Bellator allowed Melvin Guillard to choose his own opponent for his debut. And in retrospect, Guillard chose poorly. All-American wrestler Brandon Girtz rag-dolled the UFC veteran for two-and-a-half rounds before fending off a late rally to capture a split decision victory Friday night in the main event of Bellator 141.

The first exchange told the story of the fight, as Girtz (13-4) waded forward and connected on a thunderous overhand right, then tied up Guillard and threw him to the canvas. Guillard (32-15-2, 2 NC) recovered only to be double-legged back to the floor, with Girtz landing heavy in side control. From there the underdog went to work, unloading a salvo of knees to Guillard’s body and closing his left eye with short elbows.

Girtz continued to impose his will on the tentative Guillard throughout the second and third rounds, landing big takedowns and battering Guillard’s cut-up left eye. The pace, however, proved to be unsustainable, and Girtz nearly let the fight slip through his fingers once Guillard found his mark with a huge knee that sent Girtz staggering backward as the clock wound down.

Guillard swarmed with everything he had left, but it wasn’t enough. A failed throw attempt led Guillard back to bottom position, which is exactly where he remained until the fight ended.

Two judges scored the contest 29-27 for Girtz, while the lone dissenter saw it 28-29 for Guillard, giving Girtz the win.

“It feels good,” a relived Girtz said afterward. “It didn’t go exactly how I thought. He’s a lot tougher than I thought he was. He kept going. I thought once it got past the first I’d be able to break him, but he’s a tough kid and he swarmed me at the end.”

In the night’s co-main event, heaps of pre-fight sizzle failed to translate into excitement in the cage, as Patricky Freire (14-6) won a sleepy unanimous decision over Saad Awad (18-7), putting himself into pole position for the next Bellator lightweight title shot.

Action in the fight was scarce, though Freire’s pressure and pair of takedowns likely edged him ahead in the eyes of the judges. The Brazilian earned a clean sweep on the scorecards, 30-27, and afterwards turned his sights towards lightweight champion Will Brooks.

“He talks too much. He’s a clown,” Freire said. “Hey Will, shut up. I’m coming.”

Elsewhere on the card, Justin Wren’s feel-good return to MMA proved to be a success. Fighting for the first time in 1,868 days, having spent the better part of five years aiding the Pygmies of the Congo, Wren (11-2) captured a lopsided unanimous decision over Josh Burns (8-9).

Knees were the weapon of choice for Wren. The 28-year-old battered Burns from inside the clinch with a salvo of Thai knees throughout the fight, highlighted by a second round sequence that saw Burns eat 11 uncontested knees to the head and body.

Burns somehow survived to the finish line, but both men were exhausted by the start of the third round. The pace slowed to such a crawl that Wren was able to pull the old ‘point at your feet, punch you in the face’ routine and still emerge unscathed, much to the delight of the Temecula crowd.

All three judges scored the contest for Wren, with two judges awarding Wren 30-26 scorecards.

“I couldn’t have planned or prepared for the adrenaline dump. Five years off, yeah, there’s a lot of ring rust and I felt it,” Wren said.

“My knee is swollen from hitting his head, so he can take a shot, that’s for sure. I’m happy with our fight, I’m disappointed in my performance, but I’m also very happy at the exposure and everything else that was gained for my Pygmy family.”

Veteran featherweight Marloes Coenen (22-7) drew an unexpected shot on the Spike TV card once Lorenzo Hood injured his knee at the eleventh hour, and she made the most of it. The former Strikeforce champion tapped Arlene Biencowe (6-5) with a nasty armbar at 3:23 of the second round, improving her Bellator record to 2-0.

Biencowe showed up to brawl, but Coenen had none of it. The 34-year-old blasted Biencowe off her feet early with a double leg, then spent the majority of the opening round fishing for a rear-naked choke from her foe’s back. Coenen repeated the favor in the second stanza, but instead of seizing Biencowe’s back, she rolled for a grisly armbar that bent Biencowe’s left elbow backwards and drew a quick tap.

“I’m so grateful to Mr. Coker over there,” Coenen said. “He was the first big promoter who saw that women are warriors, and I’m as loyal to him as I can be. I’m very, very grateful to him.”

Complete Bellator 141 results can be seen here.

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