The anticipation for the high-stakes Bellator middleweight title clash between Johnny Eblen and Fabian Edwards was palpable, marked by two separate altercations between the fighters before they even stepped into the cage.
Johnny Eblen, an undefeated star from American Top Team, had clinched the belt with a remarkable shutout performance against the legendary Gegard Mousasi. He further solidified his position as champion with a successful title defense against Anatoly Tokov.
Fabian Edwards, brother of UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards, had also earned his title shot by defeating Mousasi earlier in 2023. The first face-off between Eblen and Edwards took place on the night of the Mousasi fight, resulting in a heated altercation. However, the true showdown occurred in Dublin, Ireland, on a Saturday evening, with Johnny Eblen emerging victorious via knockout after a hard-fought battle.
In the opening moments of the round, southpaw Edwards unleashed a barrage of side kicks, but Eblen, initially fighting in an orthodox stance, expertly defended against them and settled into his rhythm. While the early exchanges saw only a few punches, both fighters traded kicks for a considerable duration. After about a minute, Eblen launched a powerful punching combination, prompting him to switch stances. However, the successful strikes were limited to low kicks and occasional teeps to the stomach, delivered by both stars.
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) September 23, 2023
Their defensive skills were on full display. Midway through the round, Eblen changed levels after a successful right hand, engaging Edwards in a clinch. Although Fabian remained on his feet, he was pinned against the cage, trapped in a rear body-lock by the champion. Despite his efforts, Johnny could not secure the takedown, leading to a break in the clinch where he landed a well-placed knee and elbow. As the first round concluded, Edwards managed to score with a body kick and a straight left.
Fabian increased his tempo at the start of the second round, landing several solid body strikes on Eblen. Approximately one minute into the round, Edwards briefly hit the canvas, although it appeared to be a slip. Eblen absorbed a clean counter but quickly surged forward into a clinch position. However, this time, he couldn’t control Fabian, who landed a knee and elbow during the break, a technique favored by him and his brother. With two minutes remaining in the round, Eblen secured his first takedown, but Edwards swiftly returned to his feet, denying Johnny the chance to establish control.
Following the takedown attempt, Edwards found himself in a body-lock but promptly turned to face Eblen, escaping back to his preferred kickboxing range. Johnny concluded the round with another clinch, delivering short knees until the bell. A visible cut appeared across the champion’s eyebrow and the bridge of his nose from an earlier elbow strike, but the cutman managed to control the bleeding.
— The Diamond (@DustinPoirier) September 23, 2023
A mere ten seconds into the third round, Johnny Eblen rendered the cut inconsequential with a powerful right hand that sent Fabian Edwards crashing to the canvas while Edwards was in the midst of a kick. Eblen immediately pounced on his fallen opponent, unleashing a barrage of punches and elbows. Only a few of these strikes were required to render Edwards unconscious, with his head bouncing off the canvas. Eblen did not withdraw immediately but rather stood over his defeated opponent, shouting while the referee attempted to separate them, hinting at the animosity between them.
Leon Edwards took issue with Eblen’s post-victory reaction, and the two almost engaged in an altercation. However, after a minute, they both calmed down and appeared to reconcile. Eblen was crowned champion for the third time in his career, and during his post-fight interview with ‘Big’ John McCarthy, he boldly declared himself as one of the world’s best, a statement that few can dispute.