Muhammed Lawal teed off on Seth Petruzelli at Bellator 96. | File Photo: Keith Mills/

Muhammed Lawal returned to his winning ways Wednesday night with a vicious knockout of Seth Petruzelli in the main event of Bellator 96 at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla.

The 95-second victory came as a result of an early takedown from Lawal, who worked his way inside of Petruzelli’s punches and kicks to put “The Silverback” on his posterior. Though Petruzelli initially did well to fire off short punches from the open guard, Lawal eventually stood up and threw his opponent’s legs to the side before raining down a wrecking ball of a right hand that instantly turned out Petruzelli’s lights. Apparently realizing the blow had accomplished its intended task, the former Strikeforce champion declined to follow up, instead walking away from his unconscious foe.

The performance grants “King Mo” passage to the Summer Series light heavyweight tournament finals, slated to take place July 31 at Bellator 97.

Noe Retires ‘Babalu’

Photo: K. Mills/

Noe's left hand battered ‘Babalu.’

Jacob Noe earned his spot in the light heavyweight tournament finals by sending Strikeforce champion Renato Sobral into retirement, though the victory was not without controversy.

Noe and Sobral exchanged relatively evenly throughout the bout’s first 10 minutes, with Noe consistently finding a home for his right straight while “Babalu” attacked with low kicks. The Brazilian attempted two takedowns but found the efforts fruitless, as the American stuffed each try. Noe then took control of the fight in round three, walking through Sobral’s long jab to land heavy right hands, staggering Sobral against the cage.

After eating an especially crisp flurry, a fatigued “Babalu” circled off the fence on wobbly legs, a sight referee Kerry Hatley interpreted as cause to halt the bout and save the light heavyweight from further punishment. Sobral immediately protested the stoppage. After Noe was announced the winner, Sobral informed the Bellator commentary team that he has decided to retire from active competition. The Brazilian leaves the cage with a career mark of 37-11.

Sparks Sparked in Half a Minute

Photo: K. Mills/

Minakov decimated Sparks in 32 seconds.

Unbeaten Russian Vitaly Minakov wasted no time in disposing of Ron Sparks to advance to the finals of the Summer Series heavyweight tournament, knocking out “The Monster” in just 32 seconds.

The sambo expert measured his foe carefully during their brief encounter before lunging forward with a sharp right hand that put Sparks on the mat. Minakov quickly pursued, connecting with a series of ground strikes that caused Sparks to turn belly-down and signaled referee John McCarthy to intervene.

Photo: K. Mills/

Controversial welterweight War Machine emerged victorious in his Bellator debut Wednesday night, returning from an 18-month layoff to stop World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Blas Avena. The man formerly known as Jon Koppenhaver appeared a step slow in the bout’s opening minutes, as he pursued Avena with punching combinations, but soon found himself caught in a Thai plum that resulted in several hard knees to the ribs.

The UFC alum found his way back on track when he hit a high-impact double-leg takedown and transitioned to side control, where he trapped Avena’s near-side arm in the crucifix position. The finish came soon after, as Avena could do nothing to stifle the onslaught of punches that followed, forcing referee Kerry Hatley to halt the bout 3:55 into round one.

“I’m happy. I’ve never won by decision. I always try to finish my fights,” said the polarizing welterweight. “I was a little nervous tonight. It was my first fight in over a year. He caught me with a couple of good body shots -- with knees -- but I came back and stayed calm. I want that belt. I’m going to hurt some people.”

No Notice, No Problem

Photo: K. Mills/

Late notice was no problem for Martinez.

Late replacement Ryan Martinez became the first heavyweight tournament participant to punch his ticket to the finals during the evening’s undercard, when the heavy-handed southpaw stopped Rich Hale with first-round strikes.

Following an extended feeling-out process, Martinez, who replaced an injured Vinicius Kappke de Queiroz in the heavyweight draw, closed the distance with a wild swing before grabbing a body lock and taking Hale to the floor. Though Hale did his best to fend off his stocky opponent with up-kicks, Martinez eventually found his mark, stunning Hale with a crisp left hook before relieving him of his consciousness with a series of clubbing hammerfists that forced referee John McCarthy to wave off the contest 2:19 into the opening frame.

Other Bouts

Photo: Keith Mills/

McNally used an old Bellator favorite,
the inverted triangle choke.

The evening’s undercard also saw Brandon Halsey extend his career unbeaten streak to four fights, as the light heavyweight recovered from a second-round low-blow to score a split decision win over Joe Yager; heavyweight talent Raphael Butler also remained undefeated, picking up a first-round technical knockout over Jeremiah O’Neal; Derek Campos edged Brandon Girtz in a unanimous decision; Damon Jackson made quick work of Keith Miner, picking up a TKO finish in just 2:00; In the evening’s opening contest, 22-year-old Justin McNally earned the second win of his pro career by submitting Steven Artoff with an inverted triangle-armbar at 2:44 of the opening round of their bantamweight affair.
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