Gegard Mousasi tops Lyoto Machida via split decision at Bellator 228

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- It took Gegard Mousasi five years, but he finally got his revenge on Lyoto Machida.

Mousasi, one of the world's best MMA middleweights, beat Machida via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27) in the main event of Bellator 228 on Saturday night at The Forum. It was a rematch of a 2014 bout in the UFC won by Machida. Mousasi had long clamored for a second fight, accusing Machida of using performance-enhancing drugs and greasing himself up for the fight.

Machida, a former UFC light heavyweight champion, hung on to a very good guillotine choke submission over the final 20 seconds, but Mousasi was able to gut it out until the final bell for the victory in a very close contest. Despite some bad blood over the years, the two embraced and chatted in the cage afterward.

"The guillotine was tight, but nothing I would have tapped for," Mousasi said in his postfight interview.

The bout was tactical and methodical, which isn't unexpected from two of the most strategic and technical fighters in the middleweight division. Mousasi landed a good right hand on Machida in the first and blitzed his way in for a combination in the second. Machida landed good leg kicks throughout.

In the third round, Mousasi landed a nice left hook and then took Machida off his feet with a leg kick. In the final minutes, Machida landed a left head kick, but Mousasi had the presence to trip Machida to the mat by grabbing his leg. Mousasi was in top position for the rest of the fight, though Machida threatened with the guillotine choke.

"He's a crafty guy," Mousasi said. "I had to fight this way. I couldn't take a lot of rest. I neutralized him. I had to fight like this."

Mousasi (46-7-2) bounced back after losing the Bellator middleweight title to Rafael Lovato Jr. in June. Mousasi said he "100 percent" wanted a rematch with Lovato next. The 34-year-old Netherlands resident is ranked No. 9 among middleweight fighters in ESPN's rankings.

Machida (26-9) had won four straight fights coming in, including his final two in UFC before leaving as a free agent for Bellator in 2018. The Brazilian karate fighter knocked out Chael Sonnen in his previous bout in June. Machida, 41, is a multiple-time UFC title challenger and mainstay in two UFC divisions. He's probably a future UFC Hall of Famer.

The Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix quarterfinals were also decided Saturday night.

Patricio Freire, who is defending his featherweight title throughout the tournament, defeated Juan Archuleta by unanimous decision (49-46, 50-45, 49-46) to advance and keep his belt. A.J. McKee ripped off the third-fastest knockout in Bellator history, stopping Georgi Karakhanyan in eight seconds to reach the final eight. Also earning a spot in the quarterfinals with victories were former Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell and Daniel Weichel.

The first half of the grand prix first round was held earlier this month. At the conclusion of the remaining four first-round fights Saturday, the eight athletes who made it to the quarterfinals took part in a unique selection show. A lottery determined the order of who would choose when (and in some cases, who) they would fight next, beginning with whoever picked No. 1.

McKee got the first pick and chose to fight in December. Freire got the final pick but was given a "champ's choice," and he shook up the bracket, deciding to fight Pedro Carvalho and sending Caldwell to fight Adam Borics in January 2020.

After the selection show, the tournament quarterfinals schedule ended up as:

December 2019: McKee vs. Derek Campos

January 2020: Borics vs. Caldwell

February 2020: Weichel vs. Emmanuel Sanchez

March 2020: Freire vs. Carvalho (for the featherweight title)

In the yet-to-be-scheduled semifinals later in 2020, the winner of McKee vs. Campos and the winner of Borics vs. Caldwell will meet. And the Weichel vs. Sanchez winner will face the Freire vs. Carvalho winner.