The season 9 featherweight tournament begins this Friday at Bellator 99, which is coming to us from Temecula, California, mere miles from where I live. I blew it. I should’ve gotten tickets. As usual, the main card begins at 8PM EST on Spike TV.
Bellator 99 is headlined by a season 9 featherweight quarterfinal bout between Bellator mainstay Patricio Freire (18-2) and former WEC and UFC featherweight Diego Nunes (18-4). Nunes was fairly hyped up heading into the WEC in 2008 with a 11-0 record, and he lived up to that hype going 4-1 in the promotion before he moved to the UFC and defeated former WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown at UFC 125 by decision. Here’s the thing: since joining the big leagues from his Brazilian circuit, he has yet to finish a fight. Granted, he hasn’t been finished either, losing a decision to Kenny Florian and Nik Lentz to name a few, and this had a part in why he was let go of the UFC after losing to Lentz in January of this year. Freire is a knockout win over Jared Downing at Bellator 97 removed from narrowly losing to Pat Curran in a featherweight title fight at Bellator 85. Plenty of people thought Freire defeated Curran with sharp standup and tenacious offense (he’s called “Pitbull” for a reason), and this fight with Nunes could be an exciting one. Freire is a crisp fighter, and Nunes hails from the famous Blackhouse gym, so they will be well prepared. Obviously, as stated above, Nunes hasn’t been able to finish high-level competition, so the question that needs to be asked is: can he decision Freire? Patricio is frightening from any position, and his only losses come to Pat Curran by that split-decision, and Joe Warren via split-decision. He’s finished 14 of his 18 wins.
It’s like we’re watching the UFC ins 2009? Cool? This light heavyweight bout was initially slated to be former IFL, UFC and Affliction light heavyweight Valdimir Matyushenko (26-7) vs former Bellator light heavyweight champ Christian M’Pumbu, but M’Pumbu got injured and now we’re here, with Matyushenko vs. Houston Alexander (15-9-2), and I’m fine with that I suppose. Matyushenko is now 42-years-old, and Alexander is 41, so this could get ugly if it goes past the first round, but with a career that dates back to 1997, Matyushenko has far more wear and tear on his body. Houston Alexander has a DJ gig to fall back on. This fight could be fireworks in the first round, if we don’t see the strange tentativeness Alexander has every now and again (see: Kimbo Slice fight), and between the two of them, there are 19 knockouts and 10 submissions. This likely won’t go to the judges if someone can land cleanly early. Both men have suspect chins at this point in their career, but Matyushenko could likely bring Alexander to the ground, where he has trouble working off his back.
Former Strikeforce fighter Justin Wilcox (11-5-1) steps into the Bellator cage on short notice and while making his featherweight debut against Akop Stepanyan (13-5). Wilcox is replacing season 7 featherweight tournament winner Shabulat Shamhalaev and will be looking to finally get back into the win column after a year away from the sport. His last three fights were two losses and a no contest, with a close split-decision to Jorge Masvidal and and nasty knockout at the hands of Caros Fodor, so he wasn’t given a shot when the UFC came calling. He took the year off, and now here he is in Bellator at featherweight. He had a good gas tank before, so I wonder how this cut is going to go for the usually muscular wrestler. Akop was one of Bellator’s much-hyped Russian prospects, but he lost his first two fights in the promotion. The first via armbar to Wagnney Fabiano, and the other via majority decision to Marlon Sandro. He atoned for these losses by destroying Chris Saunders at Bellator 92 with a nasty bodykick. If Wilcox makes this a wrestling match, he has a chance to disappoint the Russian again, but the longer it stays standing, the more likely it is that the Russian makes it three losses in a row for Wilcox.
In the final featherweight quarterfinal, we have Desmond Green (8-1) who is making his debut against another one of those superhyped Bellator prospects who has fallen short in his debut; Fabricio Guerrero (17-2), who at only 23-years-old, is quite the talent with a great ground game (12 submission wins), but he may get a little overzealous looking for the finish at times. Green is a great wrestler, so this could either be one of those wrestling vs. BJJ matches, and they test how good Guerrero’s submissions are, or Green can grind Guerrero out like he has on so many of his opponents before. There is also the sloppy standup option, which is very possible.