By Keith Shillan
Bellator is back in Southern New England with another card at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. The card features of up and coming prospects building their names, veterans trying to stay relevant, and old rivals squaring off in a title showdown. On Wednesday, I got to speak with the fighters from the main card (except Ryan Quinn), so hopefully I can give some insight into what is going on in their brains. Let’s take a look at the Bellator 178 card and makes some predictions.
Daniel Straus vs Patricio “Pitbull” Freire:
Stop me if you heard this before. Daniel Straus (#6) is going face Patricio Pitbull (#10). Yep for the fourth time. I know many people will be turned off from seeing these two face off for the fourth time. Well let me try to convince you that you are wrong if you are not excited for this matchup. First, these are two of the best talents in both Bellator and the entire world. Both guys are currently ranked in our top 10. Second, their first three fights have been fantastic. Absolute wars. Why would this be any different?
These two guys enter the contest very similar. Both guys have been in Bellator for a very long time and have taken on the best talent in the organization. Both guys have held the title in the past. Lastly, both guys enter the contest coming off injuries. The champion, Straus hasn’t fought since their last fight where he beat Pitbull by decision. During the fight, Straus shattered his left hand and has had to have a titanium rod placed in his hand. He hasn’t fought in 17 months. Pitbull is recovering from a broken leg that he suffered during his fight against Benson Henderson this past August.
That is where the similarities ends. Straus has a very laid back personality. He stated that he “doesn’t care who he fights, and its just business as always”. He seems very relaxed and is enjoying the moment. Pitbull is always on. No matter where he is, he is intense. He stated that he loves fighting at Mohegan Sun because he had his first Bellator fight in Mohegan, won his belt in Mohegan and will win his belt back in Mohegan. Pitbull stated that he will be “leaving the arena with the belt, while Daniel will be leaving unconscious”.
The fight is going to be decided by who can establish their range. For Straus to be succesful he is going to have to be all the way in or all the way out. Strraus likes to use angles behind leg kicks and his jab. He likes to jump in and out of range getting his opponent to guess. His punches come from different wild angles. He also liked to throw something exciting like a flying knee or spinning back fist. Straus will also look to close the distance with his underrated wrestling. Straus is the taller fighter and he does some good work in the clinch.
Pitbull is going to want to establish that mid range area. He is a compact striker that loves to unload power shots. He does his best work in the phone booth. His overhand right, short left hook and uppercuts are his best shots. Pitbull is gonna want to back Straus up with his power and be the aggressor.
Pitbull also is a very slick grappler. He submitted Straus in their second fight. Even just seconds after being dropped by a Straus straight left hand, Pitbull was almost able to secure an armbar from bottom
I am truly torn on this fight. These guys know each other so much.I am worried that Straus might feel some ring rust, though he denied he will. He stated that “ring rust is just an excuse”. I am also consider about where Pitbull’s head is at. He seems to be more focused about getting his desired grudge match fight with lightweight champion, Michael Chandler. When asked what he wants next, he answered “Michael Chandler’s head”.
I think Straus keeps Pitbull guessing and lands his left hand often. Daniel Straus gets the unanimous decision and ties it up 2 wins each. We gonna get number five?
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane vs Jessica Middleton
Ilima-Le Macfarlane and Jessica Middleton square off with both fighters hoping it will help propel them into a title fight for the vacant flyweight title. Both women have yet to taste defeat in their professional careers.
Like Straus and Pitbull, these women are very different. Macfarlane is known for her ground game. She likes to close the distance on her opponent, get a takedown and try to lock in a submission. She will stand in the pocket but she mostly strikes to try and close the distance.
A perfect fight for her is where she takes as little damage as possible. Middleton is the complete opposite. She wants to keep the fight on the feet. She invites a war. She seems to be willing to take a shot to land a shot. She is constantly coming forward with a very high pace.
Their personalities are also very different. MacFarlane seems to embrace the stardom, while Middleton doesn’t like the attention. MacFarlane talked about wanting to be a face of women’s MMA, while Middleton stated that she just wants to fight.
I expect Middleton to try to establish the range behind with leg kicks. I expect her to try and move a lot, not allowing MacFarlane to be able to get her hands on her. This strategy would be the best for Middleton.
However I expect this fight to look a lot like Macfarlane’s fight against Rebecca Ruth. Ruth came out very aggressive on the feet, which helped MacFarlane to lower her level and get into the body lock she feels most comfortable. Middleton will want to establish range, but I expect her to not be able to resist the firefight and for her to step in MacFarlane’s range allowing her to be taken down.
The Hawaiian fighter can be a little too aggressive sometimes with her submission attempts. She will lose position trying to secure the submission. However I expect Macfarlene to be able to take down Middleton and eventually secure a submission. I will take MacFarlene by 3rd round submission.
Saad Awad vs Ryan Quinn:
This matchup is a interesting one. It’s a catch weight (165 lbs) fight You have the hometown boy, Ryan Quinn, who is 7-0 in Bellator against Saad Awad, who has been a main stay in Bellator for a long time.
Quinn is a fighter that throws some basic punches at a time on the feet, but will likely want to take the fight down to the ground.
Awad is a very aggressive striker with very fast hands. He can be a bit wild, but he does have some power.
This fight really comes down to which Awad shows up. There has been times when Awad has starched big names like Will Brooks, but other times where he got knocked out quickly. However, Awad has faced much higher level of competition than Quinn has.
Awad by 2nd Round TKO.
AJ McKee vs Dominic Mazzota:
AJ McKee has been a prospect that was making headlines ever since he decided to be a professional fighter. McKee the son of former UFC fighter, Antonio McKee is one of the most talked about prospects in the game. McKee a long fighter is a fighter that likes to keep his opponents guessing. He will throw kicks to the body and the head, while suddenly landing a spinning back fist. McKee has very fast hands and great athleticism, but also a terrific wrestler.
Dominic Mazzota is a prospect that has flown under the radar even while compiling a 12-1 record and only losing to current UFC bantamweight champion, Cody Garbrandt. Mazzota is both the Pinnacle FC bantamweight and featherweight champion. Mazzotta, who grew up with a Taekwondo background, does his best work with his wrestling. Mazzota in brutally strong, likes to get to the clinch, where he locks his hands behind his opponents waist and executes a big slam. From the top position he executes brutal ground and pound and has some very nice submissions especially his armbars.
This fight is flying under the radar. I wonder if McKee is taking Mazzata lightly. He seemed more focused on punishing James Gallagher for calling him “a pussy on national TV”. Mazzota talked about the seizing the opportunity. Saying that he has waited for this moment his whole life.
McKee simply has too many ways to win. He is the much more dynamic striker. Mazzotta mostly throws a powerful overhand right in an attempt to close the distance. I expect McKee’s speed, length and push kicks to keep him at range. If Mazzotta gets inside, McKee is the more decorated wrestler and should be very hard to take down and could possible land takedowns himself.
AJ McKee by unanimous decision, followed by a very big epic call out of James Gallgher.
What to watch on the prelims:
The prelims are mostly filled with regional level talent, but the two fighters to watch for is wrestling standouts Ed Ruth and Tyrell Fortune. Ruth is a three time division 1 national champion, while Fortune was a division 2 national champion and a very successful international wrestler. Both guys have been slowly been worked up and should eventually be on the main cards. Ruth is scheduled to face off against David Mundell, while Fortuna is set to face Branco Busick