Bellator 255: Can Sanchez Spoil the Best Laid Plans of the Pitbull?

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Patricio Pitbull and Emmanuel Sanchez, Bellator 252 Credit: Bellator MMA

One of the most anticipated fights in Bellator history could materialize with one more victory for Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, but former foe Emmanuel Sanchez looks to spoil the party at Bellator 255.

It’s no secret, Friday has been a long time coming.  Of all the fighters whose careers were stalled in the last year, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire was amongst those whose momentum was halted the most.  Coming off a dominant victory against Juan Archuleta, Freire was hours away from the Featherweight Grand Prix quarterfinals before the decision was made to  cancel the event.  It would be nearly eight months before he returned to action, throttling Pedro Carvalho to reach the semifinals.  At the time, Bellator President Scott Coker had high hopes for a quick turnaround and said the hope was to hold the finals in January.  Instead, it has been an additional four month wait for Freire to finally compete for a spot in the finals.

Consider, “Pitbull” Freire could have been the talk of the MMA world had he kept an active schedule. At 31-4, he is the winningest fighter in Bellator history with 25 victories under their banner and holds the promotional record for victories in title fights with 14.  Ironically, the biggest feather in his cap could come a little over a month from now as his assertive first round victory over Michael Chandler could age like a fine wine if Chandler were to win the now vacant UFC lightweight title against Charles Oliveira.  Already one of the longest reigning two-division champions in MMA, Freire’s stock could reach an all-time high should he complete his sweep of the weight class with another victory over Sanchez and undefeated prospect AJ McKee to win the Grand Prix.

Such ambitions don’t matter to former title challenger Emmanuel Sanchez.  “El Matador” has been one of the most consistent featherweights for Bellator in the past several years after accumulating a 12-3 record of the past decade.  Along the way, he’s faced several of the promotion’s former champions in Freire, Daniel Straus, and Pat Curran.  Also, he holds victories over perennial contenders such as Henry Corrales, Daniel Wiechel, and Georgi Karakhanyan.  The result has placed him at second in Bellator’s inaugural featherweight rankings and ninth overall across all weight classes.

The task in front of Sanchez is formidable, but not unfamiliar.  The two fought in 2018 in a back-and-forth contest that Freire won by unanimous decision but still lost two of the five rounds.  While Freire went on to create history by winning the lightweight title, Sanchez reeled off three victories of his own.  While many have seen the tournament as a race between Freire and AJ McKee, Sanchez on-paper provides arguably the biggest challenge for the reigning champion.

The challenge for Sanchez will be to maintain a high output while avoiding the explosive power of Freire, something that was part of his downfall in the first fight.  For all his weapons, Sanchez has the advantages of height and reach and should use them to to full effect by working behind a sharp jab and using his footwork to avoid the counters of the champion.  Freire by comparison should look to use a multi-faceted attack that incorporates kicks and takedowns to keep Sanchez from planting himself to get his offense going.

Ideally, Bellator would love nothing more than to have a fight between two of their most exciting home-grown fighters in Freire and McKee for the Grand Prix Final.  That said, a victory and finals entry for Sanchez would be the culmination of one of the most under appreciated runs in the Bellator featherweight division of the past several years.

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