Bellator 222 didn’t go as planned for many, but the night did end with Rory MacDonald (21-5-1) defending his Welterweight crown after a successful five-round decision over Neiman Gracie (9-1), but perhaps the night’s most memorable moment occurred minutes earlier.
Chael Sonnen (31-17-1), one of mixed martial arts’ first true heels, announced his retirement following his TKO loss to Lyoto Machida (26-8), which was the final fight of his five-year contract with Bellator.
The former UFC and Bellator World Championship contender is already an MMA Analyst at ESPN, and decided to walk away from competition over 22 years after his debut.
“I didn’t have that planned,” a seated Sonnen said of his sudden departure from MMA competition during the press conference after the main event. “I thought I was going to win this fight, call out Ryan Bader [current Bellator Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight Champion]. Everything was going my way, until it wasn’t.
But I don’t regret it,” he added. “It’s somebody else’s turn.”
Sonnen added that he felt like he “used all of his toughness” up, and that he felt past his prime during the loss to Machida.
“There were some positions in there that before in my career, I would’ve walked right through him,” he said. “I just felt like maybe I fired my last bullet. I didn’t have that same grit and it’s time to move on.
I tried to win the world championship,” he continued. “I worked really hard for a really long time and it didn’t come for me.”
Shortly before Sonnen’s bout with Machida, Brooklynite Heather Hardy (2-2) made her return to the octagon, losing to Taylor Turner (4-5) by TKO in the first round.
Turner was able to successfully ground Hardy, who is 22-0 as a boxer, and defeat her with strikes while in top-mount position.
“Coming into it, I knew I was the underdog,” Taylor said post-fight. “That lit a fire under me to be ready from the beginning. I dreamt of this, I breathed it day in and day out, to visualize it and have it come true is amazing.”
Hardy made her MMA debut in June of 2017 in Bellator 180, the promotion’s first event at Madison Square Garden. Later that year she was stopped by Kristina Williams before picking up victories in both MMA and boxing in 2018.
Coming into her bout with Hardy, Taylor had lost four straight fights, with her most recent victory coming in November of 2014.
Aaron Pico – a 22-year-old prodigy once labeled as the greatest prospect in MMA history according to some – was stopped yet again in a Bellator card, dropping his record to 4-3, leaving doubts as to whether or not he’d achieve the stature many believe was destined for him.
Pico isn’t unfamiliar with losing. His debut came on the same Bellator 180 card where Hardy began her MMA career, where Pico lost to Zach Freeman by submission in 24 seconds.
Earlier this year, Pico was shockingly knocked out by Henry Corrales at Bellator 214 in January.
In between losses, the former freestyle wrestling champion – who boxing trainer Freddie Roach said could become a world champion in boxing after sparring with Miguel Cotto – amassed a four-fight win streak.
Those days are long gone and Bellator needs to re-consider their Pico experiment, which has received criticism due to the level of competition Pico has faced during his young MMA career.
“He’s paying his dues, it’s just a rough business,” Sonnen, a fellow wrestler, offered of Pico.