For the fourth straight week, Bellator is hosting a card. What’s more is that it’s also the first time in three weeks that the promotion is holding a live event in the states, after two shows overseas, the latter of which was aired on tape delay.
To close out the busy stretch, the company will headline the card with the fourth, that’s right, fourth fight between Daniel Straus and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, including the third straight time for the Featherweight title. To be fair, Straus is the champ and this is essentially throwing Pitbull a bone a year and a half after the latter did the same, in what will hopefully be the end of their friendly and mostly entertaining rivalry.
In the co-main event, a pair of unbeaten female Flyweights will take the stage in a bout that’s not the most fun looking matchup or even matchup, but does showcase that the company is trying to push the division in the right direction. Rounding out the main card are a pair of fights involving a pair of well-known Bellator veterans, facing a pair of Bellator veterans that are much lesser known, but will still serve as important tests.
All in all, it’s a main card that’s pretty good on paper. Here are my picks for the entire four-fight slate.
Bellator 178 main card (9/8c, Spike TV)
Dominic Mazzotta (12-1) vs. A.J. McKee (7-0)
The bout currently slated to open tonight’s main card might be the most appealing fight of the evening. AJ McKee is now 7-0 as a pro after going 7-1 as an amateur, with all seven pro fights taking place in the Bellator cage. He’s got terrific grappling, knockout power, and a gas tank. This is another litmus test for him, and if he passes it, he could land a high-level top contender type bout next.
Mazzotta is no joke though. He’s 12-1 with nine submission wins, five first round finishes including four in the opening two minutes, and is 9-0 since suffering his only career loss in early 2014 against current UFC Bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt.
It’s honestly not the easiest fight to pick. Both guys are predominantly finishers, very good on the ground and can finish in the feet too. Mazzotta is older and more experienced overall, but McKee has faced better competition in Bellator. A finish for either guy wouldn’t be surprising, but I’l go with McKee here, to win in the same manner that he’s won his last two bouts-via decision. Prediction: McKee via decision.
Ryan Quinn (13-6-1) vs. Saad Awad (19-9)
Up next is an intriguing Lightweight bout in which longtime Bellator veteran Saad Awad will look to end a tough skid. Having been a fixture with the company since January 2013 and winning six of his first eight fights in that span, including being the first person to defeat Will Brooks (via tko in the opening round of all things,) the entertaining finisher has fallen of hard times of late. He’s lost two straight and three of his last four, albeit all of those losses coming against contenders. In all, he still has 15 finishes in 19 wins, and the only time he got finished in the last four fights was in his last one against knockout artist Brennan Ward.
Now, Awad faces someone who isn’t at the same level as most of his previous opponents, but is still a threat in Kyle Quinn. A black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Quinn has been fighting on and off with the company since early 2010. In that span, Quinn is just 3-4-1 outside the company, but is strangely 7-0 in Bellator. Of those seven fights,the latter two have come via submission, and his last fight with the company was in 2015. He’s won seven times via decision and has gone the distance 11 times in 20 career fights, while also winning twice via knockout and four times via submission. He’s never faced someone as good as Awad though, so this is legitimately a litmus test for both guys. I think Quinn will be tough and have his moments here and there. However, I don’t see him offering anything that Awad hasn’t seen countless times, and see Awad prevailing via finish before long. Prediction: Awad via tko, round 2.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (5-0) vs. Jessica Middleton (2-0)
In the co-main event, a pair of undefeated Flyweight women will duke it out, potentially for the right to fight for an impending title bout. On one hand, it’s sending a good message that the company is putting a female bout in the co-main slot, thereby further showing that they’re genuinely serious about legitimizing their female division.
That said, there’s not much to say or be excited about as far as the matchup is considered. Middleton came to the company without a pro bout to her name last July, has won two decisions, and is now in this slot. Meanwhile, Mcfarlane has two-and-a-half years of experience under her belt, good submissions, a quick knockout win and a gas tank to her credit. She’s 3-0 with Bellator with a pair of decision wins, including a stunner over Rebecca Ruth last year. She’s mostly a grinder who wins via lay n’pray before either decisioning or submitting her opponents, and as predictable as it sounds, I see this fight going the exact same way. Prediction: Macfarlane via decision or late submission.
Bellator Featherweight Championship: Daniel Straus (25-6) vs. Patricio Freire (25-4)
In the main event of the evening, Bellator Featherweight champion Daniel Straus will return to the cage for the first time since late 2015, due to a broken hand. In his return, he’ll face a man he’s faced three times already, in Patricio Freire. Their last two bouts against each other were pretty good, and this one probably will be as well.
Straus is a wrestler with good striking and pressuring abilities. He’s 11-3 overall with Bellator, and has actually lost twice to Freire, including once via submission. He won the last fight these two had with each other, but got injured and hasn’t fought since that November 2015 bout. Of his 25 wins, 15 have come via decision. He does have finishing ability though, possessing seven knockout and three submission wins to his credit.
As for Freire, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt has 19 finishes in 25 victories, a 13-4 record since joining the promotion over seven years ago, and his only loss via finish came in his last bout against Benson Henderson. In that bout, he was beating the former UFC Lightweight champion, before sustaining a leg injury that caused the bout to be called off. This is his first fight since that late August evening, and it’s not only a chance to settle a score, but also for the chance to be a champion again.
The fight should be pretty entertaining. Two of their first three fights went the distance, and this one likely will as well. Straus will look to pressure and grind down Freire, while Freire will try to keep it on the feet. Straus has lost a few times due to getting careless late in rounds and getting subsequently submitted in the final seconds of championship rounds, including in the fourth round against Freire in January 2015, so he’ll try to avoid falling into that trap again. Most likely, Straus wins via decision, looking better and better as the fight goes on. However, I’m rooting for a title change, because this rivalry needs to end, and “Pitbull” going up 3-1 in the series would likely do just that. Head pick: Straus via decision. Heart pick: Freire via submission, round 4.