Jessie Riggleman earned the upset and biggest career win Saturday in Canton. | Photo: Keith Mills

CANTON, Ohio -- Taking a bout on less than two weeks notice usually is a detriment to a fighter once he steps into the cage. It proved not to be the case for Virginian bantamweight Jessie Riggleman, who upset Farkhad Sharipov to headline the Bellator 51 undercard at the Canton Civic Center.

Riggleman’s wrestling proved superior to the accomplished Kyrgyz grappler to work to his advantage, stifling Sharipov and winning a split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29) over the Orlando, Fla., standout.

“I watched a little bit of footage on him and saw he had a wrestling background,” Riggleman told after the fight. “He was mediocre kind of take you down, lay on top of you and grind you out. [He] didn’t do a whole lot. I knew what I had to go in there and I did it.”

The MMA Institute bantamweight trains with the likes of gritty brothers Kyle and Beau Baker, amassing a record of 11-2. Known for their work in the cage, “The Mountain Man” credits the team for his success against Sharipov, who had won 10 of his previous 11 bouts.

Keith Mills

Riggleman's aggression paid off.

“I got all different kinds of bodies to train with,” Riggleman explained. “All different levels of guys come in. I mean anybody is willing to come in any time of the day or night to train with you and help you out. These past two weeks I had to train and the gym wouldn’t be open and guys would say, ‘Yeah, we’ll come in and help you out and do whatever we can do for you to get you ready.’”

Riggleman and Sharipov traded tit-for-tat in the wrestling department and on the feet. However, Riggleman was able to take the back and threaten with guillotines and was the aggressor on the feet. His greater offense earned him scorecards of 30-27 and 29-28 from judges John Beltz and Darren Austin. Dissenting judge Mike Barry saw it 29-28 Sharipov.

On a night that also featured the beginning of Bellator's Season 5 bantamweight tournament, Riggleman was understandably extra excited about what constitutes the biggest win of his career.

“Hopefully this gets me into the tournament. I don’t want to wish bad on anybody getting hurt but that would be great to get in that tournament and get a chance to win on that top level,” said Riggleman.

Keith Mills

Spohn only needed 9 seconds.

The highlight of the undercard, however, belonged to undefeated Zanesville, Ohio, light heavyweight prospect Dan Spohn, who turned in a "Knockout of the Year" contender just nine seconds into his bout with Dane Bonnigson.

The bell rang, the two touched gloves and Spohn connected with a huge left knee, knocking Bonnigson out cold. The sensational KO moved the Jorge Gurgel-trained Spohn to 6-0 with three stoppages in his young career.

“I did exactly what I wanted to,” Spohn told “My coach and boxing coach deserve all the credit. We did the exact game plan we wanted and it worked out perfectly.”

Local favorite Jessica Eye took a well-earned split decision over The Pit's Casey Noland. Only the final frame was truly competitive, as Noland got through Eye's more accurate and frequent punches and kicks and was able to clinch her along the fence. However, even inside, the Independence, Ohio, native landed the more powerful strikes.

Judges Mike Barry and Darren Austin both had it 29-28 for Eye, while John Beltz figured it 29-28 Noland. The split decision moved the 25-year-old Eye's pro MMA mark to 4-1.

K. Mills

Jessica Eye earned a W in front of her
Ohio faithful.

In a co-promoted featherweight contest, Cleveland's Frank Caraballo earned the North American Allied Fight Series interim featherweight title after opponent Dustin Kempf suffered a knee injury. Following an early scramble, Caraballo landed a volley of punches that put Kempf down awkwardly on the canvas, prompting an immediate stoppage by referee Mark Matheny just 79 seconds into the first round.

At 205 pounds, Strong Style Fight Team's “Big” John Hawk punished Allan Weickert for two full rounds. Hawk stalked Weickert around the cage, landing punches and knees at will. The only deviation from this pattern was in the second round, when referee Mark Matheny deducted Hawk a point for a knee to the groin of Weickert.

However, when the bout resumed, the 31-year-old Hawk got on top of Weickert and punched and elbowed him even further into a bloody mess, prompting the Tiffin, Ohio, native to quit following the second frame.

In the evening's opener, East Liverpool, Ohio, native Joey Bernard Holt overcame early domination by lightweight opponent Clint Musser to land a fight-ending knee at 4:07 of the first round. After repeated Musser takedowns, Holt escaped to his feet and loaded up on a jumping knee when his foe shot again and finished the fight in dramatic fashion.

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