Bellator MMA is returning for the first time in 2021 to stage Bellator 255: “Pitbull vs. Sanchez 2” tomorrow night (Fri., April 2, 2021) inside Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., airing (for free) on Showtime. Headlining the event will be a 145-pound title bout between division kingpin, Patricio Freire defending his strap against Emmanuel Sanchez. The bout will also serve as the last semifinal match in the Featherweight World Grand Prix, which was put on hold in 2020 because of COVID-19.
Let’s break down the action:
145 lbs.: Patricio Freire (31-4) vs. Emmanuel Sanchez (20-4)
Freire has proven to be one of Bellator MMA’s biggest assets, and with Michael Chandler heading over to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) “Pitbull’s” share of the pie may have gotten a bit bigger. He holds the Featherweight and Lightweight titles, one of only two fighters to achieve champ-champ status for Bellator, though getting double the glory hasn’t been any by any means for the Brazilian bomber.
Among the many hungry lions Freire has to fight off during his epic run is Sanchez. The two men initially threw down at Bellator 209 in November of 2018 with “Pitbull” defending his title after five rounds of back-and-forth action. The two have gone on to prosper since then, with Freire knocking out the aforementioned Michael Chandler to win the 155-pound belt, as well as defend his Featherweight strap two more times against Pedro Carvalho and Juan Archuleta. Sanchez, meanwhile, has won three straight against Georgi Karakhanyan, Tywan Claxton and Daniel Weichel, bringing him to a nice 7-1 mark in his last eight fights for the Viacom-owned promotion.
In a rematch, the losing fighter can always work on the mistakes they did wrong in the first loss. On the flip side of that coin, the winner always improves on what they did right. That said, Freire is simply firing on all cylinders and while Sanchez did give him all he could handle in the first fight, I just don’t see him having enough in the tool box to tame “The Pitbull.” He might be able to work his jab a bit more to keep the short fighter at bay in order to avoid getting tagged by the heavy hands that have slept the best of them in the past. But Sanchez is far from a slouch on the feet, and we know he isn’t afraid to put the pressure on and become the aggressor, much like he was in the first fight. He also has to stick with his kicks, which were big part of his game in the first bout, as well.
Freire, meanwhile, isn’t afraid to take a hit or two from his bigger opponents in order to get in close enough to land some of his own. And when they land, they hurt people, much like he did Sanchez, busting him in round two with laser-like strikes. And that’s the thing about Freire, he picks his shots carefully and doesn’t waste unnecessary energy swinging when the openings aren’t there. And let’s not forget, his submission game is top notch, so Sanchez has to be on the look out for that again, too. I full expect another five round war as entertaining as the first, and we can expect the same result.
Final prediction: Patricio Freire via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Neiman Grace (10-1) vs. Jason Jackson (13-4)
After suffering the first loss of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career against Rory MacDonald at Bellator 222 in June 2019, Gracie stormed back in his return fight by defeating Jon Fitch via heel hook at Bellator 246. It was his ninth submission win in 10 overall victories, so it isn’t a secret where he plans on taking the fight against Jackson. On that note, “Ass-Kicking Machine” has never been submitted in his eight-year career, so Gracie will have his work cut out for him. Winner of three straight, Jackson could invade the Top 5 and inch closer to a shot at the title. But Gracie is as tough and gritty as they come and since he is ranked No. 3, he can get back to the big dance a lot sooner with an impressive showing. In short, Jackson has to keep it standing for as long as possible to avoid becoming another notch on Gracie’s jiu-jitsu belt.
Final prediction: Gracie via second round submission
265 lbs.: Tyrell Fortune (9-1) vs. Jack May (11-7)
Fortune had a big opportunity taken from him after Matt Mitrione was forced out of the event. No fret, Fortune — ranked No. 6 — has the chance to make things right after his first fight against May at Bellator 245 in Sept. 2020 ended in a “No Contest” after May was unable to continue due to a low blow. Fortune has a well-rounded attack, he can grind out a win or submit his fellow big men. His specialty, though, is his striking power. Of his nine victories, six of them have come via knockout. As for May, he hasn’t had the best run as of late, going 1-4-1 in his last six fights. So far, May has been unable to pick up a win inside the UFC or Bellator MMA cage, so picking up his first against Fortune would be huge for his career.
Final prediction: Fortune via first round knockout
155 lbs.: Usman Nurmagomedov (11-0) vs. Mike Hamel (7-4)
Nurmagomedov will make his highly-anticipated promotional debut as an undefeated (11-0) contender. And when you carry the Nurmagomedov name, big things are expected. So far he has delivered with 10 of his 11 wins coming via stoppage, including seven in the very first round. He has a great team around him at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) and will have a new full time coach in the form of Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner. All that said, Usman still has to deliver on the big Bellator stage. His opponent hasn’t exactly lit the MMA world on fire going 2-4 in his last six fights. Prior to that, though, “Magic” started off his career at a perfect 5-0, so he does know a thing or three about winning. I just don’t see him being the first to hand Nurmagomedov a loss. Usman is too crafty, too skilled and overall too good to lose this one. Barring a flash knockout, I don’t see him coming up short in his Bellator debut.
Final prediction: Nurmagomedov via second round technical knockout
125 lbs.: Alejandra Lara (9-3) vs. Kana Watanabe (9-0-1)
Watanabe has long been one of the best female Flyweights in the game, but since she rose to fame fighting for DEEP and RIZIN in Japan, a lot of people stateside may not know a ton about her. She has a chance to put herself on the map and up her notoriety with a big win over Lara in her first fight with Bellator. It’s a tough task to say the least because Lara is as tough as they come. A five-fight Bellator veteran, Lara is 3-2 so for in her time with promotion, which was good enough to and her at No. 4, one spot ahead of Watanabe. If “Azul” hands Watanabe her first “L,” it would be huge for career and championship aspirations.
Final prediction: Lara via split decision
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 255 tomorrow evening on Showtime. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.