Like everyone else in the sports world right now Bellator MMA is on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. As such I thought now would be an excellent time to take a look back at a series of Bellator fights that were so epic it went beyond the usual “rubber match” many MMA trilogies see only to encompass a fourth and (so far) final chapter.
The first installment of Patricio “Pitbull” Freire vs. Daniel Straus saga came at Bellator 45 on May 21, 2011 at L’Auberge du Lac Resort in Lake Charles, Louisiana. After losing a split decision to Joe Warren a year earlier in the Featherweight tournament finale, Freire tore through the season four tournament with knockout wins over Georgi Karakhanyan and Wilson Reis en route to what he hoped would be a career-defining tournament victory.
Straus was not going to let him have that win easily. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native was on a tear of his own, having entered the promotion in 2010 on a seven-fight win streak. He continued to roll through the next year, smashing his way through the opposite side of the tournament bracket until he submitted Kenny Foster via guillotine choke at Bellator 41.
Both men entered the fight at the peak of their careers to date. Brazil’s Freire was 16-1 overall and 4-1 in Bellator. Straus was 16-3 and unblemished in Bellator at a perfect 3-0. Something was going to have to give when these two men met in the finals. There was more than just pride and respect on the line. The tournament winner earned a future title shot at then 145 lb. champion Warren, a match “Pitbull” was eager to revenge.
That motivation proved to be too much for Straus to overcome. Freire used a series of takedowns and counter strikes to dominate through two rounds, then began to taunt his hapless opponent in the third, setting an early precedent for the emotional roller coaster that this series would take fight fans on. Unable to turn the tide or score a late comeback finish, Straus dropped a unanimous decision.
The tournament finals drew 264,000 viewers for MTV2, the second highest audience of the season, surpassed only by Bellator 44 a week earlier. Unfortunately for Freire, a hand injury would postpone his world title shot and keep him sidelined for nearly two years. Straus, on the other hand, would bounce back and go on an impressive six-fight win streak afterward, leading to a world championship and ultimately the second part of this saga.
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