Diego “The Gun” Nunes is 11-0 with 11 finishes outside the WEC and UFC. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Talent was never in question with Diego Nunes.
The Brazilian will compete for the first time since his release from the Ultimate Fighting Championship when he confronts countryman Patricio Freire in the Bellator MMA Season 9 featherweight tournament quarterfinals at Bellator 99 on Friday at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif. The winner of the eight-man draw will earn a crack at the Bellator featherweight crown currently held by Pat Curran.
Nunes enters his promotional debut with losses in three of his past five bouts. The 30-year-old X-Gym representative last appeared at UFC on FX 7 in January, when he dropped a unanimous decision to American Top Team’s Nik Lentz at Geraldo Jose de Almeida State Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Wins over former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Mike Thomas Brown, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 finalist Manny Gamburyan and Ascension Mixed Martial Arts standout Raphael Assuncao anchor Nunes' resume. He has never lost outside of the UFC and WEC.
A Team Nogueira export, Freire pairs a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a violent standup game. The 26-year-old has delivered 14 of his 18 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, seven of them inside one round. “Pitbull” last fought at Bellator 97 in July, when he put away Jared Downing with second-round punches at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M. Freire owns a 6-2 mark inside Bellator.
With the Nunes-Freire tournament showdown as the focus, here are 10 facts surrounding Bellator 99:
FACT 1: Nunes started his professional career with 11 consecutive finishes but has not finished a fight in 11 appearances since. All six of his bouts in the UFC went the distance.
FACT 2: One of Bellator’s more prominent figures, Freire has already reached two tournament finals since arriving in the promotion three years ago. He lost a contentious decision to Joe Warren in the Season 2 draw and defeated Daniel Straus in the Season 4 competition.
FACT 3: Former International Fight League light heavyweight champion Vladimir Matyushenko was one half of the main event in the first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship show in Las Vegas, losing a unanimous decision to Tito Ortiz at UFC 33 on Sept. 28, 2001. This was also the first MMA event sanctioned by the Nevada Athletic Commission under the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.
FACT 4: A single father of six, Houston Alexander donated one of his kidneys to his oldest daughter in 2000.
FACT 5: By the time Joe Taimanglo returns to his training base in Yona, Guam, from his second Bellator outing, he will have traveled more than 12,000 miles round trip.
FACT 6: Blagoi Ivanov -- who burst on the combat sports scene when he defeated Fedor Emelianenko en route to winning gold at the 2008 World Sambo Championships -- will compete for the first time since his near-fatal stabbing during a bar fight in February 2012. The incident, in which the blade reportedly penetrated Ivanov’s heart, resulted in multiple surgeries and a lengthy rehabilitation process.
FACT 7: King of the Cage veteran Andy Murad will enter his Bellator debut on the strength of a perfect 6-0 record, but five of the six foes he has defeated have losing records and own a cumulative .385 winning percentage.
FACT 8: Once-beaten 20-year-old Brazilian prospect Goiti Yamauchi has submitted eight different opponents with rear-naked chokes.
FACT 9: Englishman Andrew Fisher has fought for 11 different promotions during his 17-fight career: Olympian MMA Championships, British Association of Mixed Martial Arts, Supremacy Fight Challenge, Made 4 the Cage, 10th Legion Championship Fighting, Strike and Submit, Cage Gladiators, Goshin Ryu MMA Championships, Battleground, X-Fight FC and Fightzone.
FACT 10: Hector Ramirez has fought just five times since losing a unanimous decision to Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Forrest Griffin at UFC 72 in June 2007.