Bellator 221: “Chandler vs. Pitbull” airs this weekend (Sat., May 11, 2019) from Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., streaming exclusively online via DAZN. The Lightweight champion’s title is up for grabs against the current Featherweight champion, and the next round of the Welterweight Grand Prix gets underway as we determine our first finalist!
Let’s break it down:
155 lbs.: Michael Chandler (19-4) vs. Patricio Freire (28-4)
This is the “champ-champ” fight everyone has been waiting for. The three-time and current Lightweight champion, “Iron” Mike Chandler, puts his belt on the line against two-time and current Featherweight champion Patricio Freire. “Pitbull” has almost nothing to lose in this battle. His title is not at stake and if he is not victorious in this battle he’ll still be commended for showing the heart to go up in weight and take on this challenge. Chandler on the other hand has everything to lose, having only just recently regained his title from Brent Primus with a five-round domination and decimation in Dec. 2018.
These two men are the most dominant fighters in their respective weight classes in Bellator, and arguably among the most dominant in it worldwide outside of Bellator. The fact both are multiple-time champions and only have four losses each can tell you much, but the tale of the tape can tell you just a bit more. Chandler stands 5’8” and has a 69-inch reach, so he’s a compact and muscular Lightweight with the power in his hands to stop a bull in its tracks (seven knockouts) and the squeeze to make men tap (seven submissions). Freire is if anything even more of a brick outhouse, standing 5’5” with a 65-inch reach. Though he has more submissions (11) than knockouts (nine), it’s his hands that are his most feared weapon. He’ll use them to stun you and then put a strangle on you while you’re defenseless.
The reason mixed martial arts (MMA) has weight classes is because of the cliche “size matters.” In the earliest days of professionally sanctioned MMA, a skilled Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist of any size could humble a larger and stronger opponent who only knew striking or wrestling. Since that time the playing field has been leveled by multi-discipline training and fight camps with multiple black belts competing and teaching at the same time. There are still going to be instances where someone can move up in weight and win with power and technique, but there are going to be far more where when all things are equal the larger man humbles the smaller.
In theory that makes Chandler the winner — but throw theory out the window and pick Freire. Virtually every opponent Freire has faced has been larger, and history tells us that despite the size difference Freire beat Daniel Straus three out of the four times they met. There’s one more cliche — “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog.”
Final prediction: Patricio Freire wins via fourth round knockout
170 lbs.: Douglas Lima (30-7) vs. Michael Page (14-0)
As we advance further into the the Welterweight Grand Prix, one of these two men fighting tonight will stake their claim to represent their side of the bracket in the upcoming finals. Will it be the “Phenom” Douglas Lima, who has come back time and again from adversity and claimed two reigns as Welterweight champion in the process? Or will it be the modern day phenom Michael “Venom” Page, undefeated to date in his professional career and blessed with some of the most dynamic striking in the entire Welterweight division?
Lima looked born again in his trilogy fight with Andrey Koreshkov, sending a message in the process that a third title reign was not out of the question. By contrast, Page struggled mightily with Paul Daley in a fight many observers picked him to dominate. Daley stunned everyone with previously unseen takedown technique and in doing so exposed a huge flaw in the stylistic game of Page. That’s not good news from “Venom” given that Lima is a black belt under Roan Carneiro, so if he gets the takedown he can do even more with it than Daley did (12 submissions). Standing with him (13 knockouts) isn’t much better.
Page does bring some valuable assets to the table though, not the least of which is his size. Standing 6’3” with a 79-inch wingspan, he’s easily big enough to be a Light Heavyweight or perhaps even a Heavyweight. The fact that he makes the cut to 170 pounds time and again and is healthy doing so is both remarkable and to his advantage given that Lima is 6’1” and only has a 71-inch reach. While Page has eight wins by knockout, it’s worth noting that they don’t all come via his hands — he’s just as likely to rock you with a flying knee as a punch. His years of training all forms of striking make him a boxer, a kickboxer and a well-rounded martial artist ... except in takedown defense. In this case though size really does matter.
Final prediction: Michael Page advances to the finals via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: A.J. McKee (13-0) vs. Pat Curran (23-7)
This is the changing of the guard moment for the Featherweight division. Pat Curran is the venerable old lion, but he’s been scarred by Daniel Straus, Patricio Freire and Daniel Weichel, among others. Give it up to the man for his three-fight win streak, but then take note of the fact that he averaged one fight a year from 2015-17 and none since until now. While they are equally matched (or “virtually identical”) at 5’10” with a 73-inch reach, I favor the younger man (23) who takes 3-4 fights a year over the old lion (31) who isn’t so old that he’s over the hill, but will not be ascending back to the throne any time soon.
Final prediction: A.J. McKee wins via guillotine choke in round two
265 lbs.: Jake Hager (1-0) vs. T.J. Jones (1-1)
I can tell you in two words why Jake Hager will win this fight: Bellator 214. That’s not much of a preview, though, so I’ll elaborate a bit more. The former “Jack Swagger” was given a very beatable, but still real MMA fighter in J.W. Kiser, and then proceeded to hand him his ass by taking him down and locking in an arm-triangle choke. T.J. Jones is the new J.W. Kiser. His last recorded professional fight was more than one decade ago and against the life-long wrestler (both amateur and professional) there’s no way he stops Hager from taking him down ... then out.
Final prediction: Jake Hager wins via rear-naked choke in the first round
145 lbs.: Tywan Claxton (4-0) vs. James Bennett (4-1)
“Speedy” Tywan Claxton has blown through all of his opposition to date and his being featured on the main card says that’s not going to be changing any time soon. It’s a “no lose” situation for Bellator, though, as if Claxton does get upset they still have a five win fighter left who got the spotlight on a major Bellator card.
Final prediction: Tywan Claxton wins via flying knee knockout
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 221 tomorrow with a main card on at 9 p.m. ET and DAZN prelim fights starting at 7 p.m. ET. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.