Press Release courtesy of Bellator Fighting Championships
Three dominant first-round wins by Dan Hornbuckle, Ryan Thomas and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire – as well as a hard-fought split-decision victory for U.S Army Sgt. Steve Carl – made for another exciting Bellator Fighting Championships event Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino.

The action completed the quarterfinal rounds in Bellator’s welterweight and featherweight tournaments and added to the already impressive resumes of all four winners.

The most exhilarating 15 minutes of the night came during an all-out battle between Carl and California striker Brett Cooper (11-6) that ultimately ended with Carl winning via split decision, much to the capacity crowd’s displeasure.

The fight tested the stand-up and ground games of each fighter, but seemed to shift toward Cooper’s favor late in Round 3 when he took Carl down and nearly knocked him out with brutal ground-and-pound as the clock expired.

Afterward, even Carl himself seemed unsure of the judge’s decision.

“I wasn’t too sure about that fight,” said Carl, who improved his pro record to 13-1. “I wasn’t the happiest with my performance tonight. The fans saw the last minute-and-a-half of Round 3 and it was all Brett. It definitely could have gone either way.”

Cooper, meanwhile, maintained that the decision should have been his.

“I don’t know what to say besides I thought I won,” he said simply.

Earlier, in the night’s main event, Hornbuckle improved his pro record to 20-2, making quick work of Midwest regional circuit star Tyler Stinson (16-6), finishing him just 2:03 into round 1 via triangle choke.

The commanding performance (which took place on the first anniversary of Hornbuckle’s marriage to his wife Melody) advanced him to the semifinal round of Bellator’s welterweight tournament and reaffirmed his status as one of the tournament’s favorites.

“Lyman Good was in my place last year, so hopefully he knows that I’m on the path to get him,” Hornbuckle said as Good, the reigning Bellator welterweight champion, looked on from cage-side seats. “I want that title … I’m comin’ to get him.”

Before that, the second fight of the night featured another dominant performance, this one by Thomas, who was selected earlier this week as a last-minute replacement for Jim Wallhead.

Last week, at Bellator 14 in Chicago, Thomas lost via a controversial referee stoppage to U.S. Olympian Ben Askren and begged Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney for a second chance. He made the most of the opportunity Thursday night.

After the previously undefeated Arizona Combat Sports product Jacob “Tick-Tock” McClintock (5-1) took his back early on in the fight, Thomas slipped out of a rear naked choke attempt, took the dominant position on the ground and eventually finished McClintock with impressive ground-and-pound.

The win sets up a rematch between Thomas and Askren in the Bellator welterweight tournament semifinals on April 20 at the Verizon Theatre in Dallas.

“I have a loss on my record that I don’t deserve,” Thomas declared afterwards. “Ben, you’ve been running your mouth … Let’s do it!”

In the first fight of the night, in a quarterfinal match-up in Bellator’s lightweight tournament, Pitbull, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt used his impressive BJJ skills to submit Canadian up-and-comer and former paratrooper William Romero (5-1) in a dominant performance.

“I was looking for the knockout,” Pitbull said through a translator in a post-fight interview with Bellator color commentator Jimmy Smith. “But I saw the leg and I saw the foot and it went good … it was perfect.”

The win improves Pitbull’s pro record to 13-0 (with 10 of those wins coming via KO or submission) and sets him up for a semifinal matchup with fellow Brazil native and jiu-jitsu specialist Wilson Reis (10-1).

“It’s going to be an awesome fight – jiu-jitsu versus jiu-jitsu,” Pitbull said. “But I’m going for the knockout … I want to knock him out.”