Bellator 178: "Straus vs. Pitbull 4" takes place tomorrow (Fri., Apr. 21, 2017) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. A rematch of one of the oldest grudges in Bellator MMA headlines the main event as Featherweight champion Daniel Straus meets Patricio Freire for the fourth time.
That fight alone will put a lot of butts in seats in Uncasville, but Bellator isn’t settling for just one fight to draw the house, as two undefeated Flyweights will do battle along with a long time Lightweight veteran who is still the only person to ever beat Will Brooks in Bellator.
Let’s break it down:
145 lbs.: Daniel Straus (25-6) vs. Patricio Freire (25-4)
I’ve probably written more words about these two men fighting (dating back to my pre-Mania career) than any other pairing in Bellator. The history between them dates back six years to Bellator 45 in 2011, when Freire beat Straus in the finals of a Featherweight tournament. Ever since that date it’s been their destiny to meet over and over again for the pleasure of the fans, although Straus would not achieve his own destiny until their historic third fight in 2015.
The idea of a championship advantage goes out the window given this long rivalry has given both men nearly every opportunity possible to scout their opposite. The biggest X factor in this match is how well Straus has recovered from a broken hand, and whether or not Straus will fall victim to the dreaded “ring rust” after being off for well over a year. On the plus side Straus does have some physical advantages at 5’8” with a 67” reach versus 5’5” and a 65” reach in the fight.
Patricio “Pitbull” Freire is not intimidated by those advantages though and shouldn’t be given that he’s already defeated Straus twice. The rest of the Featherweight division may be seething at how they can’t seem to break into the mix, but unless Straus breaks his hand again I can’t see another full year going by without someone else not named “Pitbull” challenging for the gold. And even though Freire does own those two wins over Straus, the reason Straus got the third was because he improved each time out. That’s what I look for from the American Top Team veteran here — continued growth. Instead of “ring rust” I expect him to perform better than ever.
Final prediction: Daniel Straus defeats Patricio Freire via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (5-0) vs. Jessica Middleton (2-0)
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane has been positioned as one of the top stars of Bellator’s Flyweight division, with an undefeated record that includes some spectacular submissions and gritty decisions to stay near the top of the pack. “Grit” describes Middleton perfectly though as the woman nicknamed “Million Hits” has gone to decision in all but one of her fights from the pros to the amateur bouts. With both fighters being in their late 20’s it comes down to the tale of the tape, where Middleton stands 5’7” with a 70” reach while Macfarlane is 5’4” with a 66.5” reach. You can’t measure the size of Macfarlane’s heart on a scale though and I’ve seen her outwork bigger opponents before (and in recent history) and being smaller actually allows her to be stronger by packing on more muscle. Unless Middleton can stuff the takedowns she’s got a big problem here.
Final prediction: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane defeats Jessica Middleton via submission
155 lbs.: Saad Awad (19-9) vs. Ryan Quinn (13-6-1)
After taking a second straight loss in Bellator, even though he went up in weight to face Brennan Ward, Awad is looking forward to coming back down and getting down with Ryan Quinn. The Danbury, Conn. native Quinn will be the crowd favorite in Uncasville, and although he’s won every appearance in Bellator MMA (7-0) dating back to 2010 his record is much more spotty outside it. Quinn seems most vulnerable to being submitted, but Awad has not tapped out a Bellator opponent since 2013, preferring to speak with his hands in his fights. He’ll raise his percentage of wins by knockout (42%, eight of 19) with his victory on Friday night.
Final prediction: Saad Awad knocks out Ryan Quinn in the first round
145 lbs.: A.J. McKee (7-0) vs. Dominic Mazzotta (11-1)
By now you know that A.J. McKee is as cocky as he is confident, and since he’s undefeated it’s hard to argue he doesn’t back that up. With three knockouts and two submissions in his seven wins he’s a known finisher, although the momentum slowed in his last two bouts as he had to grind his way to a decision. Newcomer Dominic Mazzotta won’t make things any easier for McKee. His lone career loss came against current UFC champion Cody Garbrandt, and “The Honey Badger” has finished 73% of his wins (eight of 11) via submission. There’s little doubt this is McKee’s toughest test to date. A win certifies him as a Featherweight contender, and a loss sends him to the back of the line in a very crowded division. Embrace the grind young man.
Final prediction: A.J. McKee wins by unanimous decision
That’s a wrap!
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