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Phil Davis and Ryan Bader’s rematch looked a lot like the first time they fought two years ago under a different promotional banner. And once again, Bader got the scorecard nod.

After five rounds of workmanlike action, Bader (23-5 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) to take the Bellator light heavyweight title from Davis (17-4 MMA, 4-1 BMMA) via split decision in his promotional debut.

The light heavyweight title bout closed out the Bellator 180 portion of today’s Bellator NYC event at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It aired on Spike following additional prelims on MMAjunkie and ahead of the main card on pay-per-view.

The final scorecards were 49-46 twice for Bader and 48-47 for Davis, reflecting a bout that was tough to score. Both fighters had their moments throughout the fight, and it appeared Davis had the early edge in volume. But Bader’s late fight surge may have swayed the scores, as he came on strong in the fifth and final round, landing several big punches.

Davis worked the legs early with kicks and tried bait Bader into a takedown, a strategy that didn’t put him in top position. Bader kept a steady jab and tried to set up for his big right hand, only to miss most of them.

As with the first bout, which took place at UFC on FOX 14 in 2015, the light heavyweight veterans never really got out of second gear, and the audience let them know.

Davis had his best round in the third, landing a superman punch and left hook that stunned Bader. But by the fourth round, referee Dan Miragliotta issued a stern warning, telling both, “You’ve got to give the judges something to judge. You’re getting paid to fight.”

Bader seemed to sense he wasn’t making a big enough impression and closed into punching distance with Davis in the final frame, landing several big punches. But neither he or Davis was able to land that one decisive shot, and eventually the two settled in to the rhythm they’d set early in the night.

Despite the lackluster outing, Bader, who defected earlier this year to Bellator from the UFC, picks up a huge career accolade and extends his current win streak to three, while Davis gives up the best just seven months after taking it from Liam McGeary.

Up-to-the-minute Bellator NYC results include:

  • Ryan Bader def. Phil Davis via split decision (49-46, 47-48, 49-46) – to win light heavyweight title
  • James Gallagher def. Chinzo Machida via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 2:22
  • Heather Hardy def. Alice Yauger via TKO (punches) – Round 3, 4:47
  • Ryan Couture def. Haim Gozali via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
  • Bradley Desir def. Nate Grebb via knockout (punch) – Round 1, 2:54
  • Anthony Giacchina def. Jerome Mickle via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 3, 3:40
  • Matt Rizzo def. Sergio da Silva via submission (arm-triangle choke) – Round 3, 3:48
  • Hugh McKenna def. John Salgado via submission (kimura) – Round 1, 4:06

For complete coverage of Bellator NYC and Bellator 180, check out the MMA Events section of the site.

(MMAjunkie’s Matt Erickson and Mike Bohn contributed to this report on site in New York.)

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