After suffering a split decision loss in the opening round of last year's Bellator heavyweight tournament, Mike Hayes (16-4-1) wanted to ensure history didn't repeat itself. The American shocked the field by defeating season-five tournament favorite Neil Grove (11-4-1) in the main event of Bellator 52 on Saturday night, stifling Grove on the mat while landing in volume on the feet to emerge on the right side of a split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28). The win was Hayes' fourth in a row, and eighth out of his last nine. He now moves to the tournament semi-finals where he will take on Bulgarian sambo champion Blagoi Ivanov.
In the evening's co-headlining bout, Ivanov (5-0) put on the most dominant performance of the night, smashing last-minute replacement Zak Jensen (10-8) for seven minutes before putting him to sleep with a standing guillotine midway through the second round. With his startling victory, the 24-year-old maintains his undefeated record while firmly establishing himself as the tournament's darkhorse.
Elsewhere in the tournament, Eric Prindle (8-1) endured a three-round slugfest to claim a unanimous decision victory over "The Ultimate Fighter 10" veteran Abe Wagner (10-5) on three 29-28 scorecards. The 35-year-old Prindle fought back from a harrowing first round to reclaim control of the fight, edging out the final ten minutes with a vicious ground and pound assault for his sixth straight victory.
Lastly, Ron "The Monster" Sparks (8-0) held true to his namesake, demolishing Mark Holata (11-3) with a brutal two-punch combination in just 84 seconds to claim the seventh first-round knockout of his career and maintain his perfect record. He will now face Prindle in the tournament semi-finals, tentatively scheduled for October 29th on Bellator 56 at the Kansas Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas.
Bellator 52 results:
Mike Hayes def. Neil Grove via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).
Balgio Ivanov def. Zak Jensen via technical submission (guillotine choke) at 2:35 of round 2.
Eric Prindle def. Abe Wagner via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
Ron Sparks def. Mark Holata via KO (punches) at 1:24 of round 1.
Genair da Silva def. Bryan Goldsby via submission (brabo choke) at 3:51 of round 1.
Josh Quayhagen def. Cosmo Alexander via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
Justin Frazier def. Liron Wilson via TKO (punches) at 1:50 of round 1.
Matt Van Buren def. Nick Nichols via TKO (punches) at 2:29 of round 2.