As his catchweight bout against Satoshi Ishii kept going, Jackson got better and he hung on to claim a split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27) at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. But it was nowhere near a vintage showing from the former UFC light heavyweight champion.
"Ring rust is a real thing," said Jackson, who last fought in April 2015 in the UFC. "[Ishii] stayed close so I couldn't knock him out. Lord knows I was trying."
Ishii, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist in judo for Japan, used his skills early in the fight to secure multiple trip takedowns. However, Ishii was never able to take advantage of the position by landing any serious damage.
"I apologize I didn't get the outcome that I wanted, but Ishii, I can't take anything away from him," said Jackson. "The guy's an Olympic gold medalist in judo. He out-judoed me. I think it was really close, it could've gone either way. [I have] so much respect [for] Ishii."
As the fight wore on, Jackson's offense improved. He landed his most successful strikes in the clinch, multiple knees to the body and several stiff uppercuts to the chin. In the third round, Ishii attempted an outside trip that was stopped by Jackson, resulting in some signature ground-and-pound to the body from Jackson for the bulk of the round.
It had been 769 days since Jackson last saw action with Bellator in a win over Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal at Bellator 120. Jackson believed Bellator didn't meet the terms of his contract at the time, thus breaching the deal. It allowed Jackson to fight at UFC 186, defeating Fabio Maldonado via unanimous decision. After resolving a lawsuit with Bellator, Jackson signed a new two-fight deal with the organization.
With one bout left on his new Bellator deal and riding a five-fight win streak, Jackson appears eager to get back sooner than later.
"I'm taking a short vacation, then I'm going back to Huntington Beach to train with Tiki [Ghosn] and I'm going to come back stronger and keep kicking ass," Jackson said.
Chandler regains lightweight title with KO
Michael Chandler's nickname is "Iron" and it was apropos as he knocked out Patricky "Pitbull" Freire with an anvil of a right hand in the first round to win the Bellator lightweight title for the second time.
"It feels so great. I had a great opportunity here," Chandler said. "I had a phenomenal double camp for this one fight. I've been down at Blackzilians for literally the last three and a half months. Every single one of those guys made me better."
The first few minutes of the bout saw little action on the feet, with the most notable move a takedown attempt by Chandler (15-3) that was stuffed by Freire (16-8). But at 2:17, Chandler struck Freire's chin with a right hand, sending him to the canvas. It was a no-doubt knockout and one that will immediately become a knockout of the year contender.
Freire, who lost a 2011 decision to Chandler in their first meeting, had built his case for a title shot with a devastating knockout against Ryan Couture in January. The belt was made available when the promotion released champion Will Brooks back in May, allowing him to sign with the UFC.
For Chandler, who begins his second reign as champion, the win was his third straight, with all coming at home in St. Louis.
"I'm getting better every single day," Chandler said. "I want to be the best in the world. This crowd right here in St. Louis, you guys make me better."
Earlier in the event, Benson Henderson expressed his interest in moving to lightweight for his next bout. The former UFC champion lost a welterweight title fight to Andrey Koreshkov in his Bellator debut in April. Chandler was originally scheduled to fight Josh Thomson in May, but Thomson pulled out with injury.
With two strong options for his first defense, Chandler appeared to be open to both challenges.
"I would love to step in here and be his Huckleberry," said Chandler, referring to Henderson. "I do have some unfinished business with Josh Thomson. I think that's a fight fans want to see, it's a fight Bellator wants, it's a fight I want. Either of those guys, I'm ready and no one is going to take this belt from me. I'm getting better every single day."
Mitrione rallies to win Bellator debut
Mitrione, a 14-fight UFC veteran, was the latest to jump to Bellator. After getting rocked early, he recovered to win via knockout at 3:22 of the first round.
"I don't know what the f--- I was thinking, but I'm glad it happened, whatever happened," Mitrione said
After a nasty overhand right from Seumanutafa dropped Mitrione 29 seconds into the bout, referee "Big" John McCarthy stood right over the action and gave Mitrione every opportunity to recover.
Seumanutafa (10-7) then took the back of Mitrione, but was unable to land any damage and allowed Mitrione to clear his head. After a slow scramble, Mitrione was able to get to his feet. He then rained down a fateful right hand through the guard and onto the chin of Seumanutafa. McCarthy called the end as Mitrione recorded his fifth win by knockout in the first round.
After the bout, Bellator announced Mitrione will face Oli Thompson (17-8) on July 16 at Bellator 158 in London.