This report contains details of what happened at Bellator 262. You can watch the entire event again on BBC iPlayer (UK only) here.
Undefeated flyweight champion Juliana Velasquez registered the first defence of her title at Bellator 262 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, but her first victory as champion was anything but easy.
Velasquez, 34, endured a tough opening round against Denise Kielholtz, then had to fight off the back foot as her Dutch challenger poured on the pressure in the championship rounds.
But Velasquez’s work behind her southpaw jab was deemed enough to earn a split-decision victory on the scorecards with scores of 48-47 47-48 48-47 in her favour.
Former Brazilian national judo champion Velasquez had promised to stand and trade with Kielholtz, who had previously captured world titles in both kickboxing and Muay Thai during her combat sports career.
But it was Kielholtz, 32, who looked the better striker in round one as she scored consistently with multi-punch combinations, while the champion struggled to counter the Dutch contender’s speed.
Velasquez regrouped and used her southpaw jab to good effect in rounds two and three to gain a foothold in the contest.
And, despite Kielholtz’s high-pressure approach to the final two rounds, the judges preferred Velasquez’s more methodical striking to the challenger’s rapid-fire blitzing style as the Brazilian extended her perfect professional record to 12-0.
Velasquez’s victory was not well received by the crowd in the arena, whose boos showed they clearly thought the challenger had done enough to win.
But the Brazilian said she was happy with her performance after retaining the title by the slimmest of margins.
“First of all, I am very thankful to be here, because here is where I won my belt and now I’ve got my first title defence,” she said.
“I believe I had a lot of success with my jab but I had a hard time with my straight right. So things didn’t go exactly like I wanted, but I am really happy with how I performed, and the result.
“Most of my fights I’m doing the pressuring, but I showed here that I can fight on the outside as well and withstand the pressure, and I think that’s what also makes a champion.”
Velasquez then addressed the question of who she is most likely to face in her next title defence, and the unbeaten champion offered a couple of potential options, including a match-up against the woman she defeated to win the belt, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane.
“There are two people that I think could get the title shot next,” she said.
“The first one would be Ilima-Lei, and the other would be Liz Carmouche. She said I haven’t made some pretty fights, so I would like to show that to her.”
Fortune cashes in with quickfire finish
In the night’s co-main event bout, Tyrell Fortune scored a first-round finish against former UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione, but the finish was tinged with controversy.
Former collegiate wrestling standout Fortune, 31, shot in for a powerful takedown as he drove Mitrione into the canvas. But, once the pair hit the mat, Mitrione instantly complained about a clash of heads.
Despite his complaints, the bout was allowed to continue and Fortune eventually forced the stoppage with a flurry of ground strikes at the one minute 45 second mark as he claimed the first-round finish to extend his winning streak to three in a row.
After his victory, Fortune called for a rematch with the only man to defeat him – Tim Johnson, who knocked him out at Bellator 239 in February 2020.
Mattos makes his mark
Matheus Mattos served notice to the rest of the stacked bantamweight division with an impressive second-round TKO finish of former collegiate wrestler Cee Jay Hamilton.
Last December, Mattos’ Bellator debut had ended in a unanimous decision defeat by highly touted Russian contender Magomed Magomedov.
But the 29-year-old from Natal, Brazil delivered an eye-catching performance to see off fellow Magomedov victim Hamilton in the second round.
Mattos’ intensity and power were on display in the opening exchanges as he dropped Hamilton in the first 30 seconds of the fight.
But the Pitbull Brothers team member stayed calm and continued to pick and choose his moments as he scored regularly throughout the round.
Mattos then finished the job in round two as he followed up a right uppercut with a well-placed left hand to drop Hamilton again. But this time the Brazilian would not let the American off the hook, as a salvo of ground strikes forced the stoppage after one minute 33 seconds.
Best of the rest…
Australian featherweight contender Arlene Blencowe showcased her patience and striking skills in her third-round TKO against Brazil’s Dayana Silva.
Blencowe has fought for the 145-pound title twice before, and the number two-ranked contender made sure that she remains in the mix for a third shot at the gold with a well-paced performance to secure her 14th career victory.
Blencowe outstruck Silva in each of the first two rounds, then loaded up on her punches to score the third-round stoppage one minute into the final frame to keep her firmly in the championship picture.
In the opening main card bout of the night, unbeaten number five-ranked middleweight contender Johnny Eblen continued his good form with a unanimous decision victory over Travis Davis.
Eblen held the upper hand in all three rounds as he secured a shutout victory on the scorecards, then called for a bout against Conor McGregor’s SBG Dublin teammate Charlie Ward.