Bellator 263 is all set to go down tomorrow night (Sat., July 31, 2021) inside The Forum in Los Angeles, CA. The event will mark the conclusion of the promotion’s Featherweight Grand Prix which started in mid-2019. In the finals, division champion Patricio Freire will take on A.J. McKee. The winner also goes home with a whopping $1 million payday.
Patricio Pitbull vs. A.J. McKee
@PatricioPitbull and @ajmckee101 are ready to make — BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) July 30, 2021
It doesn’t get any bigger than this. Who will claim the #FeatherweightWGP crown at @TheForum?#Bellator263 | @SHOsports | Saturday, 10PM EST / 7PM PST pic.twitter.com/erTqlYBouC
Bellator couldn’t have scripted the finale to its 145-pound tournament any better. After a year and a half, the finale will conclude with the two best fighters in the weight class going toe-to-toe in what promises to be one of the best fights of the year. In one corner, the poster boy for Bellator and current champ-champ, Freire, looks to add to his seven-fight win streak and overall legacy by winning the tournament, taking home the big payday and handing McKee his first-ever loss. “Pitbull’s” legacy is already set as one of the best in Bellator history but defeating McKee puts him on another level.
McKee is a true homegrown talent for Bellator, competing for the promotion the entirety of his career. Through it all, “Mercenary” has won all 17 of his fights, taking out some high-level competition along the way to earning a a fight against Freire. This is without a doubt his stiffest test to date, and it will be the most rewarding if he can take out the champ. McKee will enjoy a size advantage in the cage, but that’s never seemed to bother Freire. “Pitbull” has power for days and though he may have the advantage there, McKee can strike with the best of them. Freire has a slight advantage in the jiu-jitsu department, but McKee is no slouch on the ground and has six submission victories to his name.
This is a tough fight to pick. Both men are well-rounded, both can strike, grapple and submit the best of them. Freire is more battle-tested so the easy pick is to go with him. But not tonight. I am feeling the upset here. While a loss will be tough for Freire to swallow, he will find solace in knowing that he is still the Lightweight champion of the world. McKee’s time is now and pulling off this big upset is going to catapult him to the next level of stardom. When you add the level of tension between these two men which only increased yesterday during the post-fight presser (see it here), we can expect to be treated to one hell of a title fight.
Final prediction: McKee via fourth round technical knockout
Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Mads Burnell
This fight will have a HUGE impact on the Featherweight division.— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) July 30, 2021
Subscribe to @SHOsports for @MatadorSanchez_ vs. @Burnellmma tomorrow night at 10PM EST / 7PM PST. #Bellator263 pic.twitter.com/p0kRCDCvTt
Sanchez came up short in his bid to earn a spot in the finals after losing to Freire in the semifinals. The loss was his second to “Pitbull,” the only man who has defeated him in the last five years. Now, “El Matador” looks to get back on the horse and into the win column against Burnell, a longtime veteran with experience fighting all over the world. Burnell has competed under the UFC, Cage Warriors and now Bellator banner. Winner of six in a row, the former Cage Warriors Featherweight champion hopes to make Bellator his home for a while. With two wins with the promotion, Burnell has earned the No. 8 spot and a win over Sanchez should put him in the Top 5 since he will have beaten the No. ranked fighter in the division. Furthermore, it’s not too far-fetched to believe that the winner will get first dibs for the next title fight at 145 pounds against the winner of the main event. It’s a fairly even matchup though I’d give Sanchez the slight edge on the feet. And that is where this fight will be decided. Once the fight gets going Burnell won’t back down from a standup war, which won’t bode well for him. His best chance is to take it to the ground where six of his last fight wins have come.
Final prediction: Sanchez via unanimous decision
Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Manny Muro
Lucky no. 1️⃣3️⃣?— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) July 30, 2021
Both on 12 career wins, Usman Nurmagomedov and Manny Muro go head-to-head at @TheForum at #Bellator263.
Saturday, 10PM EST / 7PM PST on @SHOsports - https://t.co/evrJakHNtm pic.twitter.com/6ZB3QpvUnG
Bellator was able to snatch up one of the Nurmagomedov clan before UFC took them all, and signing Usman to the roster has so far proven to be a great move. Undefeated at 12-0, Nurmagomedov made a successful debut for Bellator by defeating Mike Hamel at Bellator 255 earlier this year. Going the distance snapped his five-fight finish streak, but it also showed that he is more than capable of going a hard 15 minutes to get the job done. Bellator isn’t going to rush him into stardom, but since he has the last name made famous by his cousin Khabib they would love nothing more than for it to happen. That’s why they are not going to throw him to the wolves right away. Against Muro, he will be facing a fighter on a three fight win streak. He is 2-0 under the Bellator banner,which includes a win over Nick Newell. Prior to finding his groove again, Muro had dropped three in a row so he has struggled some in his career. Nurmagomedov, though, will simply be too much for him tonight and will continue his path to potential stardom. I expect Usman to get a finish here now that the first-time jitters are out of the way.
Final prediction: Nurmagomedov via second round submission
Brent Primus vs. Islam Mamedov
Two Lightweights looking to make a POINT— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) July 30, 2021
Debutant Islam Mamedov takes on former world champion @brentprimus155 at @TheForum tomorrow night!#Bellator263 | @SHOsports | Saturday, 10PM EST / 7PM PST pic.twitter.com/AE9CH8EfE0
Primus’ run as the Bellator Lightweight champion was short-lived after Michael Chandler — whom he defeated in 2017 to win the title — earned a unanimous decision win and his belt back at Bellator 212 three years ago. Since then, Primus has won two straight but he hasn’t competed in nearly 1.5 years. And coming back to fight Mamedov isn’t exactly ideal. A member of American Top Team (ATT) where he trains alongside Khabib Nurmagomedov and Co., Mamedov is another surging contender who simply refuses to lose. Since losing his second pro fight in 2009, Islam has gone unbeaten by winning 18 of 19 fights with one draw sandwiched in between. Of course, many will point to his level of competition as a big reason why his record is so great. After all his biggest win that most people will recognize is one over Thiago Tavares under the PFL banner. But now that he is with Bellator he has a chance to change the narrative, and defeating someone like Primus is a great way to start. It’s no secret Mamedov — just like most of his teammates — prefer to grind out a win using his brute strength and grappling. And that will be the key to victory here.
Final prediction: Mamedov via unanimous decision
Goiti Yamauchi vs. Chris Gonzalez
Gonzalez is another fighter who has spent the majority of his career with Bellator. Granted, he has only been fighting professionally for three years, but five of his six fights have come under the Bellator banner, winning all five to improve to 6-0. Gonzalez was last seen beating the brakes of Roger Huerta at Bellator 255 earlier this year (see it), which led to “El Matador’s” release. A member of the 2016 USA World wrestling team, Gonzales is one of the best wrestlers with the promotion, something that was on full display against Huerta. He has a huge opportunity in front of him against the No. 5 ranked 155-pound fighter on the roster in Yamauchi, who has been fighting for the promotion going on nine years now. He has a record of 11-4 with the company. But it’s when his losses occur that have prevented him from getting a shot at the title. It seems he always goes on three fight win streaks, then loses when he has the chance to collect his fourth straight. It’s a vicious cycle that has always gotten in the way of him getting to the big dance. In his last fight, he came up short against Dan Moret, ending another three fight win streak and stopping him from moving up the ranks. This time around, Yamauchi won’t be starting a new win streak. Gonzalez is simply too talented when it comes to grappling, and once he gets a hold of his foe it will be game, set, match.
Final prediction: Gonzalez via second round TKO
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