Swollen eyes. Badly cut nose. Unstable mouthpiece.
These are just a few of the challenges former WWE Champion and current AEW star Jake Hager faced in grueling three rounds with former Pittsburgh Steeler Brandon Calton before the judges did not give him a split decision for his third victory at Bellator.
Hager’s struggle often got him out of trouble when he leaned under his opponent’s arms to attack from behind. But when Calton proved surprisingly difficult to beat, he was forced to beat him.
It was on his feet that Hager demonstrated the tenacity necessary for excellence in top-level MMA. His technique wasn’t even close to that. The difference in power between his right hand and Calton’s was enormous. At one point, Calton’s corner audibly yelled, “He’s telegraphing his right?”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Calton replied.
But there were plenty of points where he could have folded and didn’t, like when Calton grabbed him with a cross that hit him insane at the end of round two. Where Calton wasn’t crippled by his cardio, he might have ended up.
Instead, Hager rallied in round three, using his jab to set up his right hand. Several times he was injured by Calton’s punches. Another right hand made him stagger again. But he pulled himself together and stopped the punishment, throwing his knees near Calton’s “We The People” tattoo.
Separated after an inadvertent knee in the groin – luckily this wasn’t bad enough to cause a save, like in his last fight – Hager punished Calton’s body with kicks and kicks and finished strong.
The scores were 29-28 twice in favor of Hager, who was the picture of post-fight exhaustion, and a 29-28 score for Carlton, who claimed he could do a few more laps to settle things.
Hager’s wrestling colleagues were blown away.