On The Road: Bellator 239, Ruth vs. Amasov
Bellator will always hold a warm place in my heart.
I attended my very first live MMA event in Thackerville, Oklahoma some 7 years ago. On the card promoted by then young, and, growing regional promotion Bellator MMA was former top contender in the UFC’s heavyweight division Cheick Kongo. Kongo had made his debut in Bellator a month prior, and was one of the first top contenders in a weight class to leave the UFC and join Bellator. It was electrifying being in the same building as a top-level fighter. Time would pass, I would continue to be a patron of Bellator and eventually the UFC when they would come to Dallas. Eventually, my childish dreams of being a MMA Fighter would manifest into something slightly more realistic- being a combat sports journalist.
I will make the beloved trek north of the red river to attend Bellator 239, at The Winstar World Casino- a place that Bellator has visited frequently throughout the years. The drive is one that I have grown quite fond of- It’s rural Oklahoma, pretty rolling hills, lots of trees. A quaint drive, particularly in the winter.
In the past, I have made comments about the quality of cards Bellator brings to the cigarette polluted Winstar World Casino, while it is undoubtedly a great privilege to witness top-level athletes, such as Julia Budd, Emmanuel Sanchez, David Rickles, Eduardo Dantas, etc. etc. from cageside, the matchmaking has often been rather favorable for the “A-side” fighters, often times featuring them in tune-up bouts against obscure opposition.
In the case of Bellator 239, this is without a doubt, the very best lineup in terms of talent, and, in terms of matchmaking that Bellator Matchmaker Richard Chou has sent to the baron stretch of land that is Thackerville Oklahoma.
Amongst the names and accomplishments, the headlining fight features former three-time NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Champion “Easy” Ed Ruth, who is looking to make it three straight since his first professional loss against Niemen Gracie in the opening round of Bellator’s Welterweight Gran Prix in 2018. I was buzzing to see him against such a high caliber opponent such as 22-0 Yaroslav Amosov of Ukraine.
I made it to the casino around 5:50 P.M, in doing so, I of course parked on the completely opposite side of where the Global Events Center was located. You would think I would learn by now. I marched my way through about a mile of a cigarette, depression, and addiction riddled rows of slot machines and eventually claimed my credential around 6 P.M.
In the cage, former Glory Kickboxing Featherweight Champion was (from what I gather), in tough against an obscure fighter by the name TeeJay Brittion, fighting out of Joplin, Missouri, the city best known for getting leveled by an F-5 Tornado some years ago. The former kickboxing world champion fell to 1-1, after what was a rough-and-tumble affair.
Next up, an enticing fight between fellow former Glory Kickboxing champion- turned Bellator MMA fighter (and Bellator Kickboxing Featherweight Champion) Denise Kiehlotz who improved to 5-2 with a first round rear-naked-choke submission over overmatched local Oklahoman Kristina Williams.
Luckily, I made it in-time for Gaston Balanos. In all honesty, he was the thing I was most excited to see live and in-person. Balanos is best known for his ferocious striking which scored him a 4-fight win streak from 2017-2019 that saw the fighter from Peru score four consecutive (T)KO stoppages. He lost his last time out via guillotine choke, so I was curious to see how he would respond after having his momentum stolen from him. Balanos spent a majority of the first, and second round on his back- showing that he was still pretty green in that aspect of fighting. Solo Hatley Jr. seemed confident in his ability to keep the fight there. By round three, it seemed that Gaston was not only fighting Hatley Jr., but also with the clock. He was running out of time. Although he didn’t get taken down, his opponent from Arkadelphia, Arkansas won the round by controlling him against the fence. Gaston threw a late punch after the final bell that landed. He seemed to be upset with Hatley for wrestling. Hatley won by split decision.
Vinicius Zani, a product of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the bustling Brazilian regional scene was making his bellator debut after a successful run in Midwest American regional promotion LFA (Legacy Fighting Alliance), a promotion that has seen alumnus such as Derrick Lewis, Sage Northcutt, Holly Holm, and Dominick Reyes. I didn’t know much of his opponent, Josh Hill, but I suspected he was decent seeing he was 18-3, and the #3 ranked (according to tapology.com) bantamweight in Canada. Zani spent a majority of the fight waiting, it seemed as if he was worried about getting taken down. Hill seemed the much more complete individual. He won via decision.
During the fight, I received an e-mail from the Matchroom Boxing PR Team with what I was expecting to be a credential confirmation for next weeks stellar fight card in Dallas. Instead, it was a notification that they “have been heavily over-subscribed for available media seating – media that applied will receive notification by Monday afternoon.” So, three more days of grueling anticipation. However, I did receive a media schedule, so even if I don’t get a credential, expect some interviews to go up. “How great is my life?” I remarked to myself.
I was positioned behind the blue corner, cattycorner to the commentary table where Mauro Raunalo and “Big” John McCarthy were calling the fights. I enjoyed watching how their dynamic worked. My mind wondered on what it was like for Mauro and John, flying out to the middle of nowhere. Especially when both men have accomplished so much in their respective careers. I suppose Bellator cuts a pretty fat check for their services. I don’t even know where they would fly-into?
Main Card Musings:
Javy Ayala (11-7) vs. Valentin Moldaovsky (8-1)
The main card opener featured a fascinating matchup between heavyweights Javy Ayala, and Valentin Moldaovsky. The Russian, Moldaovsky, was a prohibitive favorite over the heavy-set Ayala fighting out of California. Regardless, I found this to be an interesting one on paper, Ayala proved his worth in shutting legendary heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov in 2016. Although losing his next two, he was in with stiff competition- UFC Veterans Cheick Kongo and Roy Nelson. In his last fight, he TKO’d the highly decorated former two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion (although a much fatter and older version) Frank Mir. He hasn’t fought in over a year due to health complications and issues with opponents. He finally landed back into the cage, welcoming him was a highly active, burgeoning heavyweight contender under the guidance of Fedor Emeleinako- Valentin Moldaovsky.
Round 1: The fight hardly got underway when Ayala found himself on bottom. In fact, he spent most of the round there. It was quite clear the big man who bares a body type similar to Andy Ruiz, he was out of his depth on the floor. 10-9 Moldaovsky
Round 2: Ayala again found himself helpless to takedowns and ground control. He found himself in less dangerous positions in this round- but I gather it was just the Russian conserving stamina. 10-9 Moldaovsky
Round 3: The final round came with a hopeful surprise, Moldaovsky elected to stand early much to the delight of the fans (and myself). Moldaovsky returned the fight to where he was most comfortable, dominating the fight from top position. 10-9 Moldaovsky.
Official Result: 30-25, 30-24, 30-24,- Unanimous Decision, Valentin Moldaovsky
Tyrell Fortune (8-0) vs. Tim Johnson (12-6):
Tyrell Fortune is one of Bellator’s brightest and best prospects, in eight fights, he has looked absolutely perfect, a flawless career so far, and was riding a four-fight finish streak coming into his fight with UFC Veteran Tim Johnson. Despite coming off back-to-back losses, Johnson would be the most recognizable name on Fortune’s record.
Round 1: Fortune elects to keep the fight standing, which seems to be a curious decision considering how incredible his wrestling is, even with his last few wins coming by way of knockout. He lands a hard straight right, Johnson hardly blinks. In an incredible effort, Johnson pushes Fortune who gets backed into the cage- Johnson throws a bomb of a right hook that detonates on the chin of Fortune, he’s out cold. Knocked out stiff. The violence-thirsty audience screams in adulation, PR members jump to their feet mouths open. An incredible +9000 underdog, Tim Johnson, springs one of the biggest upsets of the year. It takes Fortune multiple minuets to wake.
Official Result: Tim Johnson, Round 1, Knockout (right hook)
Co-Main Event: Myles “Fury” Jury (17-5) vs. Brandon Girtz (16-8)
Round 1: Tit-For-Tat action in the first round, the pace seems to be in favor of the tactician Myles Jury, he relegated Girtz to only fighting in spurts. Girtz ran into four knees one of which caught him on the chin. Jury was more active and more efficient. Great round. 10-9 Jury
Round 2: Girtz was able to get off an early flurry that pushed Myles Jury against the fence, Girtz landed some thudding shots (Melvin) Before scoring a takedown. the fight returns to the feet where Jury pokes Girtz eye. A long break comes and I fear the fight may get called off. Girtz claims he can continue, and Fury re-assumes control of the round. Difficult one to score. 10-9 Girtz for me.
Round 3: Dead even going into the third on my card, Girtz continues to chuck big bombs with no set-up, Jury sees them coming. Jury remains calm, picks his shots, and often doubles his punches. Jury begins to advance on Girtz, it seems he’s in full control, Jury lands a flying knee, engages a clinch, and gets a takedown. He outsmarted Girtz here. 10-9 Jury.
Official Result: 29-28 x3, Myles Jury victorious, UD.
Ed Ruth (8-1) vs. Yaroslav Amosov (22-0):
Round 1: the fight starts off with Ed Ruth shooting on Yaroslav, He gets a switch and hip tosses Ruth in a surprising turn of events. Ruth throws front kicks and leg kicks when at distance, Yaroslav returns. Ruth can’t seem to get Yaro(shortened while writing live.) down, but he does secure a clinch and seems the stronger. Yaro continues to go for hip tosses, tough round.
Round 2: headlock to open from Ruth, neither man seems to have a massive advantage over the other anywhere in the fight- but you get the feeling that Yaro has his number, he seems the quicker and more comfortable on feet. Slav goes for a takedown that gets stuffed, Ruth circles to his back, doesn’t get much done. Yaroslav takes Ruth down, but, it’s another stalemate. This fight is a tough one to score. 10-9 Yaroslav
Yaroslav punches became a little sloppy and labored in round 3, *packed my things, and got ready for post-fight interviews.*
Official Result: Yaroslav Amosov
Decision (unanimous) .
It was a fight to decide who the real top contender was in the ever-so competitive jungle of welterweight division, and, it showed. The fight was fought like a frantic chess match, each man a pro in their own right, but, Yaroslav Amosov was able to shout “checkmate” at just about every juncture. He had an answer for the takedowns, he had an answer for the clinch, and he made Ruth question if he wanted to continue on the feet. It was a brilliant performance by a hidden gem of MMA’s promotional underbelly.