For the first time in promotional history, Bellator awarded an interim title on Friday.
Bellator 261’s main event saw two big, strong grapplers throw down when Timothy Johnson went up against Valentin Moldavsky. The interim title was necessitated by Ryan Bader moonlighting in the light heavyweight grand prix — creating a golden opportunity for two surging big men.
It was heavy leather and big punches being thrown early in Johnson vs. Moldavsky, with the wrestling of Johnson and Sambo of Moldavsky cancelling each other out to some extent. Near the final minute of the opening frame, Johnson briefly lured Moldavsky into a brawl next to the fence, but the Team Fedor fighter quickly reversed and wisely disengaged. What Moldavsky did manage to do was land a shot off the exit — something he’d succeed at a handful of times in the round.
Early in round two, Moldavsky landed a couple of heavy shots before the pair tied up again. Plenty of grappling and exchanges of single strikes followed. Again, towards the final minute, Johnson managed to lure his opponent into a brief firefight. But Moldavsky was the quicker, more mobile man. He was soon out of harm’s way. In the final minute of the second, the pair clinched up, with Johnson landing a knee, but not much else. Johnson’s best punch landed in the dying seconds of the round, and the pair got a little scrappy at the bell.
In the third, Moldavsky once again went looking for a knockout blow coming out of the clinch. This time, there was no connection. Johnson, meanwhile, punched his way into a clinch against the fence, only to be immediately reversed. As the round progressed, Johnson fired out a leg kick or two, but Moldavsky was getting the better of most of the exchanges. When Johnson finally got his attention, clipping him with a punch with just under two minutes in the frame, Moldavsky shot for a takedown, trapping Johnson against the fence and throwing him, just briefly, to his knees.
Come the championship rounds, Moldavsky had shown he could find success with his Sambo. He went back to that early in round four, though Johnson’s wrestling served him well. Moldavsky wound up landing a knee in the clinch as the pair battled for position, and again missed on a punch off the break. Later in the round, Johnson began punching his way in, looking to close the distance with a little more emphasis. He was also cut open care of an accidental headbutt. The pair finished the round trading, Moldavsky landing the better shots.
Johnson was arguably in need of a finish in round five. Moldavsky looked fresher, and had likely got the upper hand in at least three of the previous four rounds. Johnson, leaking blood from the cut opened off the headbutt, once again found himself in a clinch. Not unfamiliar territory, but the positional battles were not lending themselves to the notion of a stoppage. In the final seconds of the round, Johnson finally got a brawl going again, the two heavyweights practically bellowing as they swung. But ultimately, it was the positional battles, the clinches, and the less violent areas of the fight that won Valentin Moldavsky interim gold.
Official Result: Valentin Moldavsky def. Timothy Johnson by unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46)