Bellator MMA kicked off its Featherweight Grand Prix three weeks ago. Four fighters advanced to the quarterfinals while four others saw their dreams of becoming champion crushed. The opening event, Bellator 226, saw Emmanuel Sanchez give Tywan Claxton his first loss, Pedro Carvalho submit Sam Sicilia, Adam Borics remain unbeaten with a TKO of Pat Curran and Derek Campos outclass Daniel Straus in route to a unanimous decision.
The remaining four opening round bouts take place this Saturday at Bellator 228 at the Forum in Inglewood, California. In the headlining bout, two-weight reigning champion, Patricio Freire squares off with 23-1 professional Juan Archuleta. The other Grand Prix bouts include Darrion Caldwell vs. Henry Corrales, Daniel Weichel vs. Saul Rogers, and AJ McKee vs. Georgi Karakhanyan.
In the co-main event, two legendary fighters, Gegard Mousasi and Lyoto Machida, meet for the second time in their illustrious careers with the winner standing firmly in line for a middleweight title shot.
Now to the Bellator 228 main card preview.
FeatherweightsPatricio Freire (29-4) vs. Juan Archuleta (23-1)
Patricio Freire might be the most accomplished fighter in Bellator history. Over his nine-year run with the promotion, he has won two tournaments, captured the featherweight title twice and just won the lightweight strap in his last bout. The current two-weight champion has the most wins and finishes in the promotion’s history. The Brazilian, who will be defending his featherweight title throughout the tournament, enters the Grand Prix as the favorite of the competition -- while also having a huge target on his back. The Fight Ready team member is one of the most experienced fighters in the field and has nine career victories over the other contestants in the tournament.
“Pitbull” is a pressuring counter striker who packs serious heat in both of his hands. He patiently waits for an opening to attack his foe, whereupon he springs forward with a series of winging hooks. He bids his time waiting for the opening by chopping at his opponent’s legs with kicks. He marches down his opponent looking to find his kill switch but has had his chin checked in several bouts. Though he is just 32 years old, “Pitbull” has sustained a lot of damage due to being involved in some wars.
The champion has relied on his grappling more and more in recent fights. He used his inside trip to take down Sanchez in their bout, while also flashing a strong top control game in his second encounter with Weichel. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt loves to attack his opponent’s neck with a tight guillotine choke in grappling exchanges. While he doesn’t have many flaws, he has struggled to get off his back when taken down.
Most would think that if a fighter was added to the Grand Prix field, they would try to do everything possible to have the easiest road to the $1 million prize that they could. That is not the case for Archuleta. The 32-year-old requested “Pitbull” as his opening round opponent. I guess that is the kind of confidence you have when you are riding an 18-fight winning streak. The California native, who has an amazing 23-1 professional record, created a lot of buzz around his name after winning regional titles in four different weight classes. He lived up to the hype after joining Bellator by handling his business in all five of his bouts so far.
“The Spaniard” is a well-rounded fighter that works at a very high pace. He is relentless with his forward pressure, using constant movement, stance switches, and cutting angles to find opening for attacks. His works behind a busy jab that sets up his power punches. He owns 11 career knockouts and turned the lights out on former Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas in his last bout. His body work is a very underrated part of his game. He makes the mistake of simply ducking his head in the pocket while firing power shots leaving him open to uppercuts.
The Treigning Lab representative is a former NCAA Division I wrestler who has great timing on his entries and chains his takedowns together well. He transitions back and forth between striking and grappling seamlessly without any telltale signs of his attack.
This is one of my favorite matchups of the year in all of MMA. If these two didn’t face each other in the opening round, there would be a very great chance they would have met in the finals. Archuleta has a lot of momentum heading into the matchup and has the physical gifts to become the new champion. His takedowns and high output will give the Brazilian lots of trouble. However, I don’t know if Archuleta has faced anybody that had the ability to expose his defensive flaws with single one punch power like Pitbull does. I expect “The Spaniard” to give his legendary foe everything he can handle until he gets clipped with a perfectly timed right hand. “Pitbull” via third-round TKO.
Next Fight » Mousasi vs. Machida