The devastating power of Patricio Freire has led to opponents sleeping on his grappling, but you have to protect your neck against the fearsome featherweight champion.
“Pitbull” punched his ticket to the featherweight grand prix finals with relative ease, dropping Emmanuel Sanchez with punches before jumping guard to put Sanchez to sleep with a guillotine choke. In doing so, Freire defended his Bellator MMA featherweight crown on top of Bellator 255 in the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Seconds after Freire secured his grip, he signaled to referee Todd Anderson that the challenger was already unconscious. Anderson grasped the hand of Sanchez a few times, letting it fall lifelessly more than once until halting the contest and sealing the deal on their rematch.
Their first meeting was a far closer affair than the rematch, as the two fought to a narrow decision in 2018 after five hard rounds. This time around, Sanchez peppered “Pitbull” with kicks low and high, but he could not stave off power shots as Freire found home for his big right hand time and time again. As Sanchez attempted an overhand right into a body kick, the champ countered him with a blistering two-punch combination that knocked Sanchez to his back. Looking to finish the job, “Pitbull” poured it on with punches but allowed Sanchez to stand up so to snare Sanchez in a deadly trap. A still-rocked Sanchez gave up his neck for a moment, and the guillotine-savvy Freire snatched on to the choke and pulled guard to secure it in an exchange that lasted barely over a dozen seconds. There was nary a moment of celebration for the champion, even after a successful defense against a former foe that had never been finished up to that point. Instead, his next opponent entered the cage, and the two jaw-jacked until they needed to be separated.
In the aftermath of Bellator 255 “Pitbull vs. Sanchez 2,” here are four matches that ought to be made:
Patricio Freire vs. A.J. McKee: This is about as sure of a thing as it gets to subsequent matchmaking, as Freire will come to blows with McKee to conclude Bellator’s featherweight grand prix. To the victor belong the spoils: the champion of the division, the champion of the tournament and a crisp $1 million check. Bellator’s pound-for-pound top-ranked male fighter Freire had once more protected his gold belt and kept his tournament aspirations alive, with an eye to the future against McKee. This finals matchup is all the promotion could ask for, as two home-grown stars toe the line for all the marbles. Freire remains the winningest fighter in company history, while McKee brings with him more momentum than practically anyone in the sport in the form of a mind-boggling 17-fight Bellator win streak. Greatness awaits for the one who gets their hand raised after that contest, and confidence is at an all-time high for both top-tier 145-pounders. “Pitbull” vs. McKee is the kind of fight that fight fans around the world should stop what they are doing and watch, as it could be a battle for the ages. One only hopes that it comes soon.
Jason Jackson vs. Michael Page: The wide-open welterweight division is in need of a strong contender to challenge Douglas Lima, and the winner of No. 3 Neiman Gracie vs. No. 6 Jackson could have helped sort that out a bit. Instead, in a bit of a slog, Jackson outlasted the dangerous grappler after suffering an unusual scrape to his eye courtesy of the fencing. His heavy hands and quick scrambling ability – Jackson escaped mount and reversed Gracie’s top position a few times – appeared to give him the edge and get the nod from all three judges. “The Ass-Kicking Machine” called for a title shot, but his less-than-stellar performance over a great name may instead merit a top-three adversary in Page. Although Page is riding a four-fight win streak including three knockouts, his last two outings came in catchweights above 170 pounds. With a memorable defeat to current champ Lima less than two years ago, “Venom” will need to dazzle against a highly regarded foe, and his dance card has been empty since October 2020. Jackson is strong and fearless enough to give mercurial striker Page a serious test, where the winner could then be in line for a shot at the throne.
Tyrell Fortune vs. Valentin Moldavsky: With struggles in matchmaking during the COVID-19 pandemic, fighters can be rewarded for asking for specific names. Fortune was able to stay on Bellator 255 when Jack May stepped up on very short notice, running back a rematch some were surprised to see happen. The 39-year-old May offered little resistance as he was shellacked in the span of a few minutes, with his only silver lining that it took more than one takedown to keep him grounded until a finish materialized. This served as little more than a stay-busy fight for Fortune although he got out some rage on “The Outlaw,” and went on to call out the higher-ranked Moldavsky. Although the Arizona Combat Sports export was slated to take on Matt Mitrione at this event, “Meathead” was forced to withdraw for undisclosed reasons and his timetable for return is unknown. Should Mitrione be away for a considerable amount of time, Russia’s Moldavsky could prove an excellent foil for powerful wrestler Fortune. As the heavyweight title is tied up with Ryan Bader down at 205 pounds contending in a tournament, contenders may need to rack up lengthy winning streaks to get a crack at the elusive belt.
Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Myles Jury: This was not your typical performance to come from a man with the surname of Nurmagomedov, as Usman displayed a varied striking game with fast feet and fleet fists to batter a tough Mike Hamel. In fact, of the two, Hamel was the one who earnestly considered any sort of takedown, only to be rebuffed and tattooed with strikes for three bloody rounds. The +750 underdog Hamel displayed grit and toughness, but Nurmagomedov was both more powerful and more accurate. A stiffer test should come for the Bellator newcomer after this impressive victory, and that can come in the form of ultra-durable UFC vet Fury, who finds himself on a quiet two-fight win streak with decision wins over Brandon Girtz and Georgi Karakhanyan in 2020, and this would serve as a true clash of lightweights looking to work their way towards top-five rankings consideration and beyond.