Toby Imada took a successful first step in Bellator Fighting Championships' season-two lightweight tournament and moved a bit closer to a sought-after rematch with season-one tourney winner and current Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez.
Imada scored a second-round submission victory over late replacement and WEC veteran James Krause on Wednesday at Bellator 14 to advance to the semifinals.
Bellator 14, which featured four opening-round tournament bouts in three different weight classes, took place at the Chicago Theatre in Illinois and aired live on FOX Sports Net.
Despite his runner-up finish in Bellator's season-one tourney, Imada proved a breakout star for the organization in season one. In a semifinal matchup that quickly became a YouTube sensation, Imada upset Jorge Masvidal with a come-from-behind, third-round submission victory via inverted triangle choke. Imada earned the 2009 World MMA Awards "Submission of the Year" trophy for the performance but then fell short with a loss to Alvarez in the tourney finale.
As in the first season, Imada again cruised through the first round of the season-two tournament. After dodging some big blows from Krause, who recently replaced Ferrid Kherer (appendicitis) in the tourney field, Imada took the edge on the mat with submission attempts and ground and pound. After winning a close first round, he again quickly took the fight to the canvas in the second. Trapped against the mat and fence and unable to maneuver out of an armbar, Krause issued an audible tapout at the 2:44 mark of the round.
Imada (24-13 MMA, 3-1 BFC), once barely a .500 fighter, has now won 10 of his past 11 fights all via stoppage. Krause (11-3 MMA, 0-1 BFC), meanwhile, has now dropped three of his past four fights.
In the night's co-feature, U.S. Olympian and former University of Missouri All-American wrestler and Division I national champion Ben Askren continued his quick ascent up the 170-pound ladder with arguably his most impressive win to date.
Facing a tough Ryan Thomas, a former UFC fighter who owns 10 stoppages (nine in the first round) in his 10 career wins, Askren kicked off Bellator's prospects-rich welterweight tournament. The action began early as the fighters scrambled for position on the ground, where Askren's wrestling skills gave him the distinct edge. After fighting off a submission attempt and finding an opening during a scramble, Askren secured a fight-ending anaconda choke midway through the opening frame.
The ref quickly waved off the fight, and despite protests from Thomas and his corner that he didn't tap from the submission, the referee's decision stood. Askren earned the unpopular victory at the 2:40 mark of the round.
Askren (4-0 MMA, 1-0 BFC) has now posted first-round stoppage wins in every fight since his February 2009 debut. Thomas (10-4 MMA, 0-1 BFC), meanwhile, has dropped three of his past four fights, which included UFC losses to Ben Saunders and Matt Brown in 2008.
In the night's lone featherweight tournament bout, Wilson Reis, a season-one tournament favorite who fell short with a loss in the semifinals, again advanced past the first round of the tourney with a submission victory over IFL vet Shad Lierley.
On paper the matchup appeared intriguing with Reis, an accomplished jiu-jitsu fighter and the only featherweight champ of the now-defunct EliteXC promotion, and Lierley, an NCAA Division III national wrestling champion. Reis, though, quickly proved his dominance in all aspects of the game.
Reis scored takedowns with ease, often easily improved his position, and delivered nearly three rounds of solid ground and pound. Even when Lierley escaped, he was punished on his feet and forced to fight defensively in fear of additional takedowns from Reis, who showed improved conditioning and pacing in the bout.
After a final takedown in the third round, Reis methodically improved his position and ultimately took Lierley's back to secure the fight-ending rear-naked choke at the 3:33 mark.
Reis (10-1 MMA, 3-1 BFC), whose lone loss came to eventual season-one tournament winner and current champ Joe Soto, has since rebounded with three consecutive wins. He also picked up his first stoppage win in his past six victories. Lierley (5-3 MMA, 1-1 BFC) snapped a three-fight win streak with the loss.
The night's broadcast got off to a violent start thanks to Pat Curran, the final addition to Bellator's season-two lightweight tournament field. A crowd favorite, the Chicago-area fighter remained patient through a few strategic minutes in which the fighters traded low kicks and jabs while finding their range. However, a little more than midway through the round, Curran connected on a vicious right hook that sent opponent Mike Ricci crashing to the mat and unconscious for a few uncomfortable minutes.
Fortunately, Ricci (5-1 MMA, 0-1 BFC), a training partner of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre's who entered the fight with a perfect 5-0 record, awoke shortly after.
Curran (10-3 MMA, 1-0 BFC), who advances to the tournament's semifinal round, has now won four of his past five fights.
The night's fight card suffered a late loss when a preliminary-card bout between Jonatas Novaes and Daniel Straus, which was expected to lead off the night's action, was pulled from the card after one fighter suffered an undisclosed injury.
* Toby Imada def. James Krause via submission (armbar) - Round 2, 2:44 (lightweight tourney first round)
* Ben Askren def. Ryan Thomas via submission (anaconda choke) - Round 1, 2:40 (welterweight tourney first round)
* Wilson Reis def. Shad Lierley via submission (rear-naked choke) - Round 3, 3:33 (featherweight tourney first round)
* Pat Curran def. Mike Ricci via knockout (strikes) - Round 1, 3:01 (lightweight tourney first round)
* Bryan Goldsby def. Jeff Curran via unanimous decision
* Felice Herrig def. Jessica Rakoczy via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
* Louis Taylor def. Ryan Sturdy via TKO (strikes) - Round 1, 1:08