Brennan Ward and Sabah Homasi spent most of fight week promising their main card opener on Saturday's Bellator 290 card would be a slugfest.
Luckily for fans, the pair of welterweight sluggers delivered upon those lofty expectations inside the Kia Forum in Inglewood, California. But it was Ward, in his third fight since ending a five-year layoff fueled by legal troubles and drug abuse, who proved his miraculous career comeback is still just getting started.
Ward (17-6) bounced back from being dropped and bloodied in the opening round and relied on his gas tank to batter Homasi (17-11) en route to a second-round TKO.
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including instant analysis of Bellator 290 at the conclusion of the event.
"Sabah is tough as hell. He knocked me down in the first round, you guy saw that," Ward said. "But I need a title shot, Mr. [Scott] Coker [Bellator MMA CEO]. I'm ready to go."
Ward, who challenged unsuccessfully for the Bellator middleweight title in 2014, extended his win streak at 170 pounds to three straight fights, all by knockout, since returning to the sport in 2022. But he was forced to walk through tremendous punishment to get there as the two fighters co-authored a thrilling opening round, contested at an insane pace, in which both were bruised and battered.
🔥 The 𝗜𝗡𝗖𝗥𝗘𝗗𝗜𝗕𝗟𝗘 career resurgence of @SwaggleBerryFin continues! What a stoppage LIVE on @CBS 👏— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) February 5, 2023
📺 #Bellator290 | 𝑪𝑩𝑺 & 𝑷𝒂𝒓𝒂𝒎𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒕+ | LIVE NOW pic.twitter.com/qWo4HAbqic
Both fighters landed heavy punches and clean jumping knees to open up multiple cuts -- under the left eye and on the right temple of Ward, along with a cut across the nose of Homasi -- but it was Ward who also established himself as a threat on the ground. After taking down Homasi off the opening bell, Ward went on to twice take his opponent's back and threaten chokes.
But after battering Homasi with punches to close Round 1, Ward continued to build on his momentum one round later as fatigue began to catch up with Homasi.
Ward, 34, countered a right hand from Homasi by dropping him with a stiff jab. Ward continued to batter him on the ground until Homasi broke free. But Homasi was still wounded from strikes and partially turned his head away from the action just as Ward landed a high kick to the head to drop him again.
A brief flurry of strikes on the ground proved enough to finish Homasi off at 1:34 of the round as referee Blake Grice jumped in to wave the fight off.
"I shot way faster than I thought I was going to," Ward said. "I can wrestle and I was an All-American but the fans don't like to see a lot of wrestling. They like me to bang. I like to brawl, I can't help it. It's in my nature. I had to wear him down."
Homasi, a 34-year-old former UFC and Strikeforce veteran who fights out of American Top Team in south Florida, saw his two-fight win streak come to an end. He fell to 2-3 over his last five bouts.