(Photo by Joe Zuidema.)
Bellator XV was a night of firsts for Dan Hornbuckle. It was his first fight in the confines of Bellator’s circular cage after signing with the promotion last December, and the first since his high-profile finishes of Akihiro Gono and Nick Thompson in Sengoku. It was the first of potentially three bouts in Bellator’s welterweight tournament. It was the first with the iconic banner of American Top Team—his new team affiliation—stretched behind him as he walked to the cage. “The power of ATT was right behind me, motivating me,” he says.
But on this evening at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, it was Hornbuckle’s final first that proved most important: a first-round triangle choke over Tyler Stinson.
Stinson, the winner of a recent Bellator open tryout who stepped in just a few weeks ago after Sean Pierson bowed out of the tournament with a knee injury, expertly stuffed Hornbuckle’s shot and put the Sengoku veteran on his back. When Hornbuckle transitioned from an armbar to the triangle, Stinson resisted until he couldn’t resist anymore. With the victory, Hornbuckle advances to the semi-finals of the promotion’s eight-man welterweight tournament, and one step closer to current champion Lymon Good.
Wearing a black Everlast t-shirt, a pervasive grin, and a creeping bruise under his left eyebrow, Hornbuckle credits the submission to tightening up “the little details” of his jiu-jitsu at American Top Team. Last month, the Florida MMA stronghold announced that Hornbuckle had joined their ranks last month after he departed Team Solid/Goshin Jitsu in Champagne, Illinois.
“What prompted the move to American Top Team [ATT] was the level of competition I was going to be facing in this tournament,” he says. “…ATT in Coconut Creek is only going to sharpen me up and bring me to that level to win the tournament.” Come Monday, Hornbuckle says, he’ll be right back in the training room getting ready alongside Bellator middleweight title holder Hector Lombard, UFC welterweight Thiago Alves, and all the rest.
In the tournament’s next round on May 20 in Dallas, Texas, Hornbuckle faces Steve Carl, who edged out Brett Cooper by split-decision at Bellator XV as well. Despite the controversial victory, Hornbuckle says he was impressed with Carl’s aggression. “[He’s] very relentless. And I’m excited about facing a relentless fighter. It’s going to be an interesting training camp.”
“Everything’s gotta be big in Texas right?” Hornbuckle says. “Well, so are the match-ups. It’s gonna be awesome. I can’t wait.”
It wasn’t all firsts, though. As he did before previous fights, Hornbuckle celebrated his Eastern Band Cherokee heritage by entering the cage with a bolo, an beaded and feathered adornment slung from his neck. It belonged to his father, who passed away in 2001. “He fights with me every time I’m in the cage.”