It may have been lost among the multiple highlight-reel finishes from the UFC’s latest card in Austin, Texas, or due to GLORY Kickboxing’s 50th fight card, or the meeting of two well-known names in Premier Boxing Championships, but Bellator MMA had a solid showing in its own right with its Bellator 194 card last Friday. Whether you caught the action or not, here are the three most important things you need to know.
Patricky “Pitbull” Freire’s brother Patricio Freire already has a title around his waist as Bellator’s featherweight champion, but now it’s time for Patricky to lay claim to gold of his own once again.
After being knocked out in just over two minutes by Michael Chandler in 2016 for the then-vacant Bellator lightweight title, Freire has rebounded in impressive fashion with three wins in his last three fights, including two knockouts.
The latest knockout came at Bellator 194 when Freire needed just over two minutes of his own to knock old rival Derek Campos silly in a rematch of their 2014 meeting, where Freire also won by knockout. Freire has looked like one of the most dangerous fighters in Bellator since his loss to Chandler. He has a knockout of former champion Josh Thomson and a victory against the always-tough Benson Henderson on his resume as well.
Chandler is scheduled to receive his rematch for the lightweight title against current titleholder Brent Primus in April. Bellator’s lightweight division is still among the deepest in all of MMA, but “Pitbull” should stand at the top of the pack as being most deserving contender once the dust settles between Primus and Chandler.
Hardy may have the most talked-about first three pro fights of any fighter in recent memory. That isn’t totally a good thing, however.
The former boxer made a splashy debut in her hometown of New York City and scored a knockout at Bellator’s first Madison Square Garden card last year. While Hardy followed that up with another entertaining performance in her second pro fight, it wasn’t in the way she hoped. Hardy was beaten bloody by the debuting Kristina Williams at Bellator 185 and lost by knockout after Williams’ shin found its way to Hardy’s nose and shattered it in a very NSFW manner.
The undefeated boxer’s third MMA fight came against Ana Julaton, another boxer who switched to MMA, at Bellator 194. The bout resulted in a rebound win for Hardy, but both boxers were forced to grind the fight out on the mat after Julaton’s decision to go for takedowns was not well received by fans and even fellow fighters:
King Mo just told Roy Nelson if he doesn’t win this round he’s gonna make him watch the Heather Hardy fight again. #Bellator194
— MMA Roasted (@MMARoasted) February 17, 2018
These ladies need BJJ 101. How to finish a choke and how to defend. #Bellator194
— Aljamain Sterling (@FunkMaster_UFC) February 17, 2018
I’m sorry, I don’t care how horny and sad @BellatorMMA think their fanbase is, you cannot possibly put Heather Hardy on live cable again. That was a fucking absolute horror show. You could go just grab some woman out of her kimono to go tap Hardy. Awful
— Jordan Breen (@jordanbreen) February 17, 2018
The result was a boring 15-minute fight, and the shortcomings of both Hardy and Julaton on the ground were painstakingly obvious to everyone in attendance and watching on TV. To her credit, Hardy acknowledged as much in a tweet after her win:
I’m sorry it was boring guys. I love y’all a lot, but once she started on the take down attempts, i had to be patient. The win was on my mind. 👸🏼💜🦋🦄
— Heather Heat Hardy (@HeatherHardyBox) February 17, 2018
Hardy deserves credit for her candor and acknowledgment that the fight was not exciting. However, it also showed that even though Bellator has heavily promoted Hardy in her short MMA career, she is not yet deserving of such an intense spotlight. Hardy’s boxing bona fides are well known, and her and Julaton are actually scheduled to square off in the boxing ring later this year as part of their agreement for last weekend’s bout. One can only hope that the two natural boxers will fare much better in the squared circle than they did in the cage.
Julaton is probably better suited to stick to boxing full-time, while Hardy has potential as an MMA fighter. However, if Bellator head Scott Coker and company were smart, they would keep Hardy far away from the more polished fighters in her division and allow her to get her feet better under her on Bellator’s streaming preliminary cards.
This isn’t a big leap to make, considering two former UFC fighters have already advanced in Bellator’s heavyweight grand prix for the vacant title and two more former members of the UFC roster still have the opportunity to advance. Yet, after the main event of Bellator 194, which saw UFC alum Matt Mitrione defeat fellow UFC vet Roy Nelson, “Meathead” is becoming a solid choice to become the new Bellator heavyweight champion.
Mitrione has looked like a brand-new fighter since jumping ship to Bellator in 2016. He has four wins and three knockouts on his resume during his stay with the promotion. Mitrione knocked out the legendary Fedor Emelianenko in the first round at Bellator’s Madison Square Garden card last year. This scenario hardly seemed likely when Mitrione was acting like a total weirdo on the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter.
The only other competitor in the grand prix who has a chance to go all the way is reigning Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, who happens to be another former UFC fighter. Bader looks like he has a new lease on his fighting career since moving to Bellator. He bested fellow elite wrestler Phil Davis to win the light heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden and ran right through Linton Vassell in his first title defense.
Bader faces Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in May in another grand prix match-up. He should win that fight and go on to face Mitrione in the semifinals. The tournament boasts names like Frank Mir and Chael Sonnen as well, which basically guarantees the prediction that a former member of the UFC will become the new champ. The smart money is on Mitrione or Bader.