Bellator 234 returned to Tel Aviv, showcasing top Israeli MMA talents

Three out of the final six fights featured Israeli fighters.

Aviv Gozali of Bat Yam (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Aviv Gozali of Bat Yam
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
On November 14, major MMA promotion Bellator returned to Israel for Bellator 234, with fifteen under card bouts coupled with a much anticipated home crowd main event, showcasing some of the best Israeli mixed martial artists from across the country, all up and down the card.
The event, which took place in Menorah Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv, featured a series of over 20 combined under card and main card bouts - including Israeli mixed martial artists such as Haim Gozali, his son and up and coming undefeated jujitsu specialist Aviv Gozali, Simon “The Assassin” Smotrisky, Raz Bring, Adam Keresh and Olga Rubin, just to name a few.
While the hometown crowd vigorously cheered on their Israeli representatives in the cage - with the arena erupting into cheers as the Israeli fighters gained the upper hand - the main event saw the heavyweight bout featuring former English Ultimate Challenge MMA heavyweight champion Linton Vassell (19-8-0) against Russian kickboxing specialist Sergei Kharitonov (30-7-0).
Kharitonov who headlined Bellator 225 two months prior, winning by TKO in a fight against Matt Mitrione, had his six-fight winning streak snapped by Vassell. Kharitonov lunged throughout the fight hoping to land a big shot on Vassell, but his strategy however did not prove successful. Eventually, at around the two-minute mark of the first round, Vassell took Kharitonov to the ground and gained side control, forcing him to eat strikes for the rest of the round, as Vassell's ground control was relentless. The second round proved to be more of the same, with Vassell taking Kharitonov to the ground again, gaining side control and then moving to full mount and putting Kharitonov away, when referee Todd Anderson finally stopped the fight. The win revitalized Vassell's career by showing sheer dominance over his opponent.
“I think that just spoke for itself," Vassell said during the post-fight interview. "Top boy in Sergei. He was probably the No. 1 contender if he had won this fight. Give me two fights and get that Bader fight back. You can see what I do on my good day. Nothing against the people who beat me in my last three fights. I think I needed that to bring me back to now, today," he said.
In the lightweight division, Roger “El Matador” Huerta (24-11-1) faced off against Sidney “Da Gun” Outlaw (12-3-0) - in what proved to be a grappling match dominated by Outlaw in his Bellator debut. Huerta would regularly throw a kick to the body that Outlaw would catch and then eventually take Huerta to the ground with, over and over. Outlaw won the match by unanimous decision.
Austin “The Gentleman” Vanderford (8-0-0) took on Grachik Bozinyan (9-3-0) in the first bout of the main event. Vanderford hammered his opponent with leg kicks throughout the match, wearing down Bozinyan second by second. Vanderford was able to take Bozinyan down in the second round as well as the third, and used his positioning to get some amazing strikes in from top position. Vanderford won by unanimous decision, 29-28.
THREE OUT OF the final six fights featured Israeli fighters.
On the women's side, the feature featherweight fight spotlighted Sinead “KO” Kavanagh (5-4-0) against Israeli Olga “Big Bad” Rubin (6-1-0). Kavanagh proved to be too much for Rubin to handle - after wasting much of her gas within the first round wrestling and going strike for strike with Kavanagh, Rubin lit up with a barrage of strikes from her opponent. While amassed in the barrage, for a second you see Rubin look up at the referee, who immediately stops the fight.
The most anticipated and emotional match for the Israeli crowd pitted veteran Israeli welterweight Haim Gozali (11-6-0) from Bat Yam, known as the Israeli Batman – who at 46 years old is the only Israeli to fight in New York’s Madison Square Garden – going up against 31-year-old Russian fighter Artur “The Predator” Pronin (16-3-0). Gozali, who was on a three-fight win streak, put his Brazilian jujitsu skills on display for the home crowd and the world to see, winning by a heel hook submission in the first round.
He announced his retirement after the fight, lauding the Israeli crowd and the MMA world for all of their support throughout the years.
“That’s it guys. That’s the best feeling in the world to fight in Israel," Gozali said in the post-fight interview. "I love you all. I want to say thank you for making MMA grow like this in Israel. We have a full arena because of all of you. Thank you everybody. There’s no Haim without jujitsu. My master Renzo Gracie: Everything I know everything I do is because of this guy."
Competing directly after his father was Gozali’s son, rising star Aviv Gozali (3-0-0), who currently recorded the fastest submission in Bellator history, defeating his opponent in just 11-seconds. Aviv faced off against Zaka Fatullazade, putting his undefeated record on the line – and impressively did not disappoint. Aviv lunged forward, landing strikes, moving to the clinch and throwing a few knees into Fatullazade's chest. He then brought his opponent to the ground and quickly positioned his way by anaconda choke, just 56 seconds into the first round.
“Yo Israel, give me some noise!" Aviv exclaimed to the crowd. "Your king is here and I’m ready to say: Soon you’re going to have your first Israeli world champion, so get ready for that. It’s the best experience that I can get [training] with A.J. McKee – he’s going to be the next Featherweight champion. I want to fight Ryan Couture next. He beat my father twice; I want revenge."
Aaron Reich contributed to this report.