As the title suggests, I’m sure we’ve all heard the expression “Good things come in threes.” The ménage a-trois, for one. The three-point shot in basketball. The hat trick in hockey. Yessir, having good things come in threes is about as close as a person can get to achieving nirvana.
So does that if something comes in fours, it’s even better? We’ll find out on Friday, April 21, when Bellator MMA’s latest card gives the fourth meeting between Bellator featherweight champion Daniel Straus and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. The third was the charm for Straus when he finally defeated Freire for the Bellator featherweight title in November 2015 in a hard-fought battle.
Straus has been recovering from a broken hand suffered in that fight since then, and Bellator elected not to create an interim title (see that, UFC? You don’t need to create an interim belt EVERY TIME. Just saying). Freire is coming off a knee injury sustained in his loss to Benson Henderson last year, but Bellator decided to let “Pitbull” and his rival square off, one more time. So what else do we have to look forward to on this card?
Saad Awad (19-9) vs. Ryan Quinn (13-6-1) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
Awad is coming off a devastating first-round knockout loss to Brennan Ward and has only won once in his last three fights. Quinn is returning to Bellator after previously competing for the organization multiple times since 2010, and has won three out of his last four overall. As we saw in his fight against Ward, Awad is always accommodating to a slugfest when asked, like he was (literally) when he faced Ward.
Quinn only has two knockouts among his 13 overall victories and Awad has basically evenly split 15 of his 19 overall victories between knockouts and submissions. It’s possible this fight will be a mixed bag, but I think Quinn will use his experience on the regional scene to his advantage and bring a hard-fought style to counter the overall experience of Awad.
Winner: Quinn by unanimous decision
A.J. McKee (7-0) vs. Dominic Mazzotta (11-1) (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)
Pop quiz: Who was responsible for Mazzotta’s lone loss in his pro MMA career? If you guessed current UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt, give yourself a cookie. Garbrandt knocked out Mazzotta in 2014, but that’s been the only blemish on Mazzotta’s record thus far. McKee’s undefeated record portends his rise through the Bellator ranks, and he seems to be on a collision course with fellow Bellator featherweight James Gallagher, as the two have engaged in a pretty damn heated war of words.
But McKee would be wise not to be distracted by future fights and focus on the task at hand. Mazzotta is undefeated since his loss to Garbrandt and all but two of his victories have come via submission. Mazzotta could easily catch McKee in one of those submissions, but I think McKee plays it safe, keeps the fight standing and uses his speed and athleticism to stay out of Mazzotta’s clutches. It may not be pretty, but it’ll get the job done.
Winner: McKee by unanimous decision
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (5-0) vs. Jessica Middleton (2-0) (Flyweight – 125 lbs.)
Bellator’s women’s flyweight division continues to take shape, though you wonder when Bellator will finally pull the trigger and introduce a proper title belt. Bellator introduced a women’s featherweight title earlier this year, though that division doesn’t have nearly the depth of the flyweights.
Macfarlane looks to become one of the more recognizable faces of the female flyweights, with the resume to back it up. But Middleton has also won all (two) of her fights under the Bellator banner, and defeating someone with the profile of Macfarlane would catapult Middleton into immediate title consideration – assuming Bellator finally introduces that title, that is.
Middleton should pose a stiff challenge for Macfarlane, who will conversely be Middleton’s toughest challenge to date. I think Middleton will do her best to make Macfarlane earn every inch, but Macfarlane looks to be on a determined march to become Bellator’s first women’s flyweight champion. She won’t let Middleton stand in her way.
Winner: Macfarlane by submission
Daniel Straus (23-6) vs. Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (25-4) (Featherweight Title – 145 lbs.)
As stated above, this is Straus’ first fight in nearly a year-and-a-half since he defeated Freire for the title in 2015. Freire is coming off a layoff of his own, so I would expect a fair amount of ring rust when this fight begins. We may not see the exciting slugfest we’re expecting until the later rounds, I reckon.
But Straus and Freire have an intense rivalry, given that this fight will be their fourth meeting, so I do expect fireworks, eventually. For me, the biggest question is which injury will affect the fighter more? Straus’ hand or Freire’s knee? Straus only has 10 total finishes among his 23 overall victories, while Freire has 19 and is almost evenly split between knockouts and submissions.
Straus and Freire are about as evenly matched as you can get, even with Freire’s proclivity for finishes. Which makes this fight extremely tough to pick. I know it will go the distance, and it will probably become a contender for “Fight of the Year” in Bellator. I think Straus will be determined to show that his first victory over Freire wasn’t a fluke, and can will his way to his first title defense. But Freire will not go quietly. Hell, we may see a fifth meeting between the two after this one.
Winner: Straus by split decision