Launched in September 2019, Bellator MMA’s Featherweight Grand Prix is set to conclude at Bellator 263 on Saturday, July 31. The fight card includes the featherweight championship in the main event, the return of Usman Nurmagomeov, and a featherweight co-main event with title implications. This card has the potential to be the best fight card in promotional history.
Since joining the promotion in 2010, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire has been the most successful Bellator fighter of all time. He first became the featherweight champion in 2014 after winning two tournament championships along the way. After losing the title in 2015, Pitbull had a small stint at lightweight. Ultimately, Pitbull only had one fight at lightweight and returned to featherweight in 2017.
Pitbull returned with a vengeance and won his title back in early 2017. Since winning the title back, he has now dominated everyone put in front of him. The talent gap between the champion and contenders was thick enough to where a tournament was the only way to determine the No. 1 contender. Nearly two years later, Pitbull finds himself against the only fighter left in his way.
A.J. McKee Jr. could be the most talented fighter at 145 pounds in the world. If McKee wants to make this a reality, he will have to get through the long-standing champion. At 26 years old, McKee has built up a record of 17-0. Despite facing less competition than Pitbull, McKee has not reached his full potential.
Coming into the featherweight tournament, McKee was someone to watch. He got off to a fast start with an eight-second knockout against veteran Georgi Karakhanyan. McKee rode that momentum into his second bout, finishing Derek Campos by third-round submission. He faced his hardest test against Darrion Caldwell. McKee ended up passing with flying colors and punched his ticket to the finals with a first-round submission. He now has the chance to explode into superstardom with a win in the Bellator 263 main event.
In the co-headliner, featherweight contenders Mads Burnell and Emmanuel Sanchez look to make an argument for the next title shot. Sanchez was originally in the Grand Prix before Pitbull finished him by first-round submission. On the contrary, Burnell has looked impressive since joining Bellator, winning both fights with finishes. Both fighters are worthy of a title shot, but only one can come out victorious.
Three additional fights help to round out the main card for Bellator 263, which takes place at The Forum in Los Angeles. The festivities kick off with seven prelim fights on YouTube at 7 p.m. ET. The main card follows on Showtime at 10 p.m. ET.
Patricio “Pitbull” Freire currently holds the Bellator featherweight and lightweight belts and sits in the Combat Press pound-for-pound top 10. If he becomes the first to defeat A.J. McKee, what else is left for the Brazilian to accomplish?
Safe to say, Pitbull has accomplished more in Bellator than anyone else. Fighters have come and gone, but Pitbull remains standing with the featherweight championship. Despite the vast amount of success Pitbull has, he does not receive the respect he deserves. That, Bellator 263 should be the largest platform Pitbull has to showcase his skills. If Pitbull leaves the cage on Saturday with the title, there are still several ways he can further his legacy.
Although Pitbull has beaten everyone in his path, upcoming prospects have yet to get their chance at the title. Fighters like Adam Borics, Jay Jay Wilson, and Aaron Pico continue to evolve while climbing the rankings. At 34 years old, Pitbull may not want to wait for the younger fighters, but getting those wins would solidify his legacy.
Another option for Pitbull would be trying to cross-promote with other organizations. Bellator has tried to stir up drama with the UFC, but Dana White seems to have no interest. All things considered, crossover events with Bellator, ONE Championship, or PFL could be more likely.
With wins over top fighters in other promotions, Pitbull could show his skills on other platforms and build his legacy even more. Pitbull will never be forgotten by MMA fans, but he will need more credentialed wins to go down as the greatest featherweight of all time.
Conversely, A.J. McKee has a huge opportunity to not only claim the featherweight grand prix, but the featherweight strap. Can Bellator’s most accomplished homegrown talent complete his ascension to the top of the division?
McKee has had the spotlight on him ever since turning pro in 2015. Signing exclusively with Bellator, every single one of McKee’s pro fights has been with with the organization. Although they did not throw him to the wolves, McKee was facing solid competition compared to his lack of experience. With a win against Pitbull, McKee will skyrocket his stock and become a superstar overnight. Bellator has produced a lot of prospects recently, but no one compares to McKee.
The only concern for McKee would be the lack of world-class opponents he has faced. Although McKee has fought talented fighters, nobody comes close to Pitbull’s skillset. McKee is a well-rounded fight that will not be worried about where the fight takes place. He needs to fight smart because one simple mistake will give Pitbull a chance to end the fight.
All things considered, McKee has shown in the past he has the skills and potential to beat any fighter at 145 pounds in the world.
Who is the one fighter outside of the main event that fans should keep an eye on this Saturday?
Before the co-main event, Usman Nurmagomedov will have the opportunity to continue his undefeated record. At 23 years old, Nurmagomedov has been a prospect to watch due to being Khabib Nurmagomedov’s cousin. However, Nurmagomedov is building his own legacy, holding a record of 12-0 with 10 fights ending by a finish.
Since turning pro in 2017, Nurmagomedov has dominated everyone in his way. After putting together a record of 11-0, Nurmagomedov made his Bellator debut three months ago against Mike Hamel (7-5). Despite not getting the finish, he controlled the fight and took little damage on his way to a unanimous decision win. Nurmagomedov now takes a step up in competition against Manny Muro (12-6).
Fans need to keep an eye out for Nurmagomedov for several reasons. The main one being his well-rounded skill set. Nurmagomedov has impressive striking skills with the ability to smother his opponent with Dagestani wrestling. He is not only comfortable wherever the fight goes, but a finish is certainly possible. Also, training with Khabib and the rest of his family has excelled his development beyond imagination. All in all, Nurmagomedov is destined to become a world champion by the time he retires.
What preliminary-card bout has the chance to steal the show?
Bellator 263 features a preliminary card that includes seven fights. The fifth fight of the night is the one that could steal the show as Khasan Magomedsharipov makes his Bellator debut against Jonathan Quiroz. Being the younger brother of UFC fighter Zabit, Magomedhsaripov is easily one of the best prospects on the Bellator roster. Whether it’s a close fight or a dominating finish, Magomedsharipov is set for a breakout performance.
After turning pro in December 2019, Magomedsharipov has caught the attention of anyone that has seen him fight. Similar to his brother Zabit, his unorthodox fight style makes it impossible to prepare for. From spinning kicks to unescapable grappling, Magomedsharipov can finish the fight any way he wants. Going into Bellator 263, Magomedsharipov holds a 5-0 record with 4 finishes at the young age of 20.
On the contrary, Quiroz will be overlooked because of his 3-4 record. He does have losses to Kyler Phillips and Alberto Montes without being finished. After losing his Bellator debut in September 2019, Quiroz looks to bounce back with a huge upset win. At 34 years old, Quiroz will do whatever it takes to get the win.
Magomedsharipov and Quiroz have the potential to steal the show no matter what the outcome is. Due to age and experience level, Magomedsharipov may find trouble if Quiroz can counter his wrestling. Quiroz has shown to have a solid chin and has a chance to win if he can land a heavy combo. If Quiroz pulls off the upset win, this fight may be a huge talking point on Monday. On the other hand, an impressive performance by Magomedsharipov will showcase his skills on a huge platform. Whatever way the fight ends, this is a match-up you do not want to miss.
Main Card (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET)
FW Championship: Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (32-4) vs. A.J. McKee (17-0)
FW: Emmanuel Sanchez (20-5) vs. Mads Burnell (15-3)
LW: Usman Nurmagomedov (12-0) vs. Manny Muro (12-6)
LW: Brent Primus (10-1) vs. Islam Mamedov (19-1-1)
160-Pound CW: Goiti Yamauchi (25-5) vs. Chris Gonzalez (6-0)
Preliminary Card (YouTube, 7 p.m. ET)
Women’s FlyW: Vanessa Porto (22-9) vs. Ilara Joanne (9-5)
150-Pound CW: Gadzhi Rabadanov (15-4-2) vs. Daniel Carey (7-4)
FW: Khasan Magomedsharipov (5-0) vs. Jonathan Quiroz (3-4)
180-Pound CW: Joshua Jones (10-5) vs. Johnny Cisneros (13-7)
LW: Georgi Karakhanyan (30-11-1) vs. Kiefer Crosbie (8-2)
BW: Brian Moore (13-7) vs. Jordan Winski (11-2)
190-Pound CW: Justin Barry (debut) vs. Daniel Compton (4-3)
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