Through the completion of two close rounds on Saturday, it appeared as if the Bellator MMA middleweight title was up for grabs. That's when the gas tank and ragdoll wrestling of defending champion Johnny Eblen began to take over.
Eblen (13-0), in the first defense of his 185-pound title, simply outworked Anatoly Tokov to the point of near exhaustion over the championship rounds to take home a dominant unanimous decision in the co-main event of Bellator 290 from the Kia Forum in Inglewood, California. Eblen took home judges' scores of 50-45 and 49-46 (twice). CBS Sports also scored it for 50-45 for Eblen.
Fighting out of American Top Team in south Florida, the 31-year-old Eblen never let a right eye that was nearly swollen shut from counter jabs by Tokov get to him. He mixed calf kicks with well-timed takedown attempts to eventually break the will of Tokov beginning late in Round 3.
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.
The final rounds featured nothing but straight domination from Eblen against a fatigued Tokov as he routinely ragdolled his opponent by taking him down time and again without releasing his grip. Eblen later put a stamp on the victory by connecting with a belly-to-back suplex in the final round.
𝗦𝗨𝗣𝗟𝗘𝗫 𝗖𝗜𝗧𝗬 LIVE on @CBS! 🔥— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) February 5, 2023
📺 #Bellator290 | 𝑪𝑩𝑺 & 𝑷𝒂𝒓𝒂𝒎𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒕+ | LIVE NOW pic.twitter.com/nqtCnyKpUC
"As the fight goes on, I get better," Edwards said. "I just keep getting f---ing better. I'm the king of cardio."
Tokov (31-3) saw his seven-fight win streak under the Bellator banner come to a close. The Team Fedor product out of Russia was competitive in the opening rounds by stuffing takedowns and landing the more technical counter punches. But once Eblen rallied to drop him late in Round 2 with a right hand, Tokov was never able to recover from the loss of momentum.
Eblen, a native of Iowa who was a collegiate wrestling star at the University of Missouri, extended his win streak under the Bellator banner to nine, which is the longest active streak in the promotion. Just eight months removed from dominating Gegard Mousasi to claim the middleweight title, Eblen already had a scenario in mind for his next title defense.
"It looks like Mousasi and [Fabian] Edwards are getting after it in May," Eblen said. "I'll take the winner of that."