Bellator: the Gladiators of the 21st Century

Posted February 26, 2013 in
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Rad Martinez prepared physically and mentally for his match with Shahbulat Shamhalaev. Photo: Bellator MMA

The crowd at the Maverick Center is on their feet, chanting “U-S-A” in unison, spotlights circle the room, and the tension is palpable. Then with a collective gasp and a wave of the referee’s hand, it’s all over. Countless hours, mentally and physically preparing for this fight and it’s over, two minutes and 45 seconds into the second round. Fighters, bull riders and Olympians recognize this fleeting moment when history claims the winners and the losers. In this case the winner is the Russian fighter, Shahbulat Shamhalaev, and the unlucky one is Utah’s own Rad Martinez.  If you had asked me two weeks ago about the Bellator Featherweight Championship Tournament, my eyes would have glossed over like I’d taken a spinning back fist to the face, but after interviewing our home boy and hearing his amazing story, I was invested. When I interviewed Martinez pre-fight, we talked about what the $1,000,000 prize money and what it would do for him and his new fiancé, how this title shot had been rescheduled, leaving speculation and anxiousness on the part of both fighters. The fight might not have taken that long, but the work leading up to it took years. 

The evening built itself up over hours, beginning with several un-televised, preliminary fights, which included several Utah boys.  In the Bantamweight Qualifier, Travis Marx fought long and hard to complete three, five-minute rounds, winning by technique. Shannon Slack defeated Josh Tyler in the Featherweight Feature fight, using a Peruvian neck tie move, which I can only describe as a 145-pound human pretzel wrapped abound your neck. Ben Saunders gave the crowd the first big knockout of the night with a kick to Raul Amaya’s face, two minutes into their round. Amaya never saw it coming—one minute, he was fighting, and the next minute, he was out cold, with visions of doughnuts and ice cream cones dancing in his head. ’Cause it only makes sense you’d dream of things like that after being so healthy leading up to the fight, right? 
 
The knockout and submissions got more intense as the night progressed, and so did the personalities. Jacob “The Psycho” Noe from Tennessee came out wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask, which might scare the kiddies, but did nothing for Russian Mikhail Zayatas, who beat the crazy out of Noe in the first 3:38 of their round with the Arm Band move, leaving Noe with two options: submit or leave with the broken arm. 
 
Along with the spectacular came the emotional: In the introduction to the Bryan Baker and Douglas Lima match, we learn that Baker is in remission from leukemia and has a beautiful wife and baby boy waiting for him at home, and that Lima has his first child on the way. But then, the men bump fists and it’s time to deal some pain. Lima takes the win, dealing out a powerful blow to Bakers chin, rendering him senseless in the first round. 
 
By far, the biggest “shock” and “ah” was dealt by Emanuel Newton to the favored King Mo with the aforementioned Spinning Back Fist. The chances of landing a spinning back fist are rare, not to mention having your opponent drop his guard at just the right moment that you can deal it with enough power that he instantly collapses. Replay after replay hasn’t worn the shock off—it’s impressive every time! 
 
All this excitement and we’re not even to the main event. It’s understandable why the crowd is so amped up—the fights up to this point have been very dynamic, and now our home boy is coming out to fight this arrogant Russian, who not only calls out our boy, he mocks the fans and works everyone into a rage. 
 
Round One: Martinez takes it to the floor; in pre-match interviews Martinez conceded that he didn’t have the kick boxing skills that Shahbulat is known for, but if he could get him to the floor, he could hold him, which is exactly what he did for over a minute in the first round. 
 
Round Two is a blur, the volume at the Maverik center is deafening, and I myself am screaming, “Get him—take him down! I feel like I’m watching a scene from the 1987 Arnold Schwarzengeer movie, Running Man (which, if you have’t seen it, I highly recommend doing so because it’s pretty awesome). They sentence people to die via a gladiator game show. Round Two, 2:05: After taking a few jabs, Martinez wavers and the Russian goes in for the knockout, and it’s all over. 
 
Feeling deflated, my friends and I move to exit. The charge we collectively created is still lingering in the room, but has nothing to affix itself to, until a very drunk man on our row stands up and punches my best friend’s brother in-law, who is also a fighter—not for sport and not very smart. He probably didn't count on the fact he just threw a punch in the middle of Orem Pit Elevated Crew, which Martinez belongs to. Within seconds, he's surrounded. After struggling for another second and trying to throw another punch, the crew has him off his feet, wrapped up like a burrito and hauled off to security.
 
I learned a lot about MMA that night. I have a huge respect for someone who works that hard and puts themselves out there, willing to take the chance that they could fail in front of millions of people, and it must be hard to control yourself in crowds of belligerent people when you know you could drop anyone of them—ah, but where’s the sport in that?  
 
Bellator Season 8 is seen on Spike TV, April 4. Tune in for Featherweight World Championship with Pat Curran taking on Daniel Straus.
Photos:
Rad Martinez prepared physically and mentally for his match with Shahbulat Shamhalaev. Photo: Bellator MMA The jeering Shamhalaev (L) beat Martinez (R) in Round Two of their matchup. Photo: Bellator MMA