For all of the talk about potential fireworks that could come from Yoel Romero’s Bellator MMA debut, Phil Davis simply did what he does best on Saturday.
Davis (23-6, 1 NC), a former 205-pound champion, controlled distance and deftly managed the danger of Romero’s power by securing five unanswered takedowns en route to a split-decision victory inside the SAP Center in San Jose, California.
Despite the close scoring in the Bellator 266 main event, which saw one judge inexplicably score it 29-28 for Romero, this was a tense fight early that Davis clearly dominated late. The 36-year-old took home scorecards in his favor of 30-27 and 30-26 to bounce back from a close decision defeat to defending champion Vadim Nemkov in their April rematch, which knocked Davis out of the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix.
Romero (13-6), the 44-year-old ageless wonder, snapped an 18-month layoff in his first fight at light heavyweight since 2011. But the former three-time UFC middleweight title challenger was frustratingly passive offensively and appeared to openly admit after the fight in a fit of frustration that he was unaware it contracted for three rounds as opposed to five.
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“Man, he’s a monster,” Davis said. “I felt that power more times than I wished I had tonight. He’s an incredibly powerful fighter.”
Romero missed wildly throughout with big counterstriking attempts but maintained strong defense and the threat of his power through a series of feints that kept the tension high for Davis even though the fans began booing the fight’s lack of action by the end of the opening frame.
Davis made sure to pump his jab throughout as the aggressor and remained so despite largely coming up short on right hand attempts. After a dull first round, Davis pushed the pace in Round 2 despite getting wobbled by a hard leg kick. He scored a late takedown to secure the round on two of the judges’ scorecards.
The final round was all Davis, all the time. He recorded four more takedowns and was active from top guard with elbows, punches and knees to the ribs against a suddenly exhausted Romero.
“I felt [Romero fading] and it didn’t quite give me enough security,” Davis said. “I felt at the end of the second round that he was slowing down just a tad bit.
“You got to use the wrestling. God bless wrestling, best sport in the world.”
Romero tasted defeat for the fifth time in his last six fights. Unlike his previous three, however, there would be very little debate on the scorecards that he had seemingly done enough to win.
Elsewhere on the card, Neiman Gracie made a thunderous return to the win column with a TKO victory over Mark Lemminger in the co-main event. It was Gracie’s first TKO win of his burgeoning career after nine of his first 10 came by submission. Plus, Ben Parrish shocked the world with a first-round TKO of Christian Edwards to open the main card. Parrish entered the bout as a massive underdog and stopped the rising prospect in under a minute of fight time.
CBS Sports was with you throughout the evening for the latest updates, highlights and results from the SAP Center in San Jose, California, with our live blog below. Stay tuned for updates all night long.