Originally published at Bellator 255 Report: Pitbull submits Emmanuel Sanchez in the first round
Bellator 255 Report: Patricio Pitbull submits Emmanuel Sanchez in the first round, defends title, and advances to Grand Prix finals
After a four-month hiatus, Bellator MMA returned with their first event of 2021. This card notably marked the promotion’s debut on Showtime, a network that has broadcasted MMA promotions such as Strikeforce and EliteXC in the past. The main event featured a rematch for the Bellator Featherweight Championship between Patricio “Pitbull” Freire and Emmanuel Sanchez. Pitbull won their first fight in 2018 by unanimous decision, and after both men advanced to the semifinals of their side of the bracket in Bellator’s current Featherweight Grand Prix tournament, the rematch was set. Both men have compiled 3-0 records since their last meeting, and Patricio Pitbull notably beat Michael Chandler to become the Bellator Lightweight Champion during that time span as well. The winner would go on to face A.J. McKee in the finals of the tournament at a later point in the year. In the co-main event, Neiman Gracie faced Jason Jackson.
Mauro Ranallo provided commentary for this event alongside John McCarthy, and the analytical team consisted of Josh Thompson, Jenn Brown, and A.J. McKee.
PRELIMINARY CARD RESULTS:
*Jordan Newman def. Branko Busick by TKO at 2:30 of Round 2
*Roman Faraldo def. Trevor Gudde by TKO at 1:30 of Round 1
*Jose Augusto def. Jonathan Wilson by arm triangle at 4:58 of Round 1
*Chris Gonzalez def. Roger Huerta by TKO at 3:01 of Round 3
*Khalid Murtazaliev def. Fabio Aguiar by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
*Mandel Nallo def. Ricardo Seixas by KO at 3:23 of Round 1
*Magomed Magomedov def. Cee Jay Hamilton by rear-naked choke at 1:22 of Round 2
MAIN CARD RESULTS:
*Kana Watanabe def. Alejandra Lara by split decision (29-28 all)
*Usman Nurmagomedov def. Mike Hamel by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
*Tyrell Fortune def. Jack May by TKO at 3:16 of Round 1
*Jason Jackson def. Neiman Gracie by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Patricio “Pitbull” Freire def. Emmanuel Sanchez by guillotine choke at 3:35 of Round 1 to retain the Bellator Featherweight Championship.
KANA WATANABE (9-0-1, 124.8) VS ALEJANDRA LARA (9-3, 124.2) – FLYWEIGHT
The main card portion of the event began with a promo from Mauro Ranallo, showcasing the history of MMA on Showtime, and the significance of Bellator’s debut on the network.
Lara danced her way to the cage and landed some strong left hands in the opening seconds of the fight. Watanabe looked as though he was getting overwhelmed on the feet, but she managed to take the fight to the ground momentarily. Lara worked her way back to her feet and completed a takedown of her followed a failed attempt from Watanabe. She took the back of Watanabe but was shaken off. Lara landed another left hand, as well as a strong leg kick before the end of the round. 10-9 Lara.
As Watanabe pursued another takedown early in the second round, she ate a number of hard elbows that appeared to drop her, but she powered through and eventually completed her takedown. They did not spend long in a single position, with numerous positional transitions occurring as Watanabe looked to secure a submission, but Lara defended herself well, and she made it out of the round. 19-19.
Watanabe closed the distance quickly and brought the fight back to the ground near the cage. She worked primarily from half guard, and really smothered Lara for the vast majority of the round. Lara was unable to escape from the position until the final moments of the fight, and Watanabe unquestionably took this final round. 29-28 Watanabe.
WINNER: Kana Watanabe by split decision (29-28 all)
Lara started the fight off strongly, but once Watanabe was able to take the fight to the ground (and keep it there), the momentum of the bout shifted. Watanabe definitely has some work to do on the feet, but she got the job done here on a big stage, opening up the main card portion of Bellator’s Showtime debut. Watanabe is now 2-0 in Bellator.
A rematch between Cris Cyborg and Leslie Smith, this time for the Bellator Women’s Featherweight Championship, was announced for May 21st, and they were briefly brought out for some quick interviews and a face-off.
USMAN NURMAGOMEDOV (11-0, 155.2) VS MIKE HAMEL (7-4, 155) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Nurmagomedov threw a number of sharp kicks in the opening minutes of the fight. Hamel was trying to close the distance, blitzing in with some big left hands, but Nurmagomedov managed to avoid most of Hamels biggest swings. Nurmagomedov was attacking at every level, working his jab, kicking the calf, and going to the body numerous times throughout the round. 10-9 Nurmagomedov.
Hamel immediately ate another hard body kick to begin the second round. Nurmagomedov defended a takedown attempt, and he continued to be the more active fighter on the feet. Nurmagomedov’s varied attack repeatedly stopped Hamel in his tracks, and his jab busted up Hamel’s face by the end of the round. 20-18 Nurmagomedov.
Nurmagomedov defended another takedown from Hamel early in the third round. Nurmagomedov knocked Hamel’s mouthpiece out with a jab. Nurmagomedov continued to attack the body, and he backed Hamel up with a particularly hard kick. Nurmagomedov defended two late takedown attempts and landed a hard straight right hand before time expired. 30-27 Nurmagomedov.
WINNER: Usman Nurmagomedov by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
This was a very strong performance from Nurmagomedov, who likely won every minute of this fight (although one judge disagreed, giving a round to Hamel somehow). His striking was quite varied, and that combined with his stellar takedown defense kept Hamel from getting off much offense of his own. This was Nurmagomedov’s Bellator debut, and I think that you can expect him to be a top prospect going forward in the promotion.
TYRELL FORTUNE (9-1, 1 NC, 251.2) VS JACK MAY (11-7, 1 NC, 264.3) – HEAVYWEIGHT
Fortune took May down seconds into the first round. May picked himself up along the fence, but he was immediately dragged back down, and Fortune landed some strong ground and pound shots in the process. Fortune began to rain down elbows, May shelled up, and the fight was eventually stopped.
WINNER: Tyrell Fortune by TKO at 3:16 of Round 1
Most people expected Fortune to win this fight in dominant fashion, and that’s exactly what happened. He was originally scheduled to face Matt Mitrione on this card, but Mitrione was forced to withdraw from the fight earlier in the week. Fortune is now 10-1 (1 NC) professionally, with each of those fights taking place in Bellator. In his post-fight interview, Fortune called out Valentin Moldavsky, which would be a sensible direction to go in.
NEIMAN GRACIE (10-1, 170) VS JASON JACKSON (13-4, 170.9) – WELTERWEIGHT
Jackson defended an early takedown attempt from Gracie, and when he attempted to jump down on him, Jackson grazed his eye against the fence. Gracie took Jackson’s back shortly thereafter, and it was clear that Jackson’s eye was bothering him. Gracie moved into top mount, and they were momentarily separated while the referee checked to make sure that Jackson could continue. Jackson escaped from the bottom position when the fight was resumed, and he recorded an aggressive takedown of his own before letting Gracie return to his feet. Jackson took Gracie down one more time and finished the round in top position. 10-9 Jackson.
Gracie attempted to take Jackson’s back and drag him to the ground, but Jackson defended the early takedown attempt and created some distance. Gracie was successful on his next takedown attempt, and while he was unable to advance his position, he recorded a significant amount of control time here. 19-19.
They traded jabs to begin the third round, and then a poke to the eye from Gracie brought the doctor in to check on the previously damaged eye of Jackson. The fight resumed, and Jackson recorded another takedown, putting Gracie flat on his back in the center of the cage. Jackson smothered Gracie from half guard until the bell sounded, and he certainly took this final round. 29-28 Jackson.
WINNER: Jason Jackson by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
I assumed that the scorecards might be all over the place, but the judges were all in agreement for this one. The first round was close, but I thought Jackson’s striking and takedowns outweighed Gracie’s control following that eye graze against the cage. The last two rounds were rather straightforward, with both men taking one in dominant fashion. Jackson called for a shot at the Bellator Welterweight Championship in his post-fight interview, and Jackson really isn’t far off at this point, now with a 4-1 record in the promotion. If not Douglas Lima, it wouldn’t surprise me if Jackson faced Michael Venom Page or Yaroslav Amosov next.
PATRICIO “PITBULL” FREIRE (31-4, 1 NC, 144.1) VS EMMANUEL SANCHEZ (20-4, 144.5) – BELLATOR FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Pitbull won their first fight in November of 2018 by unanimous decision, retaining his Bellator Featherweight Championship. This was a semi-final matchup in the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix.
About two and a half minutes into the first round, Pitbull landed a strong 1-2, and he proceeded to drop Sanchez with a left hook. Pitbull immediately jumped on the guillotine, and he choked Sanchez unconscious.
WINNER: Patricio “Pitbull” Freire by guillotine choke at 3:35 of Round 1 to retain the Bellator Featherweight Championship.
Their first fight was a very competitive five-rounder, but Pitbull put all doubts to bed and got the job done quickly here, retaining his title and advancing to the final round of Bellator’s Featherweight Grand Prix Tournament. Pitbull is on a remarkable run right now, and the two-division champion has a legitimate claim to being the best fighter outside of the UFC at the moment. With this win, he will meet the undefeated A.J. McKee in the finals of the current tournament, which is in my opinion, the most exciting fight that Bellator could possibly put together at the moment. Pitbull is arguably the face of Bellator MMA at the moment, and McKee’s undefeated record, as well as his outstanding performance throughout the Grand Prix, really set this up to be a big fight for the promotion. After Pitbull’s post-fight interview, McKee entered the octagon, they faced off, and both men talked some trash.