Bellator flyweight DeAnna Bennett delivered an impressive performance at Bellator 266 Saturday night, shocking and emphatically defeating Alejandra Lara via unanimous decision.
Bennett won via shutout across the judges’ scorecards, earning scores of 30-27 and 30-26 (twice). SFBay scored the bout 30-27 for Bennett.
As big as her Showtime-televised victory was, the bigger victory, though, was realizing her dream of competing at home in the Bay Area.
Bennett – a product of Fremont – told SFBay she didn’t expect the ovation she received from the San Jose faithful when she entered the cage, and it added an extra level of excitement:
“This is an arena that I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times for various things. So, for me to be the athlete competing in this arena, I wasn’t emotional before the fight. But I wasn’t kidding when I told (Bellator commentator John) McCarthy (post-fight), ‘I might just ugly cry right now.’”
She added that seeing a few of her wrestling teammates from American High School in the audience also gave her extra motivation:
“These are the guys that I wrestled with and knew that I had the athletic potential for something back then. So, to be able to bring that full circle and perform in the Bay Area, there was no quit in me. I wanted that win.”
Fighting out of Brick, N.J., Bennett (11-7-1) endured two sharp straight left hands from Lara at the start of the fight, but almost ended things early when she caught Lara off balance with a takedown before quickly transitioning into a reverse ground and pound.
Though Lara (9-5) escaped an attempted reverse armbar, she ate a multitude of punches to the side of the head from the ground and pound position as the referee closely observed if she could properly defend herself.
Lara (125.2) survived the ground assault and rebounded a little during the second round, staying on her feet and landing some kicks and straight lefts. But none of her strikes could significantly turn the fight in her favor as Bennett landed her share of strikes and continued pressuring and bullying her inside the cage.
The Medellin, Antioquia native also appeared a little fatigued and discouraged as the round progressed, which Bennett said was the product of her intense onslaught disrupting Lara’s rhythm and confidence:
“That’s my game plan. That’s what I want to do. That’s my whole thing. If you ask my training partners, half of them hate going (to the ground) with me … I want to smother, I want you to have to dig deep. It takes a lot out of you. My training partner afterwards will be like, ‘I hate you! Get off of me!’ I’m like, ‘That’s just what I do. You got hit by the ‘D-Train!’”
Lara headed into the fight as Bellator’s fifth-ranked flyweight, and produced a brief comeback in the final round, scoring a takedown after catching one of Bennett’s kicks.
Bennett quickly backed Lara off with counter up-kicks, but the former flyweight world title challenger retaliated by lunging at Bennett and finishing the fight on the ground.
Bennett’s victory was not without controversy, as she officially weighed 4.2 lbs. over the 125 lb. limit and lost an undisclosed percentage of her purse.
She also missed weight last September at Bellator 246 prior to her third-round submission loss to then-Bellator newcomer Liz Carmouche.
Lara was unavailable for comment regarding the situation, but Bellator President and San Jose native – Scott Coker said he’ll most likely speak with Bennett about the weight issues and acknowledged how uncomfortable it is when a fighter misses weight, especially when competing on a major cable network like Showtime:
“She did what she had to do tonight. The weight thing we’ll probably have to have a conversation about that and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. But Lara agreed to the fight and she could have said ‘no’ and the fight would have been off. I have to give her credit for stepping up, but the result is the result and that’s how it’s going to go down in the history books.”
Weight controversies aside, Bennett has built an impressive rèsumé of opposition since her February 2012 professional debut, including Jennifer Maia, Roxanne Modafferi, Jodie Esquibel, Karina Rodriguez, and Miranda Maverick (both of whom Bennett split a pair of fights with between 2018 and 2019).
She also competed on The Ultimate Fighter: A New World Champion in 2017 and even defeated fellow TUF alumna and eventual season 18 champion Julianna Peña in only her second professional fight in February 2013, when Peña was 4-1 as a relative newcomer in MMA.
Bennett said she has some personal matters to address before returning to competition, though she believes a Carmouche rematch is definitely in her future and is eager to square off against another highly-ranked flyweight:
“There’s no place in the world I would rather be in than the Bellator cage taking one of the next ranked people into that deep water 100 percent.”
Saturday night’s homecoming was also very emotional for Bennett as she dedicated her win to her late father, Mark, who passed away from brain cancer in 2016.
A former San Jose police officer who frequently worked concerts and sporting events inside SAP Center, Mr. Bennett encouraged his daughter to become a fighter after seeing the opportunities offered to female fighters under the Coker-founded promotion Strikeforce.
Bennett has since honored her father’s legacy by carrying his police badge with her everywhere she goes – including the MMA cage – while also embracing his final request:
“He couldn’t string together any sentences because of where the biggest brain tumor was. All he could say was one or two words and the words that he chose to (say) to me was ‘Fight.’ He would throw his hands and say, ‘Fight.’ That’s the legacy that I want to live up to. He knew that’s what I wanted to do and that was what I was meant to do.”
That same desire to fight ultimately helped Bennett – who entered the cage Saturday night with an overall record of 2-4 in her last six fights – snap a three fight-losing streak. She said she is more determined to continue evolving as a mixed martial artist and establish herself amongst the best in the sport:
“I’ve had a lot of people be like, ‘Oh, you’re still doing this? Oh, you’re still fighting?’ Honestly, a couple hiccups aside, I feel like I’m in my prime in this sport. Since finding my coach Brian Wright and the team over at Killer B (Combat Sports Academy), I’ve found that I’m a different fighter. He as a coach has motivated me to be a better fighter and he pushes me every day to be a better fighter. I feel like I have what it takes to get to the top – and that’s what I take away from today. I came in here with a number five-ranked girl and I got my hand raised and I’m ready to do it again. I want to get to the top – for me, for my team, for my dad.”