Champion’s choice. It was Bellator MMA’s decision to give Patricio “Pitbull” Freire his choice of quarterfinal opponents, and the featherweight champ opted for SBG Ireland’s Pedro Carvalho.
The two men meet in the headlining bout of Bellator 241. It’s both championship tilt and tournament bout. Freire has been on a roll lately, conquering two divisions and beating some of the best fighters on the Bellator roster. Carvalho has won four straight with Bellator, including a September encounter with UFC veteran Sam Sicilia. The kickboxer is out for gold and a place in the featherweight tourney semifinals.
Two other tourney participants meet in the evening’s co-main event. Emmanuel Sanchez gets a chance at redemption in a rematch with Germany’s Daniel Weichel. When these two grapplers met in 2016, Weichel emerged with the split nod. Sanchez hopes to reverse that outcome on Friday night.
The Bellator 241 lineup is perhaps one of the deepest in recent memory for the organization. Paul Daley, Matt Mitrione and Anatoly Tokov serve as the primary supporting players on the main card, while the prelims are peppered with familiar names like Nick Newell, Leslie Smith, Leandro Higo and Nate Andrews.
It all goes down at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on March 13. The prelims get underway at 7 p.m. ET on DAZN. The main card follows at 10 p.m. ET on DAZN.
Featherweight kingpin Patricio “Pitbull” Freire is set for a title defense and tournament quarterfinal fight. How will he perform against Pedro Carvalho?
Pitbull is one of the rare homegrown Bellator talents to truly join the world’s elite. He’s won 30 of his 34 pro fights and now reigns over two weight classes with Bellator. He’s topped the likes of Michael Chandler, Emmanuel Sanchez and Henry Corrales. He won three of his four encounters with Daniel Straus, and he also topped Wilson Reis on two separate occasions. He’s had some struggles with wrestlers, including losses to Benson Henderson, Pat Curran and Joe Warren, but those are far and few between.
Carvalho doesn’t have the skill set that typically gives Freire headaches. Instead, the Portuguese fighter is a kickboxer who trains under John Kavanagh at SBG Ireland, the same gym that houses Conor McGregor. He’s banking on his kickboxing skills to overwhelm the Brazilian.
It would be a surprise if Carvalho really does force Pitbull to shift gears and seek the takedown. Despite his striking background, the SBG Ireland product has six submissions and only two knockouts. It’s possible he’d actually be a bigger threat to Freire if the fight does go to the canvas.
Freire is an equal opportunity finisher, though. He has 10 submission victories to accompany 11 knockout finishes. He should be perfectly comfortable wherever this fight goes, and his experience at the highest levels makes him a solid favorite to dispose of Carvalho.
The co-headliner is also a featherweight tourney bout, with Daniel Weichel up against Emmanuel Sanchez. Which of these men advances this weekend?
This is a rematch of a Bellator 159 bout that went to Weichel by way of a split decision. That contest took place in 2016. Since then, Weichel has gone just 3-2 with three fights that divided the judges. Sanchez, meanwhile, has gone 6-1 while only losing to Patricio “Pitbull” Freire in a championship affair.
Germany’s Weichel has kept his fights far too close, and he’s paid for this tendency with split-decision losses to Pitbull and Goiti Yamauchi over his last five fights. He’s had more than a handful of his career fights end in split verdicts. The 35-year-old struggles to implement his game to its fullest, especially against the best fighters he’s met.
Sanchez has improved a lot since 2016. He had his own run of close decisions, but he’s turned into a more dominant fighter. After the letdown against Weichel, he edged Georgi Karakhanyan by a majority decision and then went on to finish three foes and score two unanimous nods.
Sanchez and Weichel are both grapplers, which means we should see another competitive fight in their rematch. However, the 29-year-old Sanchez’s recent improvements will allow him to emerge with the victory this time around.
What else on the main card should draw the attention of MMA fans?
Well, Paul Daley is set to take on Sabah Homasi, who lost three straight fights in the UFC by some form of knockout. This should be the typical Daley fight, where we either see a highlight-reel knockout for the Brit, a big finish for his opponent, or a real stinker.
Ronny Markes is in as a replacement for Josh Barnett against Matt Mitrione. This really lowers the appeal of the fight. Mitrione should be able to find the victory with relative ease.
That leaves the middleweight tussle between Anatoly Tokov and Fabio Aguiar. This actually could be a real treat, too. Russia’s Tokov has just three losses through 32 pro outings, and he’s conquered five Bellator opponents, including former champ Alexander Shlemenko. The 32-year-old Aguiar has just one loss, but he’s making his first Bellator appearance as a rather untested prospect. Tokov could emerge with another big win to bolster his resume.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Instead of one match-up, how about we go with the preliminary card as a whole? This is one of the more stacked prelim lineups perhaps in the promotion’s history.
Nick Newell will be featured. While he’s not at the peak of his career anymore, he’s still an interesting addition to the docket and a star name. The 33-year-old dropped a split decision to Manny Muro in his last Bellator appearance, but he has a potential rebound opportunity here against Zach Zane.
The lightweight scrap between Killys Mota and Nate Andrews is another worthwhile offering. Brazil’s Mota only has one loss on a solid resume that also includes victories over Akihiro Gono and previously undefeated prospect Mandel Nallo. Andrews was a longtime staple of New England’s CES organization, but he struggled through the Professional Fighters League 2019 season, suffering two setbacks courtesy of Chris Wade.
Former Legacy Fighting Alliance bantamweight champion Leandro Higo has lost three of his five Bellator fights, but those defeats came at the hands of championship-caliber fighters Eduardo Dantas and Darrion Caldwell and uber-prospect Aaron Pico. He picked up the pieces recently with a win over Shawn Bunch and can gradually ease his way back up the ladder with this weekend’s fight over Johnny Campbell.
Leslie Smith’s featherweight clash with Jessy Miele also resides on the prelims. Smith is coming off a loss, but she’s a star who always gives her opponent a tough fight. Miele is on a four-fight winning streak and could progress one step closer to a title bid if she can get past Smith.
Undefeated upstarts Robson Gracie, Romero Cotton, Jordan Newman and Vladimir Tokov all get a chance to showcase their skills on the prelims as well. This might be one of the few times where tuning into the prelims is a near must.
Main Card (DAZN, 10 p.m. ET)
FW Championship/FW Tournament Quarterfinal: Patricio “Pitbull” Freire vs. Pedro Carvalho
FW Tournament Quarterfinal: Daniel Weichel vs. Emmanuel Sanchez
WW: Paul Daley vs. Sabah Homasi
HW: Matt Mitrione vs. Ronny Markes
MW: Anatoly Tokov vs. Fabio Aguiar
Preliminary Card (DAZN, 7 p.m. ET)
LW: Nick Newell vs. Zach Zane
LW: Killys Mota vs. Nate Andrews
BW: Leandro Higo vs. Johnny Campbell
Women’s FW: Leslie Smith vs. Jessy Miele
WW: Robson Gracie vs. Billy Goff
MW: Romero Cotton vs. Justin Sumter
MW: Jordan Newman vs. Pat McCrohan
Catchweight (140 pounds): Mike Kimbel vs. Kenny Rivera
Catchweight (160 pounds): Kevin “Baby Slice” Ferguson Jr. vs. Kaheem Murray
WW: Ion Pascu vs. Mark Lemminger
LW: Vladimir Tokov vs. Marcus Surin
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