Saturday, January 22, 2022

Best of Bellator MMA in 2021: Paul Daley vs. Sabah Homasi earns nod as Fight of the Year

Nearly 200 fights went down inside the Bellator cage in 2021, providing plenty of opportunity for explosive action. Of course, every year has its iconic fights and this year was no different. From wild back-and-forth brawls to technical masterpieces, there was plenty to like for MMA fans of all stripes.

The year had so many good fights, in fact, that when the CBS Sports panel of experts sat down to debate and vote on Bellator’s best fight of the year, there were eight different fights securing at least one vote as being in the top five for the year.

Let’s take a look at what fights came out on top.

Winner: Paul Daley vs. Sabah Homasi, Bellator 257

More than 60 fights into his professional MMA career, Paul Daley is still thrilling fans with wild performances. However, Daley’s showing against Sabah Homasi may be the most exciting of his career. The fight already had plenty of spice before the opening bell sounded, with bad blood from a past run-in at a hotel lobby that also involved UFC star Dustin Poirier. While fights involving bad blood don’t always result in in-cage thrillers, Daley and Homasi threw shots with bad intentions from the jump.

Homasi stung Daley badly in the opening seconds of the fight, sending Daley tumbling to the canvas twice. Daley survived the opening flurry and began firing his own punches back in a wild first round. In the second, Daley dropped Homasi with a right hand and then again with a brutal left hook before finishing the fight with strikes on the ground in what turned out to be the best Bellator clash of the year.

Runner-up: Raufeon Stots vs. Magomed Magomedov, Bellator 264

Where Daley vs. Homasi was a wild brawl, Stots vs. Magomedov was a much more technical battle, with fun exchanges both on the feet and on the ground. Magomedov wanted the fight on the floor, which allowed Stots to engage freely on his feet before surprising his opponent with a few takedowns of his own. Stots would show that he was not only better on the feet, but also on the ground, continually reversing positions when Magomedov scored with takedowns and even coming close to finishing the fight with a rear-naked choke in the third round. The end result was a unanimous decision win for Stots, and a fight that received praise from fight fans and fellow fighters.

After the fight, Stots called for a title shot before throwing out a suggestion that Bellator put together a Bantamweight World Grand Prix. Bellator would do just that, with the tournament set to begin in 2022. Among the crowded tournament field in Bellator’s deepest division? Raufeon Stots. Just where he wanted to be.

Third place: Anthony Johnson vs. Jose Augusto, Bellator 258

Anthony “Rumble” Johnson’s return to the cage after more than four years out of action was wild even before the event started. Originally scheduled to face fellow UFC veteran Yoel Romero, Johnson instead ended up in the cage with late replacement Jose Augusto. Augusto rocked and then dropped Johnson in the opening round, coming just moments away from a shocking upset victory. Not closing the show proved disastrous for Augusto as Johnson landed an absolute bomb of a right hand that knocked Augusto out cold to advance in the Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix. Unfortunately, Johnson would have to withdraw from his semifinal fight against Vadim Nemkov, but the wild win over Augusto showed Johnson still has plenty in the tank.

Other fights receiving votes: Aaron Pico vs. Aiden Lee (Bellator 260); Karl Albrektsson vs. Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov (Bellator 268); Juan Archuleta vs. Anthony Pettis (Bellator 258); Lorenz Larkin vs. Rafael Carvalho (Bellator 258)

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