Bellator MMA made history in Paris on Saturday, but many of the local fans at Accor Arena went home disappointed.
Timothy Johnson eked out a split-decision victory over Paris-born veteran heavyweight Cheick Kongo in the main event of the first major mixed martial arts card ever held in France.
France, which had been one of the last major countries without legal MMA, recognized the sport earlier this year, with the French Boxing Commission tasked with overseeing regulation.
Johnson, a 35-year-old from Lamberton, Minnesota, grinded out the three-round victory by trapping Kongo against the cage for long spells of the three rounds. In scoring his third straight win, he avenged a first-round knockout loss to Kongo two years ago.
All three judges scored the bout 29-28.
Kongo, 45, who has twice competed for the Bellator heavyweight championship and before that was a top contender in the UFC, found himself having to fend off the relentless clinching style that he has been known for. He simply could not get Johnson off of him.
“Disappointed, for sure,” Kongo said afterward.
The Bellator Paris event was split into two parts for broadcast purposes. In the earlier fights, dubbed Bellator 248, welterweight Michael “Venom” Page defeated Ross Houston by unanimous decision in the headline bout.