Bellator 290: Johnny Eblen Out-Grinds Anatoly Tokov to Retain Middleweight Title

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Johnny Eblen following his fight with Anatoly Tokov at Bellator 290
Johnny Eblen, Bellator 290 Credit: Bellator MMA

Rising Russian star Anatoly Tokov took on newly crowned champion Johnny Eblen in the co-main event of Bellator 290.

The American wrestler Eblen won the title in his last fight, as he dominated one of Bellator’s best fighters ever, Gegard Mousasi, for five rounds en route to victory. His match with Tokov promised to be no walk in the park, as Tokov has not lost since 2016 and was undefeated through seven Bellator fights, winning five by finish.

After mutually refusing to touch gloves beforehand, the pair spent a bit of time feeling each other out, before trading monster blows in the pocket. At that time, a left hook caught Eblen but he shook it off and got back to working calf kicks and jabs from range. Tokov then shot the first takedown attempt of the fight after catching a kick, but Eblen defended with ease. With one minute left in the round Eblen ducked under a right hand and looked for a takedown but now it was Tokov’s turn to show outstanding defensive wrestling. Johnny Eblen broke the ensuing clinch with an elbow, which missed, and an overhand, which landed; it was one of the final few strikes in a close round.

The second round saw more of the striking output of the first, a lot of feinting between the fighters and periodic explosions. The fighter that went first was often getting countered. Two minutes into the round Johnny landed a big right hand, his best shot of the fight, but Tokov ate it well. Eblen started to be more aggressive and land more and more frequently, especially with the right hand, but Tokov had success at times too. With seventy seconds left in the round Eblen landed an overhand that became his new best shot of the fight. It wobbled Anatoly but he kept going, until thirty seconds later he ate another big blow, from an elbow this time, that actually dropped him. Eblen pushed the advantage and landed a takedown against the fence, doing some damage with ground strikes before Tokov got back to his feet just before the bell.

The third round saw Eblen really trying to land his knockout shot until he suddenly switched gears after one minute, turning to his wrestling and taking Tokov down against the fence. As Tokov worked to get to his feet Johnny Eblen shucked to his back, but Tokov was able to turn into him again. However, Anatoly Tokov appeared to be tiring, as Eblen was able to get a low double leg takedown. Tokov got up but Eblen routinely mat returned him.

Tokov both bled and breathed deeply from his mouth, and when the fight returned to striking at distance he looked diminished physically. Still, despite being hurt and worn down, he was able to pop Eblen with some counter right hands in the latter part of round three. Eblen landed a big right hook in a series of wide looping shots late in the round, but Tokov ate it once more. And once more, Eblen went for it again and hurt Tokov twice more after that, until Tokov returned fire and landed hard shortly before the bell rang.

The start of the championship rounds saw Eblen fall to his back while going for a takedown. He popped right back up though, set up another takedown with strikes, and landed it successfully. Eblen got on the back of Tokov with one hook in, with his opponent on one knee against the fence. Eblen looked for the rear-naked choke but he did not appear to have the angle or free hand necessary to get the submission. Tokov pushed his way to his feet but got mat returned once, then twice more. He gave up his back again while trying to stand up, and this time instead of taking the back Johnny Eblen just hit him with a big knee.

Eblen let go of the clinch to elbow his foe in the side of the head, then dove back in to land a double leg after eating a counter. This time, Tokov settled in full half guard instead of working to scramble to wall-walk. However, when Eblen rained down ground and pound, Tokov had no choice but to twist and turn his way to one knee against the fence again. Eblen just put him in a familiar spin cycle, that of taking someone down and letting them up only to return them to the mat and tire them out all the more. His interspersing that with good striking in the clinch and on the ground likely saw him in the lead going into the final round, though possibly tied on scorecards.

Anatoly Tokov started round five with a massive bump on his forehead, he was battered and bruised and looked somewhat dejected. Meanwhile, Eblen had a scar under his right eye and the eye itself was almost shut, but he looked as excited as he did in round one as he pumped up the crowd when the round was about to start. Eblen pressed forward slightly, looking to land his big right hand, but Tokov landed some nice shots in reply. Still,. the American stayed firmly on the front foot.

Two minutes into the round Eblen landed yet another takedown; Tokov got back up but looked utterly exhausted as he was mat returned once more. Eblen continued to dominantly cage-wrestle until a monstrous belly-to-back suplex by Eblen landed Tokov in a top position with ten seconds left. Eblen got to his feet while eating punches, dove in for a final takedown, and landed it while Tokov clutched at a desperate guillotine as the fight came to a close.

When the judge’s scorecards were read it was unanimous and the belt remained with the champ, Johnny Eblen. Eblen stayed undefeated and took the top spot for the most consecutive wins in Bellator currently, with nine in a row.

Official Result: Johnny Eblen def. Anatoly Tokov by Unanimous Decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46)

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