10 Must-See Fights in July

By: Brian Knapp
Jul 1, 2021

It might just be the most anticipated fight in Bellator MMA history.

Patricio Freire will defend his undisputed featherweight championship against the undefeated A.J. McKee in the Bellator 263 main event on July 31 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. They are the last men standing in the promotion’s star-studded 16-man featherweight grand prix, which began in 2019.

Freire enters the cage on the strength of a seven-fight winning streak that spans nearly five years. The 33-year-old Brazilian last appeared at Bellator 255, where he choked Emmanuel Sanchez unconscious with a first-round guillotine and eliminated the Roufusport standout in the tournament semifinals. Freire has delivered 23 of his 32 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, 12 of them inside one round.

McKee, 26, carries a perfect 17-0 record. The Team Bodyshop representative last competed on Nov. 19, when he submitted Darrion Caldwell with a modified neck crank in just 71 seconds to advance to the tournament final. Victories over two-time Bellator titleholder Pat Curran, former World Series of Fighting champion Georgia Karakhanyan and “The Ultimate Fighter 15” quarterfinalist Justin Lawrence anchor his pristine resume.

The Freire-McKee showdown is but one must-see fight in July. Here are nine more:

Charles Johnson vs. Yuma Horiuchi
LFA 110
July 2 | Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The fate of the interim Legacy Fighting Alliance flyweight title will be decided when Johnson locks horns with Horiuchi in an impromptu main event. An interim championship became a necessity once current titleholder Victor Altamirano was chosen to compete on Dana White’s Contender Series. Johnson owns a 3-1 record under the LFA banner, his only setback coming in a unanimous decision loss to Brandon Royval in 2018. He last competed at LFA 100, where he submitted Karlee Pangilinan with an anaconda choke in the second round of their Feb. 19 pairing. Horiuchi now operates out of Team Oyama in California. The 23-year-old evened his promotional record at 1-1 when he submitted Donavon Frelow with a second-round armbar at LFA 104 on April 16.

Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor
UFC 264
July 10 | Las Vegas

Two rivals will complete their trilogy when Poirier faces the former two-division champion for the second time in six months. “The Diamond” evened their head-to-head series at 1-1 on Jan. 23, when he hobbled McGregor with low kicks and ultimately put him away with punches in the second round of their UFC 257 headliner. Neither man has fought since. Their rivalry dates all the way back to 2014, when McGregor emerged from their first encounter with a first-round technical knockout at UFC 178. He went on to outright superstardom and later became the first competitor to hold Ultimate Fighting Championship titles in two weight classes simultaneously. Poirier, meanwhile, has pieced together an 11-2 record with one no contest since his first confrontation with McGregor, losing only to Michael Johnson and Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Michel Pereira vs. Niko Price
UFC 264
July 10 | Las Vegas

Furious fists and feet figure to fly when Pereira challenges Price in a three-round welterweight showcase between two offensive-minded martial artists known for throwing caution to the wind. Pereira, who initially wowed crowds with his acrobatic attacks, has taken a more measured approach in recent outings. “Demolidor” finds himself on a two-fight winning streak after he tamed knockout artist Kalinn Williams and walked away from their UFC Fight Night 183 clash with a unanimous decision on Dec. 19. Price has shown no such regard for his own safety. “The Hybrid” picked up steam with spectacular stoppage victories against Randy Brown, Tim Means and James Vick, only to squander it in losses to Abdul Razak Alhassan, Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque.

Ryan Hall vs. Ilia Topuria
UFC 264
July 10 | Las Vegas

The undefeated Topuria will put his perfect 10-0 record on the line against one of MMA’s most dangerous submission grapplers. Hall has fought sporadically since he won Season 22 of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2015. The 36-year-old Virginian carries an eight-fight winning streak into the cage that includes UFC victories over Artem Lobov, Gray Maynard, B.J. Penn and Darren Elkins. Hall holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Felipe Costa and was a bronze medalist at the 2009 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships. Topuria sports nine finishes among his 10 professional victories, seven of them by submission. He last appeared at UFC on ESPN 19, where he punched out Damon Jackson in the first round of their featherweight tilt on Dec. 5.

Tyrell Fortune vs. Matt Mitrione
Bellator 262
July 16 | Uncasville, Connecticut

Can Fortune maintain his position as one of the sport’s more promising young heavyweights? The 30-year-old Arizona Combat Sports product has begun to put some meaningful distance between himself and his only career defeat—a stunning first-round knockout loss to Timothy Johnson in February 2020. A decorated amateur wrestler who won three national championships in college, Fortune improved to 10-1 at Bellator 255 in April, when he buried Jack May with punches in a little more than three minutes. The venerable Mitrione, now 42, has not posted a victory in more than three years, as losses to Ryan Bader, Sergei Kharitonov and the aforementioned Johnson have resulted in something of an aimless existence in Bellator’s heavyweight division.

Miesha Tate vs. Marion Reneau
UFC on ESPN 26
July 17 | Las Vegas

Tate will come out of retirement—she walked away from the sport in 2016 and has since given birth to two children—to meet Reneau in a co-headlining assignment. The former Strikeforce and Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder has not fought since she dropped a unanimous decision to Raquel Pennington at UFC 205 four-plus years ago. Tate returns to a women’s bantamweight division still ruled by onetime tormentor Amanda Nunes. What she has to offer at the age of 34 remains to be seen. The 44-year-old Reneau continues to cling to a roster spot despite a four-fight losing streak that stretches back to July 2018. She last appeared at UFC on ESPN 21, where she wound up on the wrong side of the scorecards against Macy Chiasson.

Cory Sandhagen vs. T.J. Dillashaw
UFC Fight Night 191
July 24 | Las Vegas

Sandhagen appears to be one win away from challenging for the undisputed UFC bantamweight championship. In his way stands Dillashaw, a former titleholder returning from a two-year suspension administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Sandhagen staked his claim to contention with back-to-back highlight-reel finishes of former World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes and future hall of famer Frankie Edgar, the latter via flying knee in just 28 seconds. The Elevation Fight Team standout has put together a 7-1 record since joining the UFC roster in 2018, a submission defeat to current champion Aljamain Sterling his only misstep. Dillashaw has not set foot inside the Octagon since his 32-second technical knockout loss to Henry Cejudo at UFC Fight Night 143 on Jan. 19, 2019.

Askar Askarov vs. Alex Perez
UFC on ESPN 27
July 31 | Las Vegas

Two top-shelf flyweights are scheduled to collide at the UFC Apex in a three-round tilt that could thrust the undefeated Askarov into the spotlight as the next No. 1 contender at 125 pounds. “Bullet” owns a 3-0-1 record in the UFC that includes a split draw with Brandon Moreno—the man who now rules the flyweight division—in 2019. Askarov, 28, has since rattled off consecutive victories over Tim Elliott, Alexandre Pantoja and Joseph Benavidez, putting him in prime position to vie for the flyweight championship in the not-too-distant future. First, he must deal with Perez—a Team Oyama export who has won 11 of his past 13 bouts. The 29-year-old Californian last competed at UFC 255, where he submitted to a Deiveson Figueiredo guillotine choke on Nov. 21.

Magomed Magomedov vs. Raufeon Stots
Bellator 263
July 31 | Uncasville, Connecticut

Buoyed by an eye-popping 18-1 record that includes 12 finishes, Magomedov’s resume also features two encounters with eventual UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan. The results: a split decision win in March 2016 and a unanimous decision loss in April 2017. Considering his pedigree, the Russian does not figure to fly under the radar in Bellator’s bantamweight division much longer. Magomedov, 29, carries a five-fight winning streak into his next assignment, as he toes the line against Roufusport’s Stots. The once-beaten Stots has rattled off eight straight victories since his June 2, 2017 knockout loss to Merab Dvalishvili. “Supa” last fought at Bellator 258, where he laid claim to a unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 18 quarterfinalist Josh Hill on May 7.
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