France’s Cheick Kongo dramatically beat Russian Sergei Kharitonov to win the battle of the heavyweight veterans in the main event of Bellator 265.
Kongo, 46, defeated Kharitonov, 41, via submission in the final second of round two at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
In the co-main event, home favourite Logan Storley scored a split-decision win against welterweight Dante Schiro.
There were also wins for Marcelo Golm and Jornel Lugo.
Kongo rallies late
When the bout started, Kharitonov immediately forced a tentative Kongo to retreat towards the fence as he stalked the Frenchman around the cage throughout the opening round.
‘The Paratrooper’ briefly dropped Kongo with a straight shot and had him in trouble in the closing seconds of the round as the 46-year-old showed signs of distress early on.
Kongo started to fire back with shots of his own in round two, but Kharitonov kept the pressure on as he stuffed Kongo’s takedown attempts and punished him with heavy shots to the head and body.
But, after finding himself on the receiving end for a round and a half, Kongo suddenly exploded into life mid-way through the second round as he dramatically turned the bout in his favour.
Kongo hammered Kharitonov with heavy strikes, then took him powerfully to the canvas.
Then, with Kharitonov trapped and unable to escape, the Frenchman poured on the pressure with ground strikes before taking the Russian’s back and locking up a rear-naked choke which forced the Russian to tap with one second left in the round.
The victory – the 31st of Kongo’s 44-fight MMA career – saw him return to the win column after he was defeated by Tim Johnson in the main event in his native Paris last October.
Storley grinds out win
In the co-main event of the evening, South Dakota’s Storley bounced back from his first career defeat to score a split-decision victory in his home state.
Number-five-ranked welterweight contender Storley lost a split decision to Yaroslav Amosov last November before the Ukrainian moved on to capture the Bellator welterweight title.
But the 28-year-old American returned to winning ways as he outwrestled debutant Schiro through the first two rounds to help secure scores of 29-28 on two of the three judges’ scorecards. The other scorecard scored the fight 29-28 to Schiro.
Despite improving his career record to 12-1, Storley admitted he was “embarrassed” with his performance, but made no secret of his desire to face world champion Amosov again.
“I want Amosov, but I don’t [think I’ve] got much of an argument after a performance like that. But I know I can take him into deep waters,” he said.
“I think I’m better than him, I respect him. I didn’t show it in there tonight. But that’s what I want. I want to be world champ.”
Golm scores buzzer-beater TKO
Brazilian heavyweight Golm made a victorious start to life inside the Bellator cage as he finished short-notice debutant Billy Swanson in the closing seconds of the opening round.
Golm, a former UFC heavyweight who earned a Bellator contract after claiming back-to-back wins after his UFC release, looked the bigger, stronger, better conditioned fighter in their main card bout.
The 28-year-old American Top Team-trained fighter spent much of the round forcing his man against the cage. Then, as the 10-second clapper sounded in the closing seconds of the round, he unloaded a barrage of punches that dropped Swanson and forced the TKO stoppage at the 4:57 mark.
The victory improved Golm’s career record to 9-3, and extended his post-UFC win streak to three fights.
He also issued a challenge after his win as he called out unbeaten 6ft 8in contender Steve Mowry.
Lugo targets bantamweight Grand Prix
In the opening bout of the night, undefeated prospect Lugo became the first fighter to finish Keith Lee as he scored a first-round technical submission victory in their 140lb contract weight match-up.
Lugo came close to locking up a D’Arce choke earlier the round as he chased a submission finish against Lee, the younger brother of UFC welterweight Kevin Lee.
But the unbeaten 25-year-old would not be denied as he kept on the pressure and locked up a tight rear-naked choke in the final seconds of the round. Lee refused to tap and was rendered unconscious as the bell sounded.
Lugo’s impressive finish improved his record to 7-0, with four of those wins coming inside the Bellator cage.
After his victory, Lugo said he hoped his performance was good enough to earn him a spot in a potential Bellator bantamweight Grand Prix tournament.
He even revealed his ideal first-round opponent – reigning Bellator bantamweight champion Sergio Pettis.
“Sergio, come on. Let’s get the belt. Imagine me, 7-0, winning a belt,” he said, before explaining that he wants to emulate the success of newly crowned featherweight champion AJ McKee, who recently won the Bellator featherweight Grand Prix by defeating champion Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire.
However, Lugo said he would prefer his route through the tournament to look slightly different.
“I’m gonna do the opposite of AJ McKee,” he explained.
“AJ McKee won the tournament [and] got the belt at the end.
“I’ll get the belt in the beginning and defend it through the tournament.”