After a trip to Europe, Bellator MMA returns to the United States on May 11 for Bellator 221 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.
The main event of the evening pits champion against champion in a title match where lightweight kingpin Michael Chandler defends his belt against featherweight titleholder Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. Chandler, who lost his belt two years ago to Brent Primus and recently won it back in their rematch, is currently riding a three-fight winning streak. Freire claimed his crown at the start of his current three-fight winning streak when he beat Daniel Straus by second-round submission. Most recently, Freire defeated Emmanuel Sanchez in November by unanimous decision.
The welterweight grand prix continues in the co-headliner, where former Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima takes on undefeated human highlight reel Michael “Venom” Page. Lima won his opening fight of the tournament when he submitted former welterweight champ Andrey Koreshkov in the fifth round. Page won his opening tourney bout against Paul Daley via a unanimous verdict.
A.J. McKee Jr. will shed his title of “Bellator’s brightest prospect” when he takes a big step in competition to meet former Bellator featherweight titleholder Pat Curran. Former WWE star Jack Hager will take to the cage for the second time in his professional career when he faces fellow heavyweight T.J. Jones. Rounding out the main card, featherweight Ty-wan Claxton clashes with James Bennett.
The preliminary card for Bellator 221 airs live on Bellator.com at 6:30 p.m. ET. The main card airs live on DAZN at 9 p.m. ET.
Michael Chandler has twice fought — and beaten — Patricky “Pitbull” Freire, but this will be the first time that he’s faced Patricky’s brother, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. Will Patricio, Bellator’s featherweight kingpin, become a two-division champion, or will Chandler continue to have the Freire brothers’ number?
The trend won’t change for Chandler just because he is fighting a different Pitbull brother.
Patricio fights a lot like his brother, but more refined. He isn’t as aggressive and doesn’t turn fights into drawn-out, go-for-broke brawls. Patricio is a lot more methodical in his approach. He is a very well-rounded fighter with the ability to end the bout on the feet or on the ground. He uses this to his advantage to lure his opponent into a game plan that isn’t beneficial to them. Even then, Patricio sometimes beats them at their own game — for example, he outgrappled wrestler and former featherweight champ Daniel Straus, submitting him twice in three fights.
If there is anybody to challenge Chandler at lightweight, it’s Patricio. Chandler is one of the best fighters Bellator has ever produced. He has been on another level, and his actual losses — it’s hard to really give Brent Primus a true victory since it came as the result of a Chandler injury — have come against Will Brooks and Eddie Alvarez, both of whom moved on to the UFC.
Chandler is a tough fighter who can take a lot of punishment. He is just as well rounded as Patricio, if not more so. It’s going to be a battle, but Chandler will take the victory.
Michael Page’s level of competition continues to increase. Following wins over David Rickels and Paul Daley, the Brit now meets former champion Douglas Lima. The contest is a semifinal bout in the Bellator welterweight grand prix, too. Does Page’s striking trump anything Lima throws at him?
This is definitely the next step up for Page. Not only is Lima a former Bellator welterweight champion, but he is also strongest in the area required to defeat Page.
Page faces a much different test when he steps in against Lima. Rickels and Daley don’t have the areas of strength needed to beat Page. The game plan for Lima is simple: utilize Page’s weakness on the ground to grind him out or submit him. Lima must keep the fight off the feet. Page hasn’t faced such a strong grappler as Lima yet in his 14-fight career. The Brit has mostly fought guys willing to stand and trade punches or guys that he completely outclasses.
Lima’s most recent losses came against Rory MacDonald, Andrey Koreshkov and Ben Askren. That’s two former Bellator welterweight champions and the current titleholder. All three of these men excel in the grappling department, and MacDonald also sports a strong striking game. Page doesn’t have the ability to hang on the ground against someone like Lima, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
Page has a good shot to end this fight via knockout, but that window is only going to be open for so long. Barring a huge and drastic improvement in his ability to stuff takedowns, the undefeated Page might be in for a long night — and his first pro loss.
Will former pro wrestler Jake Hager steamroll another Bellator opponent when he fights T.J. Jones on the Bellator 221 main card?
There is no way Bellator would give up the promotability of a former WWE wrestler like Hager just two fights into his MMA career. So, yes, this is another easy out for Hager.
Hager’s collegiate wrestling background translates well into MMA and gives him a huge edge against the competition. It’s a great way to win fights and not take punishment while refining other areas of his game. Hager will look for takedowns early and often to grind out Jones. This is a heavyweight fight, which means it won’t be too long before Hager has a gassed opponent primed to be finished.
This is a great fight to move Hager along while taking things slowly as he develops the other facets of his game. Bellator will be patient and take its time before it really starts pushing him. Whether that be as a legitimate contender for a Bellator championship or something more along the lines of Bobby Lashley remains to be seen.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
A.J. McKee Jr. and Pat Curran. Since we didn’t get a chance to talk about this fight elsewhere, let’s take a minute here to dive into what is probably one of the best fights in the lineup.
McKee is one of the brightest prospects Bellator has developed in quite some time. The 24-year-old has improved immensely with every fight he has had. He is perfect through 13 professional bouts. If he wants to end the fight by knockout, he is creative enough to do so. If he wants to end the contest via submission, he has the grappling to throw off his opponent and capitalize on the tiniest of mistakes. Nine of his 13 victories have been finishes, and each one has shown the caliber of McKee’s skill set.
Now McKee gets a big test against a veteran and former champion. Curran isn’t the same fighter he once was, but he is still a great litmus test to see exactly where we are in the development of McKee. Curran is on a three-fight winning streak and could be primed to make a title run. McKee is here to trip him up.
Main Card (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET)
LW Championship: Michael Chandler vs. Patricio “Pitbull” Freire
WW Grand Prix Semifinal: Douglas Lima vs. Michael Page
FW: A.J. McKee Jr. vs. Pat Curran
HW: Jake Hager vs. T.J. Jones
FW: Ty-wan Claxton vs. James Bennett
Preliminary Card (Bellator.com, 6:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Scott Writz vs. Josh Streacker
FlyW: Joey Diehl vs. Jesse Bazzi
HW: Dave Latoria vs. Jason Belyew
FW: Adil Benjilany vs. Cris Lencioni
LW: Chris Gonzalez vs. Charlie Radke
MW: Romero Cotton vs. Matt Paul
LHW: James Bochnovic vs. Robert Morrow
BW: Askar Askar vs. Taylor Moore
BW: Jose Leon vs. Christian Rodriguez
LW: Adam Ward vs. Amartuvshin Khuukhenkhuu
BW: Bryan Bautista vs. Rob Fenicle
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