Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, one half of a dynamic duo opposite his brother Patricky, has taken so many meals away from fellow featherweight title contenders and yet he is a giving tree like no other.
Wilson Reis, whom he beat in 2010 in season four of Bellator’s featherweight tournament, would move on to have a seven-year tenure with the UFC in which he competed for the flyweight title against Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson at his peak.
Michael Chandler was knocked out by Patricio last year after just one minute of the first round, yet he also took a portal to the UFC and served as the back-up fighter for the recent title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje. Chandler now expects a fight with a top-five contender like Tony Ferguson.
After not being able to take the title from Patricio as the undisputed king of the 145-pound division, Juan Archuleta moved down a weight class to clinch a bantamweight championship against Patchy Mix in September.
With exception to Ryan Bader, who became the heavyweight and light-heavyweight champion for Bellator, and other pound-for-pound heavy hitters like Douglas Lima and the aforementioned Chandler, no one has been more valuable to the company and represents a bonafide winner like Patricio. He personifies the “heart over height” rendering in MMA that Allen Iverson represented as a key member of the Philadelphia 76ers in the game of basketball. Patricio became the featherweight champion two separate times in addition to winning a lightweight championship despite his 5-foot-5 stature.
Patricio’s fight against Pedro Carvalho at Bellator 252 on Thursday is one of four quarterfinals in a featherweight World Grand Prix. Despite being a relative newbie to the Bellator scene, Carvalho won four in a row for his new promotion, with three ending in knockout finishes.
The co-main event of the evening will be another quarterfinal pairing, with Daniel Weichel up against Emmanuel Sanchez.
Bellator 252 kicks off at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Thursday, Nov. 12, with the prelims at 5 p.m. ET on Bellator MMA’s YouTube Channel and DAZN streaming platform. The main card follows at 7 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network and DAZN. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Julius Choi preview the card in this special edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Patricio Pitbull is set for another featherweight tournament in which he must defend his title at every stop. His quarterfinal match pits him against Pedro Carvalho. Can Carvalho, who has made four appearances thus far with Bellator MMA, remain undefeated within the organization and emerge with the belt?
Sumian: It is hard to imagine a reality where Freire does not come out of this bout remaining the featherweight champ. The Brazilian has successfully established himself as the most dominant current titleholder on the roster today, and this should not change in his defense against Carvalho.
The champion is currently riding a five-fight winning streak that includes notable victories over Daniel Straus, Emmanuel Sanchez and Michael Chandler. He claimed the lightweight title when he knocked out the former champ Chandler in the first round. Most recently, he soundly defeated Juan Archuleta in a dominant five-round affair to defend the featherweight strap. With 30 professional MMA victories under his belt and only four losses, Pitbull has shown little weakness throughout his reign and is extremely comfortable battling opponents on both the feet and the ground.
The challenger will have a tall task ahead of him. The Portuguese fighter enters the Bellator cage boasting an 11-3 record and an undefeated record with the promotion. Carvalho belongs to the infamous SBG Ireland team, where he has trained under the tutelage of John Kavanagh and established himself as one the most significant Bellator featherweights since his arrival to the promotion’s roster. He enters this title bout on a six-fight winning streak and seeks to upset Freire en route to securing his own legacy.
Carvalho will not be able to defeat Pitbull. He may be undefeated in Bellator, but the strength of schedule during his undefeated streak is questionable at best. His wins have come at the expense of Daniel Crawford, Lua Vitali, Derek Campos and Sam Sicilia. Campos has gone just 1-5 since 2018, and Sicilia has compiled a 2-3 mark over his last five fights. This brings into further question Carvalho’s readiness for a title shot against the best of Bellator.
Despite giving up four and a half inches in reach and six inches in height, Freire will handily dominate this fight from start to finish, just as he did against Archuleta. Pitbull will close the distance early and often while firing off his signature straight rights and powerful left hooks before tying up the challenger and securing multiple takedowns after which he can deliver his vicious ground-and-pound. Carvalho does hold six submission victories and possesses a ground game that has historically been his strength, but the purple belt won’t be able to successfully control and submit Freire, a seasoned black belt with 11 submission victories of his own. Freire will once again be crowned the featherweight champion and further cement his status as the best Bellator champion on the roster.
Choi: All four of Friere’s losses have come within the decade that will come to a close in December. Three of them were by decision, while his most recent loss that took place four years ago to Benson Henderson was the result of a fight-ending leg injury after Pitbull collided with the former UFC lightweight champ midway through the second round. His wave to his corner speaks to the probable pain and instability of his knee at that point. The only person to have stopped Freire was himself, albeit due to injury.
What is scary about Pitbull that favors him in almost every match-up, but especially with Carvalho, is his ability to finish a fight in any fashion. He can dominante via points, score a knockout, or submit his foe. The last time he’s actually successfully submitted someone, though, was three years ago against the aforementioned Straus at Bellator 178 in what would prove to be the fourth and final meeting between the two rivals to date.
Despite having been tested by Sicilia’s flurry of submission attempts in the first round at Bellator 226 and escaping Crawford’s body-triangle stranglehold, it will still be intriguing to see how Carvalho responds to the kind of adversity that Pitbull puts his opponents through. Carvlaho, the new kid on the Bellator block since 2018, could find some success against Pitbull by utilizing more straight punches of his own instead of looping ones that are easier to react to.
This fight will come down to experience, which favors Pitbull over Carvalho. This is Carvalho’s first main event since a 2018 bout against Ibragim Kantaev in a lightweight showdown for Cage Legacy Fighting Championship. He has only fought in four fights that have gone to a decision. While Carvalho is 3-1 in those scenarios, Pitbull has a 75 percent winning percentage in 12 fights in his career that went the full distance.
Daniel Weichel and Emmanuel Sanchez meet in the other tournament quarterfinal on the card. What should we expect in this fight?
Choi: This quarterfinal match-up will mark the second time these two men have fought each other. The judges sided with Weichel the first time around at Bellator 159 nearly four years ago, as he was awarded the split-decision win. However, it is arguable that Sanchez was the better fighter that night and deserved the victory instead.
Knowing how good Weichel was on the ground, Sanchez shut down any chances of landing a takedown right off the hop in the first round by following a two-punch combination with a head kick. Despite being shut out in the opening stanza, Weichel came back and did enough to tilt the second round in his favor points-wise. It’s the third round that is highly up for debate. Weichel finally got his desired outcome of a successful takedown to establish the dominant position, but Sanchez left a lasting impression in the second half by displaying that he still had a lot of attack left in the gas tank offensively.
The fight on Thursday will most likely be another close one stylistically. However, given the past result, Sanchez will have thought about this outcome and be more determined to win decisively in the sequel bout. In addition, the 30-year-old Sanchez, with the exception of his loss to Patricio Pitbull via unanimous decision in 2018, has looked as good as he’s ever been while submitting three top guys in Straus, Sicilia and a Ty-wan Claxton that came into the contest on a five-fight winning streak that included four knockouts.
On the contrary, despite his dominance in his most recent dance in 2019 against Saul Rogers at Bellator 228, Weichel has found himself in many close fights lately. He’s seen four split decisions in the last four years, and he hasn’t always been on the winning end of the outcome. In the aforementioned fight with Rogers, it was expected to predominantly present on the ground considering a combined 30 submission wins between the two of them, but Weichel kept the fight on its feet and rocked his opponent twice — once in the first round with a right hand to make Rogers break out the world-famous chicken dance and later on near the end of the third.
Sumian: That split-decision loss has not sat well with Sanchez, and he is no doubt eager to avenge the closely contested decision that did not go his way. The Wisconsin native is an excellent submission fighter who has a specific knack for finishing his opponents with the triangle choke. Sanchez flurries his opponents with volume punches before finding unique yet effective ways to take the fight to the ground, where he smoothly controls grappling flow, pace and position.
Weichel boasts an even more impressive submission resume than Sanchez. The German import has 22 submissions throughout his professional career. However, he has suffered a pair of split-decision losses in his recent bouts. He did rebound with that impressive victory over Rogers, though, and now looks to battle a familiar foe. Weichel, like Sanchez, prefers to set up his grappling with volume striking before getting the fight to the ground, where he frustrates his opponents with ground-and-pound and constant submission threats. One of his powerful strikes is his overhand right, which he is able to land repeatedly throughout his career.
This fight will likely be close and perhaps even mirror their first encounter. However, Sanchez’s improved overall game and maturity as a fighter will allow him to avenge one of his few losses in a close yet convincing unanimous decision over Weichel.
Undefeateds Yaroslav Amosov and Logan Storley are also featured on the main card. Which one of these welterweights will still be perfect when the dust settles?
Sumian: Of all the bouts on the Bellator 252 card, this could very well be the most exciting one of the evening due to the undefeated status of both combatants and their incredible finishing rates.
Amosov makes his sixth Bellator appearance after racking up 24 career wins, including five in the Bellator cage. The Ukrainian fighter has defeated the likes of Erick Silva, Gerald Harris, David Rickels and Ed Ruth while quietly establishing himself as one of the top welterweights on the Bellator roster. He boasts an impressive 79 percent finishing rate and has shown his ability to stop opponents both standing and on the ground consistently throughout his career. Amosov likes to flurry his opponent with fast and accurate jabs and straights before tying them up and looking for the takedown. One the mat, he continues to serve up further punishment via strikes from the top position. One of his best weapons is his ability to pepper his opponent with a flurry consisting of four to five strikes, which allows him to close the distance and secure the takedown. He additionally fires off the occasional power kick to the leg or body, which causes further wear to his opponent and allows him to more easily control where the fight takes place. The 27-year-old Amosov, who stands 5-foot-11, is poised to cement his status as a welterweight contender for years to come.
His opponent is a four-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler. South Dakota’s Storley has compiled an 11-0 mark that includes six wins within the Bellator cage. His perfect Bellator campaign has come at the expense of Kemmyelle Haley, Matt Secor, Joaquin Buckley, A.J. Matthews, Ion Pascu and E.J. Brooks. Storley boasts a 73 percent finishing rate, with all of his finishes coming by way of knockout. He is a powerful welterweight who possesses some of the most devastating elbows in the game and relentlessly pursues the takedown until he is able to put his opponent on the mat and deliver suffocating punishment until his opponent breaks. His biggest strength is psychological in nature. His opponent knows that they will be taken down simply because he holds such a distinct advantage in the wrestling department.
This fight will be decided by Storley’s ability to get Amosov to the ground and keep him there. Storley absolutely holds the strength and power advantages, while Amosov, while capable of holding his own on the ground, is the more diverse and creative striker. Storley will shoot early and often as he tries to secure the takedown and avoid Amosov’s three and a half inch reach advantage. Amosov will be tied up frequently and will need to separate in an effort to fire off long strikes and control the distance of the bout.
When the dust settles, it will be Amosov with his hand raised. Despite Storley’s raw power and wrestling advantage, Amasov will be able to hold his own in the grappling department due to his notable sambo background. He may be taken down once or twice, but he will be able to pop back up and deliver his own punishment. The bout will be close, but Amasov will win a 29-28 unanimous decision and secure a big fight for his next visit to the Bellator cage.
Choi: With Khabib Nurmagomedov announcing his retirement from the sport after defeating Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in late October, the longest active winning streak in MMA now belongs to Amosov, who has never been defeated in 24 bouts as a professional. Next on that list, trailing Amosov at 23-0, is Khusein Askhabov, the 25-year-old bantamweight champion for Ukrainian promotion World Warriors Fighting Championships. The fact that Amosov replaces Nurmagomedov is fitting considering that many, including Bellator commentators John McCarthy and Josh Thomson in discussing the topic on their “Weighing In” podcast, see him as the second coming of “The Eagle.”
Amosov, like Nurmagomedov, employs a smothering style that comes from his sambo background, which is also known as Russian-style wrestling. The lingering difference is that Amasov is an inch taller, enjoys five more inches in reach, and resides a weight class above Nurmagomedov. Khabib and other Russian practitioners maintain their stance that sambo is superior to amatuer wrestling, and it is hard to argue otherwise when we have never seen a fighter dominate his opponents like Nurmagomedov did. Amosov is such a difficult fighter to go up against simply for the relentless pressure he applies against his opponents on the ground and the impeccable timing on his takedown attempts, all while not taking damage.
The edge must also be given to Amosov because this isn’t the first time in his MMA career that he’s faced a world-class wrestler like Storley. He fought Gerald Harris at Bellator 202 in 2018 and outwrestled a man who is the most successful wrestler in Cleveland State University’s history. In 2019, he submitted the aforementioned Rickels, who had a storied high school wrestling career for Derby High School in Kansas.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Choi: John de Jesus has never been given the easy route his entire career. He had not been called in to fight for a major organization until earlier this year either. As a result, he fought seven years in various organizations like Fight Time Promotions, King of the Cage, and the Legacy Fighting Alliance. The current three-fight winning streak that he has strung together is on the precipice of becoming the longest of his career. However, Aaron Pico stands in front of those hopes when the two men clash in a featherweight tilt at Bellator 252.
After knocking out Ethan Goss and Josh Rohler via punches in the second round respectively in back-to-back title fights, de Jesus was given a tough opponent in Vladyslav Parubchenko for his Bellator debut in August. Despite being 30 years of age and in the thick of his professional occupation, de Jesus is still light on his feet. His tactic of constantly deploying feints caused Parubchenko to be more cautious and wary than he would have liked to be. The Ukrainian-born Parubchenko got caught by a flying knee that caused his nose to bleed profusely. This changed the way he approached the bout as it progressed into the third round, as the blood did not allow for proper breathing and snapped a three-year period in which Parubchenko had won nine in a row.
Pico, meanwhile, is one of many fighters Bellator is grooming that has a wrestling base. Given the knockout power in his right hand, it makes sense as to why he received so much hype as a 20-year-old rookie in 2017. In his earlier fights, it was apparent how Pico was still trying to figure out how to make his game work. He wasn’t able to mix his wrestling and boxing techniques effectively to become a complete product. After two straight knockout losses at the hands of Henry Corrales and Ádám Borics, he made a life-altering change to his training regimen by switching camps to Jackson Wink MMA in 2019. In the succeeding two fights against Daniel Carey and Solo Hately Jr., Pico’s wrestling complemented his ground-and-pound grappling and allowed him to collect a round-two, left-hook knockout and a rear-naked choke submission, respectively.
Pico has incredible strength and power that can end a fight at a moment’s notice. None of his six victories went the allotted time and only one exited the first round. However, one thing that de Jesus can exploit is Pico’s ineffectiveness of fighting when pedaling backwards. When Pico retreats, he does so in a straight line instead of circling left or right. This makes him susceptible to getting caught at the end of a combination of strikes.
Sumian: Devin Powell and Manny Muro.
Powell is a four-fight UFC veteran who was never able to hit his stride with the organization before he jumped to Bellator and secured a mounted guillotine choke over Marcus Surin in his promotional debut. Meanwhile, Muro is a tough Oklahoma native who has compiled a seasoned record of 11-6 while most recently defeating Nick Newell via split decision in his Bellator debut.
Both fighters make their sophomore walk to the Bellator cage on Thursday. Expect them to put on a show. Powell is a seasoned Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who has compiled a 10-4 record, while Muro is a former Rage in the Cage OKC lightweight champion who seems to be finding his momentum in his new home. Both fighters are ready to make a statement and shine with the Bellator fans.
Main Card (CBS Sports Network and DAZN, 7 p.m. ET)
FW Championship/Tournament Quarterfinal: Patricio “Pitbull” Freire vs. Pedro Carvalho
FW Tournament Quarterfinal: Daniel Weichel vs. Emmanuel Sanchez
WW: Yaroslav Amosov vs. Logan Storley
Preliminary Card (YouTube and DAZN, 5 p.m. ET)
WW: Roman Faraldo vs. Pat Casey
FW: Aaron Pico vs. John De Jesus
LW: Manny Muro vs. Devin Powell
BW: Jornel Lugo vs. Schyler Sootho
Women’s FW: Amanda Leve vs. Kara Hoad
Women’s StrawW: Keri Taylor Melendez vs. Emilee King
FW: Gabriel Varga vs. Brandon Phillips
WW: Khonry Gracie vs. Trevor Gudde
FW: Lucas Brennan vs. Andrew Salas
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