From The Kansas Star Arena in Wichita, Kansas, Bellator 103 unfolds tonight with the Season 9 Featherweight Tournament semifinals anchoring the card. Perennial contender Patricio "Pitbull" Freire faces young prospect and fellow Brazilian Fabricio Guerreiro in the main event.
Guerreiro (19-2), a 23-year-old upstart who is now training stateside with Team Alpha Male, amassed a robust 17-1 record on the Brazilian fight circuit before emerging in Bellator. He dropped his debut with a submission loss to bearded fire hydrant Magomedrasul Khasbulaev -- aka "Frodo" -- who remains unbeaten in the promotion. Guerreiro rebounded with a commanding decision over Desmond Green in the quarterfinals to advance. He's an eerily calm and technical fighter with strong striking and submissions, and also a lanky 145'er who will enjoy a five-inch height advantage over Freire.
Considering the myriad "Pitbull" nicknames in MMA, Patricio Freire (19-2) and his ruggedly unrelenting style best capture the spirit of the label. Having been defeated by only big names in Pat Curran and Joe Warren, Freire is the de facto number-two hitman in the featherweight class and a respected fan favorite. His clear strengths -- striking and submission grappling -- are mirrored by Guerreiro, so Freire will have to draw on his experience and general meanness to counteract his opponent's stretchy proportions.
The remaining featherweight semifinal consists of former lightweight and Strikeforce bruiser Justin Wilcox (12-5) versus Guam native Joe Taimanglo (19-4). "Baby Joe" drew the attention and respect of Dominick Cruz when visiting Alliance MMA and now trains with the UFC bantamweight champion on a regular basis. As the smallest competitor in the brackets at 5'4" tall, Taimanglo applies his feisty spirit and scrappy nature at a methodical but overwhelming pace with unending surges of explosive boxing. Though a handful in any and every aspect, Taimanglo's size might be an issue against Wilcox's wrestling.
Justin "The Silverback" Wilcox (12-5) roomed and wrestled on the team with Josh Koscheck at Edinborough University, and now reps the American Kickboxing Academy alongside the UFC welterweight. Wilcox, a deeply religious man, registered the most inspiring comeback of the year in his Bellator debut against Akop Stepanyan, who crunched Wilcox's lead leg with blistering low kicks throughout the opening frame, rendering him almost unable to stand. In a turnaround he attributes solely to his faith, Wilcox incredibly managed to secured a takedown whilst airborne from another Stepanyan low kick, then slithered through his guard and cinched up a rear-naked choke as Stepanyan exploded to escape. Wilcox cut 22-pounds and accepted that fight on about a week's notice, so I expect more of a typical "Silverback" showing for this soiree.
Feature fights pitting David Rickels vs. J.J. Ambrose (lightweights) and Aaron Rosa, in his promotional debut, against Russian Mikhail Zayats (light heavyweights) round out the main card. Rickels, last season's Lightweight Tournament champion, is coming off a TKO loss to outright champion Michael Chandler, which was the first time "Caveman" has ever been finished. Ambrose is a wrestler and submission grappler who's evolved his game with Muay Thai by living at the Phuket Top Team gym in Thailand. Their skill-sets are similar but Rickels' will be bolstered by his "technical bumrush" style and fighting in front of his hometown crowd. Rosa (17-5) is a former UFC light-heavyweight and heavyweight making his debut at 205 against Russian bulwark and Combat Sambo champ Mikhail Zayats (21-7), a finalist in last season's tournament.
Bloody Elbow will stream the entire preliminary card live and free at 7:00 p.m. ET. Live play-by-play and results will commence with the main card at 9:00 p.m. ET.
Bellator 103: Pitbull vs. Guerreiro
Main Card (Spike TV at 9:00 p.m. ET)
Patricio Freire vs. Fabricio Guerreiro -- Featherweight Tournament semifinals
Justin Wilcox vs. Joe Taimanglo -- Featherweight Tournament semifinals
David Rickels vs. J.J. Ambrose -- Lightweight Feature
Aaron Rosa vs. Mikhail Zayats -- Light Heavyweight Feature
Preliminary Card (streaming live on Bloody Elbow and Spike.com at 7:00 p.m. ET)
Carlos Eduardo vs. Wayman Carter
Remy Bussieres vs. Blake Pool
Maurice Jackson vs. Matt Uhde
Donnie Bell vs. Marcio Navarro
Jesse Thorton vs. Jeimeson Saudino
Ricky Musgrave vs. Cody Carillo