old with an elbow, forcing the Irishman to dive for a single-leg takedown.
Labiano ended up on top, however, and in the following period looked for a submission, happy to roll with Gallagher where the Irishman is at his most dangerous. Labiano landed some heavy strikes and finished the round on top, with the fight feeling as though it was in the balance heading into the final round.
Having overcome some adversity in the second round, Gallagher was clinical in securing an early takedown in the third, but Labiano, 32, showed composure to again position himself on top of Gallagher, finishing the round as he had ended the second.
After a notable delay, the judges' scores were announced, confirming that Gallagher had achieved a narrow victory to improve his record to 9-1.
'Semtex' explodes with thrilling win over Erick Silva
Paul Daley picked up a vital win on Saturday night, defeating Erick Silva via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27) with a performance full of highlight-reel moments.
Daley (41-17-2) stalked Silva (20-11-1) early on, landing some stinging body kicks before being taken down at the two-minute mark. Silva controlled his fellow welterweight on the ground for the remainder of the round, eventually taking Daley's back but failing to secure a choke before the buzzer sounded.
The second round produced drama from the offset, as "Semtex" blasted his Brazilian opponent with a series of destructive strikes, including a spinning elbow and a jumping front kick. Silva was just about able to cling to consciousness, but Daley maintained the pressure, rocking the Brazilian with heavy hooks to the head and body against the cage.
The Englishman then dropped Silva with a fierce uppercut in the clinch, and many in attendance inside Wembley Arena thought referee Mike Beltran would stop the action as Daley poured on the ground-and-pound.
Silva again survived, however, and the contest somehow had a third round. That only meant more time for Daley to cause Silva pain, though, as the 36-year-old stunned his opponent -- who had celebrated his 35th birthday the day before -- with left hooks throughout the round.
To his credit, Silva was able to secure another takedown in the final minutes of the fight, but Daley found his feet in time to try some flashy, cartwheel kicks in the closing seconds. None landed, but enough damage had been done, and "Semtex" secured an important win after back-to-back points losses to Michael "Venom" Page and Jon Fitch. The victory was Daley's first since September 2017, when he knocked out Lorenz Larkin in San Jose, California.
Not a lethal performance from 'The Assassin', but a comfortable win
There was a lot of feinting from the two middleweights at the start of the first round, before Edwards caught Bosuku (7-5) with a well-timed punch in close that sent the Frenchman tumbling. Edwards followed it up with a flying knee at high velocity against the cage, but Bosuku was able to find some space and press on, seemingly untroubled.
Before long, Edwards landed a clean head kick -- something he'd promised all week would finish Bosuku -- but the Parisian again remained composed, even landing some solid strikes in return.
A lack of action in the second round drew sustained whistles from the London crowd, and Edwards struggled again to impose himself for much of the third round. Edwards was never in danger, however, and as the fight neared its conclusion, the 26-year-old landed another head kick, wobbling Bosuku.
As Edwards went in for the kill, Bosuku was able to push his opponent to the ground and gain top position. The Frenchman failed to mount any sort of attack to worry Edwards, though, and stood up to end the round, with Edwards taunting Bosuku by feinting the upkicks that earned "The Assassin" his last win, against Falco Neto Lopes in May.
It wasn't the dominant victory Edwards had promised, but it was a comfortable win over a tidy opponent.
'The Joker' becomes the choker with a submission victory
Former reality TV star Aaron Chalmers, coming off of his first career loss -- a third-round submission defeat to Corey Browning in Newcastle in February -- picked up a big win as he submitted Fred Freeman with a second-round triangle choke.
A nervy start to the 160-pound catchweight bout gave way to a clinch along the cage, with the two opponents exchanging positions. There was little movement from either man, but eventually, Chalmers (5-1) was able to catch Freeman (2-3) with an elbow as the pair separated.
Chalmers followed that shot with a precise uppercut as he rushed "The Demon," and before long, he was maintaining a dominant position.
In the second round, the two men found themselves in the same situation, but a lack of action drew the ire of the London faithful, and referee Keith Peterson decided to stand up both fighters.
The fight was destined to be contested on the mat, though, and it was there that Chalmers ultimately secured the victory with a triangle choke -- marking the Newcastle native's third submission win -- as Freeman tapped out with 55 seconds remaining in the round.
Welterweight: Oliver Enkamp (8-2) def. Walter Gahadza (18-4) by first-round submission (rear-naked choke, 4:54)
Middleweight: Costello van Steenis (12-1) def. Mike Shipman (13-2) by second-round KO (punches, 1:34)
Featherweight: Luke Ord (8-2-1) def. Nathan Rose (7-2) by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-25)
Lightweight: Alfie Davies (12-3) def. Jorge Kanella (8-8, 1 NC) by unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
Welterweight: Justin Burlinson (5-0) def. Wendle Lewis (8-5) by first-round verbal submission (0:09)
Middleweight: Kevin Fryer (7-3) def. John Redmond (7-14) by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) Bantamweight: Frans Mlambo (7-4) def. Nathan Greyson (6-4) by second-round submission (d'arce choke, 4:22)