Joe Warren became the first two-division champion in Bellator history on Friday night, edging out Rafael Silva at Bellator 118 to claim a unanimous decision win along with the promotion's interim bantamweight strap, although it didn't come easy.
A former Bellator featherweight champ, Warren (11-3) lost the first two rounds to Silva (21-4) by a wide margin as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" ate hard right uppercut after hard right uppercut attempting to wade into the clinch. One particularly flush shot put Warren on wobbly legs midway through the opening frame, however the 37-year-old managed to capitalize on a Silva slip and ride out the round in top position.
From there though, Warren's cardio and determination won out. The accomplished wrestler rallied to grind out Silva for the final three rounds with a steady procession of takedowns and smothering top control, although he dodged a bullet when referee Gasper Oliver elected not to take a point for an illegal knee in the fifth round.
All three judges scored the contest 48-47, awarding Warren the Bellator interim bantamweight title while reigning champion Eduardo Dantas recovers from a head injury sustained in training.
"Hats off to [Silva]. Unbelievable fighter," Warren said afterward. "I thought I was going to get a finish. He showed more heart than I've ever seen in this cage. So proud of myself. I don't even know what to say, man."
In the night's co-main event, it took Andrey Koreshkov (15-1) less than two minutes to systematically destroy Justin Baesman (14-5-1), who filled in as a last-second replacement for Sam Oropeza after the welterweight tournament semifinalist missed weight on Thursday.
Koreshkov started strong, chipping away with thudding low kicks and right hands over the top, before putting Baesman on the defensive with a lunging left hook to the liver. Baesman reeled back to the fence and the Russian caught him flush on the jaw with a gorgeous flying knee. Baesman instantly dropped, but Koreshkov blasted him with one more swooping right hand for good measure.
The official time of the stoppage came at 1:41 of the opening frame. With the win, Koreshkov advances to fight Adam McDonough in this season's welterweight tournament final.
"I did everything my coach told me," Koreshkov said through a translator. "I heard him telling me go to the body, so I did and it worked out well."
Elsewhere on the card, Marcos Galvao (16-6-1) earned his third consecutive win, stifling previously undefeated Thomas Vasquez (7-1) with his suffocating mat control to take to a unanimous judges' decision. Galvao scored takedowns in all three rounds, but he really turned it on late, securing Vasquez's back, sinking in a body triangle and relentlessly hunting for a rear-naked choke for a majority of the final frame.
All three judges scores it 30-27 in Galvao's favor.
In the night's televised opener, Liam McGeary (7-0) showed once again why he's one of Bellator's most promising light heavyweight prospects. The 31-year-old Englishman knocked Mike Mucitelli (6-1, 1 NC) out cold with a monstrous counter left hook just 22 seconds into the opening round to stay undefeated and advance into the semifinal round of Bellator's Summer Series 205-pound tournament.
"I feel awesome, man. I'm just ready to carry on going," said McGeary, who's now 4-0 in Bellator with four first-round finishes. "One down, two to go"