Low knees from Jake Hager force controversial No Contest at Bellator 231
It was a rough night for pro wrestling sensation turned MMA fighter Jake Hager as he made his return to the cage at Bellator 231 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT against Anthony Garrett. Hager would come out throwing heavy hands early and often as he bulldozed his way into the clinch with Garrett. He would remain busy with the strikes in the clinch, but when it became apparent that Garret would try ride out the wall and stall Hager would transition to knee strikes. His first knee would land on the inside thigh, although Garrett would plead his case to referee Big Dan Miragliatta, but it wasn’t enough to convince the veteran eyes of the respected official.
Hager would land two more determined knees to the body before disengaging from the clinch and baiting Garret back into the center of the cage. This time it would be Garret would press forward despite his reach and walk Hager into the cage. It would play well into Hager’s strategy as makes completes the reversal and returns Garret’s back to the cage wall. It would take a knee near to Hager’s head to once again have him retreat to the center of the cage.
Hager would waste no time, using his slight, but effective two inch reach advantage to busy Garret’s face and re-engage the clinch, once again deliver two more vicious knees to the body. Hager’s next knee strike to the body appeared slightly labored and low as it appeared to graze the groin and was enough to provoke Miragliatta into a temporary stoppage.
Garret at this point is already starting to show significant damage developing on his face and happily takes a breather as he recovers from the grazing low blow. Big Dan would caution Hager, but communicate the first knee was clean, but the second was close enough to require a warning. Big Dan would reaffirm his belief that Hager is a “good guy” and to “try to get them higher”. It would seem that Hager’s enthusiasm and power would slightly wane as he strung together consecutive strikes, leading his fatigue to lower his aim in haste.
When Garret recovered, he would provide a sporting touch of the gloves once again with Hager and then reset and shoot for the take down. Hager would deny the attempt and flirt with a guillotine choke before throwing another knee to the body. The knee would again come inside and low, this time collapsing Garret into a distressed pile upon the canvas. It would initiate a symphony a unrest and derision from the crowd as Big Dan again rushes in for the stoppage.
Garret would remain downed as he bled from the face and attempt to recover while prone. The ring side physician would intervene and investigate Garret’s injuries, but it quickly became apparent that he could not continue. The deciding factor of the end result would be Big Dan’s interpretation of intention, ultimately determining the blow to be accidental and therefore forcing an anti-climatic No Contest decision.
Michael C. Williams would make it official, once again inciting unrest from the crowd, and an emotional Hager would go on to plead with his corner, insisting that the strike hit the thigh and actually moved his leg upward as evidence.
Following the fight Hager would insist that “I didn’t knee him at all” and “we all have cups on out there. I didn’t feel a cup.” A solemn and crestfallen Hager had disappointment on display with his belief that Garret was looking for a way out, insisting that “I’m here to fight and he wasn’t tonight.” When asked if he would be interested in a rematch with Garret, his was non committal suggesting that “he didn’t seem like he really wanted to fight so what’s gonna change next time? Is he really gonna wanna fight next time?”
Hager was on a two fight win streak going into this bout and his denial of cage time with this stoppage was a massive blow to his anticipated progress. And whether or not Garrett did manage to find a way out, it was clear that Hager was on a path to domination early in this bout. It was clear in his statements how this disappointment was affecting him, but conversely he displayed a willingness to not only move past the debacle, but a stubborn reluctance to venture into a repeat.
It will be interesting to see how this No Contest result impacts his strategy and use of knees going forward, but the only thing that is for certain is that his next immediate obligation is to his pro wrestling show the following week. With this encounter seemingly already in the past, Hager is onto the next one with next week’s AEW performance.