Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Golden State" this Friday night (Sept. 13, 2013) at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California.
The special two hour main card will air live on Spike TV on fight night, beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
Headlining the main event will be a Bellator season nine featherweight tournament quarterfinal fight between recent title challenger Patricio Freire and former top 10 UFC 145-pounder Diego Nunes. Freire is fresh off a second round drubbing of tough prospect Jared Downing while "The Gun" is making his Bellator debut fresh off receiving his UFC release. The winner of this bout is expected to be a heavy favorite to win the rest of the tournament.
Also on tap will be a feature light heavyweight attraction between a pair of veterans as Vladimir Matyushenko takes on Houston Alexander. Both men are in their 40s and it will be interesting to see what they have left in the tank.
Last but not least, the rest of the season nine featherweight tournament quarterfinals will be kicking off as the likes of Akop Stepanyan, Justin Wilcox, Fabricio Guerreiro and more all vie for a shot at the title.
Our Bellator 98 preview and predictions are posted below:
145 lbs.: Patricio Freire (18-2) vs. Diego Nunes (18-4)
Freire has steadily become one of Bellator's most talented featherweights, rising up the ranks and scoring impressive victories over the likes of Wilson Reis (twice), Georgi Karakhanyan and Daniel Straus. He took a tune-up fight prior to the tournament fresh off his close five round decision loss to champion Pat Curran and obliterated Jared Downing, dropping the prospect five times in six minutes to earn a TKO stoppage.
Nunes was a staple of the WEC and UFC featherweight division, scoring significant victories over Rafael Assuncao, Mike Brown and Manny Gamburyan but his propensity to go to a decision in every fight coupled with his rising payscale made him expendable and he was released after getting outgrappled for three rounds by Nik Lentz earlier this year. This will be his first fight since he was cut.
While Nunes trains out of a great camp and is pretty well-rounded in all areas, he's lacking against Pitbull on a technical level just about everywhere. Pitbull has more power in his strikes, cleaner technique, is more capable in the submission department and has better offensive and defensive wrestling. The only area Nunes might have an advantage is conditioning, but I doubt that comes into play in a three round fight. Nunes is difficult to finish so I feel Freire will take a dominant decision here.
Final Prediction: Patricio Pitbull via decision
205 lbs.: Vladimir Matyushenko (26-7) vs. Houston Alexander (15-9 2 NC)
Both Matyushenko and Alexander have history inside the Octagon, although they never matched up against one another. "The Janitor" was supposed to face former Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion Christian M'Pumbu but an injury created a void which Alexander was able to fill.
With Matyushenko being 42 and Alexander recently hitting 41 years old, there's no telling how either man's body holds up in this bout. Alexander should have an advantage in the kicking department and perhaps in pure one-punch power, but neither man has a very good chin at this point. Matyushenko is the better wrestler and likely will be better conditioned here, so if he can drag the bout past the first round, look for him to take over and get a stoppage.
Final Prediction: Vladimir Matyushenko via TKO in round two
145 lbs.: Justin Wilcox (11-5 1 NC) vs. Akop Stepanyan (13-5)
Wilcox enters this fight as a late notice replacement, stepping in for season seven tournament winner Shahbulat Shamhalaev, who had to return to his home country to visit his ailing father. "The Silverback" was a standout lightweight for Strikeforce, but a string of rough fights where he sported an 0-2 record with one no contest left him on the outside looking in when UFC aquired the promotion's roster. He'll be dropping down to featherweight for the first time to enter this tournament.
Stepanyan was on quite a roll for his career but he was derailed by crafty Brazilian Wagnney Fabiano via first round submission in his Bellator debut. He made a much better impression in his next fight, scoring what should have been a decision victory over Marlon Sandro, but he wound up on the receiving end of a controversial decision loss. He bounced back by handing Chris Saunders a serious butt-kicking in his most recent performance and is ready to roll.
Wilcox should be the stronger of the two men and possesses better wrestling, but the big question mark is how well his body handles the first cut to featherweight especially after having not fought in over a year. Stepanyan has a better chin and should be the better striker in the stand-up portion, so this fight could go a myriad of ways. I'm leaning Stepanyan however due to all the intangibles going against Wilcox.
Final Prediction: Akop Stepanyan via TKO in round two
145 lbs.: Desmond Green (8-1) vs. Fabricio Guerreiro (17-2)
Green will be making his Bellator debut. He stood out as a talented wrestler, taking multiple opponents down and wearing them out/beating them up with a solid grinding style both standing and on the canvas. He's coming off the biggest victory of his career, scoring a TKO over UFC veteran Henry Martinez earlier this year to punch his ticket to the big leagues.
Guerreiro was hailed as one of the next great prospects signed by Bellator, bu this promotional debut left quite a bit to be desired. He looked decent in the first round against Frodo Khasbulaev, but completely faded in the second and was finished by the Russian. He'll be looking to redeem himself here.
Green will try to wear Guerreiro down, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he can tire the Brazilian out, but look for Guerreiro to be significantly fired up and motivated from his loss to Khasbulaev. He's the better submission artist of the two, so Green is playing with fire if he shoots in on him. Look for that to backfire at some point in this fight, preferably early.
Final Prediction: Fabricio Guerreiro via submission in round one