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Bellator 221: Michael Chandler vs. Patricio Pitbull Freire Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

Phil and David break down the long-simmering grudge match between Bellator’s first homegrown star and the best featherweight outside the UFC.

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Bellator MMA

Michael Chandler vs. Patricio Freire this May 11, 2019 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.

One sentence summary

David: A Storm of Bulls

Phil: Bellator’s homegrown stars in brotherly brawls

Stats

Record: Michael Chandler 19-4 Patricio Freire 28-4

Odds: Michael Chandler -195 Patricio Freire +180

History / Introduction to both fighters

David: On the surface, Chandler is your classic story of wrestle-boxer Makes Good. There’s always one. Maybe it’s just a where-MMA-is timeline that allowed the wrestle-boxer to rise to brief dominance, but that’s Chandler’s story starts. When you can dictate pace, there’s a nice, bloody, trickle-down effect for everything else you do, and wrestling provides a nice foundation for that. Along the way Chandler became a boxer-puncher, and just began merking fools left and right like the first stage of Duck Hunt. His game has slowly evolved into something a bit more technical, but fire and blood has gotten through every other pitbull. Will this one be any different?

Phil: Michael Chandler was an obvious blue-chip talent from the moment he turned up in Bellator, quickly through fighters who ranged from the good to the excellent, like Marcin Held, Lloyd Woodard and, of course, his two incredible wars with Eddie Alvarez. As an intense loyalist to the org who was treated well by both Rebney and Coker, there were clearly some hopes that Chandler could be an anchoring star for Bellator. That never quite happened, in part because Chandler picked up some surprising losses. In these cases, the surprise often resolves itself into a clear trend or stylistic problem, but frankly Chandler’s losses look even more weird in retrospect. Will Brooks? Twice? Brent Primus? One of his consistent rivalries has been with the Pitbull brothers, and having beaten Patricky twice, he now takes on the younger (and frankly better) brother.

David: Patricio has a lot in common with TUF fighters, who start out rough around the edges and eventually become something else entirely. Granted, Patricio’s game is not fundamentally different, but the results are. Before, Patricio was a black belt with KO power kind of like a Gilbert Burns type. Now he’s a black belt with KO power who doesn’t allow his worst impulses to wound him.

Phil: If Chandler surged to the top of the tentpole in Bellator, then Patricio’s path was a bit more of the three steps forward, one step back variety. He predated Chandler: joining back in Season 2, when Bellator’s selling point was still the tournament format, setting out in the organization as a BJJ specialist with a propensity for banging it out. His development came in waves, and after we’ve seen three or four of them, the man that he was at the beginning is relatively unrecognizable. It’s virtually impossible to imagine modern Patricio Pitbull losing to Joe Warren, or Pat Curran.

What’s at stake?

David: An entire bloodline, basically. Which is a lot more than usual, but also extremely hyperbolic.

Phil: Grudge matches have a bit more at stake. Chandler already has wins over Patricky, including one brutal KO. I have to think it would rankle the brothers to go a combined 0-3.

Where do they want it?

David: Chandler might be one of the most physically gifted yet technically limited fighters I’ve ever seen. It’s not that he lacks technique. It’s that he lacks enough techniques. His striking for example has two highly efficient layers: a jousting jab, and a straight right. He darts in with the left jab, and chambers his straight right a generous six inches. It’s all extremely rote and predictable but they’re done with such violence and speed that it doesn’t even matter. Except when it does. Thankfully for him, he level changes as quick as anyone in the game. Suddenly that predictable one-two becomes something you have to counter, or endure in order to prevent a takedown that could turn into horizontal violence, or a submission.

Phil: Chandler’s longevity has surprised me in some ways, in part because of his comparative lack of technical evolution. It’s not that he hasn’t become a more effective striker over time, but he’s still largely just a big left hook and right hand, backed up with overwhelming athleticism and aggression. Like many aggressive fighters, he can become a bit lost if he’s countered hard (Alvarez) or neutralized (Brooks) and if he gets stranded in a kickboxing match, his lack of depth begins to come through. Regardless, he’s a ferocious ground and pounder, and a nasty submission threat, and as we talked about over in the UFC main event, just being a huge physical threat means an awful lot in this game.

David: Patricio’s reputation precedes him, and I think that’s part of what makes him so successful. Frankly, there aren’t many fighters of his archetype: a powerful, technical grappler with a canned hams where his fists (and feet) should be. It makes the traditional out a non-starter for opponents who can’t just go for a lazy takedown. Traditional punch entries are difficult too because he’s so good at attacking low. Even though he doesn’t really attack with angles, his strikes take direct, yet dynamic entries: a straight right followed by a weakside high kick, a jab followed by a left hook to the body, etc.

Phil: Patricio is the technician of the matchup. In his early years, he would often get stranded out at range by longer, rangier fighters, but figured out how to draw opponents like Pat Curran into exchanging with him by attacking the lead leg. Once exchanges are initiated, he works off a powerful left hook and combination punches. He’s often mentioned how much he’d like to fight Jose Aldo, and some similarities are clearly there: the way they use their three-two by pushing into a weak inside angle from the three is notably similar. As mentioned, he came to Bellator as a well-regarded grappler, and retains an arsenal of choke submissions.

Insight from past fights

David: To be honest, I expect Chandler to wear down Freire. But he’s still a liability when it comes to defense. Not only is Patricio smart enough to read Chandler’s moves, but he also has the speed and power to smack him around before he ever gets off [phrasing]. As good as Alvarez is, I don’t think he’s quite as precise as Patricio on the feet. And Alvarez was able to land check left hooks all day. Yea, their fights were all out wars, but if I’m banking on a killshot, and both guys have serious horsepower, I think you err on the side of power and technique.

Phil: This is a matchup of two aggressive fighters, and in that case physicality often tends to tell. In this case, I think a concerning matchup was Freire’s title fight loss to Daniel Strauss, where the huge American managed to wear Freire down with clinch work and aggression. Of course, Chandler had a similar loss (dictated in similar terms) to Will Brooks, but in both cases size and power were determinant, and they will definitely be on Chandler’s side for this one.

X-Factors

David: The For My Family’s Honor trope is fun and all, but I expect the same from both men: just the usual — blood, guts, and leather.

Phil: It’s an emotional one- the main thing is who lets it get to them.

Prognostication

David: Chandler will certainly win in the later rounds. Hell, in the later rounds I’d expect him to outright destroy Patricio. But Freire will have the advantage early on. If Chandler wants a takedown, a fresh Freire gripping his neck with all of his early might via guillotine is a possibility. So is a flying knee counter. If Chandler wants to exchange, Freire has the handspeed to catch him, and has the technique to sustain said attack. These things also work in favor of the fighter who hasn’t been in numerous wars that took everything out of him. So...Patricio Freire by TKO, round 3.

Phil: Patricio is almost certainly the better, more skilled fighter. As good as he looked in his one lightweight fight (an unfortunate injury loss to Benson Henderson in a fight he was losing), Chandler will be on him right away. Can I trust him to stay out of the clinch and break Chandler down from the outside? I’m not sure that I can. Michael Chandler by unanimous decision.