The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for the Bellator 263 main card and most of us are going with Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire to win Saturday’s featherweight title fight/tournament final against A.J. McKee. Not only does the winner get the belt but they also receive the $1 million bonus check for winning the grand prix. As for the co-main we’re pretty split on Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Mads Burnell.
Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.
Patricio Freire vs. AJ McKee
Mookie Alexander: I think AJ McKee will beat Patricio Freire at some point in his career. Just not now. I hope this develops into Bellator’s next truly great rivalry because Patricio is one of the best in the world regardless of promotion, and McKee has the goods to become a real star in this sport. He is a terrific athlete with just as many ways to finish his opponents as Patricio. We’ve yet to see McKee in a super serious spell of adversity, and I can’t imagine he’ll be able to avoid that against Pitbull. We’ve seen Patricio’s knockout power translate at lightweight and size disparity doesn’t mean much to him. The accuracy and damage Patricio can do with his counterpunching is something I don’t think McKee will be able to deal with, and if it does go to the ground I’d be shocked if Freire put himself in harm’s way and risked getting subbed by AJ. Then there’s the question mark of McKee’s cardio if this goes into the later rounds. I think McKee starts strongly but fades late and Patricio takes a close one. Patricio Freire by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: An honest to god style clash. McKee is an absolute wildman in the cage, creating constant collisions as he looks to land huge shots standing and chain directly into takedowns and grappling exchanges. He doesn’t particularly care whether he’s on top or bottom, he’ll find a way to make something happen. For Freire, at this stage of his career, he’s all about ring generalship and consistent combination punching. He likes to find counter shots that can open up longer combinations. But if his opponent wants to have a slow paced fight, he’s happy to oblige. Fighters who want to really get into prolonged wrestling and grappling battles with Freire have made bouts hard on him, especially since he’s not huge even for featherweight, and he’s willing to fight off his back. It feels like there’s a great opportunity for McKee to start hot and make a big move early in this fight, but can he fight his thrilling style for 5 rounds if he can’t finish Freire? Can he win if he can’t put him away? I’m going to take Patricio Pitbull, he rarely loses to fighters that are as wild as McKee tends to be. But this could be a narrow, hard fought split, or even a fight Freire loses once, and then adjusts to win in the inevitable rematch. Patricio Freire via TKO, round 3.
Victor Rodriguez: I love McKee, and hate his chances here. Despite the height and reach disadvantage, Pitbull’s got the strength and veteran savvy to really beat back the threat of a dynamic grappler that can crack. McKee’s got good use of range, but the experience level and sudden gap closing in striking exchanges favors Pitbull in a big way. As Zane mentioned, Pitbull isn’t worried about working off his back to get back to the feet, and may not spend all that time there. Patricio Pitbull by decision.
Staff picking Freire: Zane, Mookie, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking McKee: Dayne
Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Mads Burnell
Mookie Alexander: Sanchez’s lack of excellence in any given area of his game is really one of his biggest undoings as far as being in that absolute top tier of Bellator featherweights. Burnell is an outstanding grappler who is a more than capable boxer, but Sanchez has only ever been submitted by Patricio Pitbull and he has the volume and accuracy to outpoint Burnell and I can hardly think of too many instances where Sanchez was thoroughly outclassed on the ground. I suspect Burnell at his best — he’s looked great post-UFC — can pull off the W but I think Sanchez is a little too much for him. Look out for Sanchez’s body work to make a big difference. Emmanuel Sanchez by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Sanchez is a very tough, well rounded fighter to beat, but I’ve just never been that excited by any part of his game. Burnell got a really unfortunate shove out the door from the UFC, but his combination of boxing and grappling really can be pretty special when everything is clicking. Mads Burnell by Submission.
Victor Rodriguez: Rough one here, because Sanchez has some really great combinations on his feet and does a ton to keep people busy, but a grappler like Burnell can keep him on his back and soak up a ton of time on the clock. That’s never a good thing, but Burnell’s going to have to solve some problems in his standup game and hope that he doesn’t get cracked coming in or in the clinch. Mads Burnell by decision.
Staff picking Sanchez: Mookie, Stephie
Staff picking Burnell: Zane, Dayne, Victor
Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Manny Muro
Mookie Alexander: Do you realize how badass a combination of Kamaru Usman and Khabib Nurmagomedov would be? Combine Usman’s striking with both of their respective wrestling and grappling abilities and you might just have the greatest fighter of all-time. Anyway Khabib’s cousin is gonna wreck shop and Muro is there to be fodder. Usman Nurmagomedov by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Feels like a setup. Usman Nurmagomedov via KO, round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: Muro’s better than advertised, but you see the name and you know what this is and what it’s supposed to be. Usman Nurmagomedov by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Nurmagomedov: Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Muro:
Brent Primus vs. Islam Mamedov
Zane Simon: Feels like a bit of a mirror match, at which point I have more faith in Mamedov’s wrestling winning early scrambles and Primus being forced to grapple from bad positions early. Which feels more likely to gas Primus’ cardio than Mamedov’s. But both men will likely start aggressive and flag if they can’t get the grappling positions they want. Islam Mamedov via decision.
Victor Rodriguez: As good as Primus’ wrestling is, it’s not as well-adapted to be as layered for MMA as Mamedov’s is. But he also might be able to outmuscle Mamedov and do more damage standing. I probably shouldn’t, but I’ll go with Primus anyway. Brent Primus by submission.
Staff picking Primus: Dayne, Victor
Staff picking Mamedov: Zane, Stephie, Mookie
Goiti Yamauchi vs. Chris Gonzalez
Zane Simon: I’m not sure KOing Roger Huerta is really the sign that Gonzalez has arrived, to the extent that Bellator has booked this fight. Goiti Yamauchi via submission.
Victor Rodriguez: Bellator believes in Gonzalez, and he’s a good, strong grappler. There’s a lot of promise there, and he’s got a good head for the game with a great staff behind him. Yamauchi has way more experience, though. It counts in the long run and it helps that Goiti’s submission game is much more aggressive and his positional awareness lets him get out of unfavorable situations often. Goiti Yamauchi by decision.
Staff picking Yamauchi: Zane, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Gonzalez:
This poll is closed