The report below contains details of what happened at Bellator 271. You can watch the entire event again on BBC iPlayer (UK only) here.
Bellator’s final event of 2021 saw one of the most spectacular knockouts of the year as Sergio Pettis stunned former title holder Kyoji Horiguchi to retain his bantamweight crown.
The co-main event at Bellator 272 was a champion-versus-champion title fight at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, and for three rounds it looked like Horiguchi had the clear advantage.,
But, despite being dominated for the overwhelming majority of the bout, it was Pettis who found the fight-ending moment as he followed up a missed head-kick attempt with a spinning backfist that connected cleanly to knock out Horiguchi in spectacular fashion.
It was only Pettis’ 19th successful strike of the bout after spending much of the contest struggling to connect with his elusive Japanese opponent.
But when he eventually caught up with his man after three minutes, 24 seconds of round four, it produced one of the most spectacular MMA moments of 2021.
Horiguchi, 31, a two-time bantamweight champion for top Japanese promotion Rizin FF, was looking to recapture the Bellator title he never lost in the cage after he relinquished the belt in 2019 because of injury.
And he looked to be on his way to a landslide decision victory as the bout headed into the championship rounds but one moment of magic from Pettis changed all that.
After his victory, Pettis admitted his back was against the wall heading into the final two rounds.
“I got beat up for four rounds, pretty much,” he admitted.
“A couple of seconds before that happened I was like, ‘Man, you’re losing this fight. I’ve got to do something spectacular,’ and it came out at the right time.”
Bantamweight grand prix announced
In addition to the night’s bantamweight title fight, Bellator 272 also featured a major announcement, as it was revealed that the promotion would hold an eight-man, $1m (£755,700) bantamweight grand prix in 2022.
Both Pettis and Horiguchi will be part of the grand prix line-up, with the world title set to be contested throughout the course of the tournament.
Joining them are the remaining contenders in Bellator’s 135-pound division: Russia’s Magomed Magomedov, Ireland’s James Gallagher, Brazil’s Leandro Higo and Americans Patchy Mix, Raufeon Stots and Juan Archuleta.
Kennedy honours former team-mate after career-best win
In the co-main event of the evening, Canadian contender Jeremy Kennedy claimed the biggest win of his Bellator career as he defeated two-time featherweight title challenger Emmanuel Sanchez.
Kennedy dominated a bout spent mostly on the mat to earn scores of 30-27 on all three scorecards, before dedicating his victory to former team-mate Kyle “Boom” Reyes, who passed away in August.
“This one was for ‘Boom,'” he said
“I needed to get my hand raised at all costs. I wasn’t coming out of here without a win.”
Hill claims tournament alternate spot with huge knockout
Number seven-ranked bantamweight contender “Gentleman” Josh Hill promised he would find a finish against American rival Jared Scoggins, and he delivered in spectacular fashion.
Canada’s Hill, 35, connected with a huge overhand right in the second round that instantly knocked out former UFC bantamweight Scoggins, who was making his Bellator MMA debut.
Scoggins, 26, missed weight by four pounds at Thursday’s official weigh-ins and was fined 35% of his fight purse, with the bout continuing as a catchweight matchup.
But any thoughts of a potential weight advantage for Scoggins were wiped out 56 seconds into the second round when Hill landed cleanly.
Hill is the highest-ranked contender not included in the promotion’s bantamweight grand prix line-up.
However, his impressive win over Scoggins led Bellator president Scott Coker to confirm from cageside that Hill would be installed as a tournament alternate, and Hill said he will be ready to step in and make his mark if a spot opens up in the grand prix next year.
“I’m [ranked] number seven, so I want in,” he said.
“So, if there are any injuries or pullouts, I’m your man.
“I should be in there regardless, but hey, I’m your number one man.”
Eblen demolishes Huckbody
In the opening fight of the main card, undefeated American Johnny Eblen notched his sixth win under the Bellator banner as he dispatched promotional newcomer Collin Huckbody inside a round.
Eblen, 29, lived up to his fighting moniker of “Diamond Hands” as he found his mark with a series of stinging strikes to force referee Bryan Miner to stop the fight after just 71 seconds and improve his record to 10-0.