After a long and utterly sensational path, the Bellator featherweight tournament concludes this weekend with what is unarguably one of the hottest fights anywhere. Dual champ Patricio Pitbull (32-4) takes on surging wünderkind AJ McKee (17-0).
With wins over Pedro Carvalho and Emmanuel Sanchez, Pitbull extended his win streak to seven, solidified his status as champion and continues to hold one of the most impressive legacies in the sport. McKee stunned veteran Georgi Karakhanyan in the opening round, submitted Derek Campos and then made short work of former champ Darrion Caldwell.
Pitbull has everything to succeed with a well-rounded game and a ton of power, great cardio and an ability to work off his back if his takedown game fails him. Yet McKee is a faster and more athletic opponent than most of the people Pitbull has faced, and his ground game is excellent with a relentless pace.
McKee can take this to the ground, and will most likely want to do so. That said, he’ll also need to be mindful of the fact that he can get sparked standing or in the midst of his takedown attempts. That’s going to be the the tough part, figuring out where and when to bait Pitbull and having backup plans for when Patricio pours on the pressure and volume without having a reactive takedown that’s so open and obvious that it would get him into massive trouble. As for Pitbull, his use of range and reach will be of major importance. He’s the smaller of the two, and needs to be wary of McKee’s ability to turn corners and work pivots in his offense.
The co-main is another great fight. Bellator mainstay and Roufusport project Emmanuel Sanchez (20-5) meets former UFC talent Mads Burnell (15-3) in a featherweight clash that can potentially be viewed as a #1 contender’s match for the title. Burnell’s made the most of his release from the UFC going 6-0 including back to back wins in his brief Bellator run. His grappling remains extraordinary, and his striking has improved to the level where he’s comfortable in prolonged exchanges. Sanchez remains one of the most complete strikers in the game, with brilliant mixups and shifts to keep his opponents on their back foot. Add to that this improved couterstriking game, and you’ve got an underappreciated talent that puts on smart and clinical fights in his performances.
Much like the main event, this is going to come down to whether or not the grappler in this equation will be able to impose their will and outhustle their opponent. Mads has devastating ground strikes, excellent control, and may be able to exploit the gaps in Sanchez’ takedown game. He’s also got the crafty grappling to finish pretty much anyone, and Sanchez is a stiff test for him that can lump him up in short order.
JacksonWink standout Manny Muro (12-6) has also done well for himself in Bellator, currently sitting pretty with back to back wins. He’s got the unfortunate task of being the second fighter to face Usman Nurmagomedov in the Bellator cage (12-0). Usman is a finisher, using his knees, elbows and punches to draw out more and more vulnerable positions out of his victims, and Muro is going to need to stay busy and not let Usman get too loose.
Goiti Yamauchi (25-5) is also back, this time against Team Alpha Male’s Chris Gonzalez (6-0). Gonzalez is just coming off a win over Roger Huerta (yes, him!) and hopes to make it 6-0 in the Bellator and undefeated at 7-0 overall. Both have great ground games and some opportunistic striking, and this is quietly very good matchmaking despite the disparity in their professional records.
Brent Primus hasn’t been happy with the matchmaking lately and wants another step up in hopes of getting another title shot. He’s not getting a marquee name this time, but instead a very stiff test in former PFL talent Islam Mamedov (19-1, 1 draw). Mamedov is another one of the Dagestani alumni that does spectacular and cerebral work on the ground while being able to keep things active and hustling with his standup game. Primus is still a hard hitter and a great wrestler that has adapted his game to control and keep opponents tied up while eating damage. A win here could be a major statement for Mamedov, while a win here for Primus would be a legit feather in his cap - just not one that would get him the recognition he deserves right now.
Vanessa Porto (22-9) has an impressive resume and a lot left in the tank after winning the Invicta belt. While she stumbled in her Bellator debut against Liz Carmouche, she’s looking to set things straight against submission threat Ilara Joane (9-5). SBG Ireland’s Kiefer Crosbie (8-2) looks to improve his Bellator record to 5-2 overall against well-travelled and exciting vet Georgi Karakhanyan (30-11, 1 draw).
You can check out the weigh-ins right here:
Card is as follows:
Patricio Freire (144.5) vs. A.J. McKee (145) – Featherweight title/GP Final
Mads Burnell (145.5) vs. Emmanuel Sanchez (145.3) - Featherweight
Manny Muro (156) vs. Usman Nurmagomedov (155.3) - Lightweight
Islam Mamedov (154.9) vs. Brent Primus (155.2) - Lightweight
Chris Gonzalez (155) vs. Goiti Yamauchi (155.5) - Lightweight
Ilara Joanne (125.2) vs. Vanessa Porto (125.6) - Flyweight
Daniel Carey (149.1) vs. Gadzhi Rabadanov (149) – 150lb catchweight
Khasan Magomedsharipov (144.6) vs. Jonathan Quiroz (146.1)
Johnny Cisneros (179.2) vs. Joshua Jones (179.6) – 180lb catchweight
Kiefer Crosbie (155.9) vs. Georgi Karakhanyan (155.6)
Brian Moore (135.8) vs. Jordan Winski (135.6) - Bantamweight
Bellator 263 starts with the prelims on YouTube at 7:00pm EST and the main card stating at 9:00pm only on Showtime.