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Bellator 222: John Beneduce defeats Kenny Rivera to end long winless streak

John Beneduce defeated Kenny Rivera during Bellator 222

John Beneduce defeated Kenny Rivera during Bellator 222 at Madison Square Garden on Friday. Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Short of the original Apple iPod, whatever technology you have in your pocket, in your hand or near your person right now most likely did not exist the last time John Beneduce won an MMA fight.

That changed Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Beneduce, from Brooklyn, outgrappled and outstruck Kenny Rivera of Queens for the unanimous decision victory in a featherweight bout at Bellator 222. The judges scored it 30-26, 30-27, 30-27, in favor of Beneduce.

“It’s Madison Square Garden. It’s my wife’s birthday, so I had to get that win for her,” said Beneduce, 38, who trains at Longo & Weidman MMA and Serra BJJ. “Plus, James Gabbert just passed away. I got that [“Angry Snowman Muay Thai” logo] and had to patch that on for him. So I had a lot riding on this fight.”

Gabbert was an instructor at Serra BJJ, ran the Muay Thai program there and was a longtime sparring partner of former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra. 

The last time Beneduce heard his name announced and had his hand hoisted toward the sky in an MMA bout was Nov. 1, 2003. Yes, that's 15-plus years ago. To be more exact, that’s 5,704 days ago. Granted, he wasn’t actively fighting for most of that time. He returned to MMA in 2017 and lost by first-round TKO at Bellator 185.

Beneduce, a black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu under Serra, controlled the fight from the start with his grappling. He was able to get Rivera (2-2) down to the ground and controlled him throughout the bout, using a solid ground game to help set up his strikes. Beneduce peppered the grounded Rivera to the ribs with punches throughout the bout

Toward the end of the first round, “The Manimal” had Rivera in a crucifix position and was landing punches to his face, coming close to stopping the bout.

“I was gonna finish him with that,” said Beneduce (3-2). “I’m hitting him, and I’m looking at the ref, I was like, ‘Bro?’ He’s like, ‘Don’t look at me.’ I was like ‘Who do you want me to look at? I’m dominating over here.”

After the official decision was announced, one of his cornermen lifted him up in the air. He might have carried Beneduce out of the cage if he hadn’t been told by an official to put him down.

“I’m having fun. I only fight for fun,” Beneduce said. “I’m not fighting for a title. I fight for the love of the sport. You don’t see this a lot. I don’t have to do this. I have enough money. My wife has a good job. I do this for the pure love of the game. You don’t see this. I’m having fun the whole time. These guys are all mean-mugging and serious. When we get in there, I’m fighting my butt off, the same as any other guy.”

Another win for LAW MMA

Kastriot Xhema (3-3), another Longo and Weidman MMA fighter, won by second-round TKO as he pounded out Whitney Jean Francois (2-7-1) in the second round. Xhema, who commutes to the Long Island gym from Connecticut four to five times a week for training, gained top position on the face-down Francois and hammered away with elbows until the referee stopped the bout.

Hardy falters

Heather Hardy’s fourth professional MMA bout, and her first in more than a year, ended in defeat. Taylor Turner was able to get Hardy, a world champion boxer from Brooklyn who trained for this bout at Longo & Weidman MMA, to the ground about a minute into their fight and gained top control. Turner (4-5) stayed there for the next three minutes and landed punches for the better part of that time until the bout was stopped with 1:07 left in the first round. Many of those punches were light but after enough of them, and one strong elbow to the face of Hardy (2-2), the referee brought an end to the fight.

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