The Bellator 263 main event on July 31 features the final match of Bellator’s featherweight grand prix, with defending champ Patricio Freire set to meet 17-0 wunderkind A.J. McKee. It is by acclamation the biggest fight in Bellator’s history: the pound-for-pound stalwart who somehow continues to improve with each fight, against the undefeated phenom who has blown through every new challenge with style and ease.
It would be difficult to overstate the extent to which “Patricio Pitbull” has been synonymous with the featherweight belt. There is a certain amount of round-robin parity; along with Freire, Pat Curran and Daniel Straus are both two-time champs, as they have snatched the belt from one another over and over again. However, “Pitbull” is the clear alpha dog here. In the entire history of the division, there have been 17 title fights, and Freire has been in 11 of them, going 9-2.
Before any of those gentlemen, however, there was Joe Soto, Bellator’s first featherweight champion. Soto was in fact the promotion’s first champ, period, preceding Hector Lombard and Lyman Good by a week. He and Joe Warren—who was a late starter in MMA and physically better suited to bantamweight—held down the fort until the triumvirate of Freire, Curran and Straus arrived. Now Freire sits atop the mountain, as he prepares to face perhaps his greatest test to date.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration