Patricky Freire upset Rob McCullough in the Bellator lightweight tournament. | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
SHREVEPORT, La. -- Patricky "Pitbull" Freire came into Bellator's lightweight tournament with a heavy heart, but the Brazilian prospect made a statement with his heavy hands on Saturday at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, upsetting former WEC lightweight champion "Razor" Rob McCullough via knockout.
Freire's manager, Ivan Canello, unexpectedly died of a heart attack in his home of Curitiba, Brazil, last week at the age of 32. However, in the wake of his friend and associate, the Brazilian put on a performance, showing off his boxing skills early in the fight, dropping McCollough in the opening seconds of the first frame with a stiff combination.
Freire then worked his grapping skills, taking McCullough's back and nearly choking him out on several occasions. McCullough survived by using both his hands to control one of Freire's hands. McCullough then lurched forward, slamming Freire's head to the ground and escaping.
"I was prepared to stand up because I knew he was a very good striker," Freire said after the bout. "I worked on my boxing with the Baianos, [trainer Luiz Carlos] Dorea, [former boxing world champion Acelino] "Popo" Feitas. I was prepared."
Both fighters traded solid strikes in the second round. It was the former champion who controlled most of the period with his hard low kicks, but McCullough, once again, gave up his back late. This time, "Razor" Rob was able to roll out and viciously pound away on Freire as the bell sounded.
Heading into the final round, it seemed like anyone's fight. McCullough landed solid strikes early, mixing up his combinations with leg kicks and timing his jab perfectly. However, Freire's hands came through again, and a perfect overhand right smashed McCullough and put him on the canvas. As "Pitbull" followed up with two right hands, referee Gary Copeland stepped in to stop the fight at 3:11 of the third round.
"I definitely slipped on a banana peel in the third round," McCullough mused in the post-fight.
As for Freire's fallen friend, he honored him the best way he knew how.
"I'm still very sad, but I know if I won, Ivan would be proud of me, wherever he is now," said Freire.
"Every once in a while, you get the chance to come across someone very special," said Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney of Canello. "It's a tragedy. He would've really been proud of the performance this gentleman put on."
Former Missouri Tigers captain and All-American wrestler Michael Chandler proved himself as one of the tournament's favorites, fending off submission attempts from 19-year-old Pole Marcin Held to earn an impressive technical submission victory of his own.
After a brief exchange left Chandler's nose bloody, the former Mizzou grappler took Held to the canvas. However, he was immediately threatened with submission attempt after submission attempt, including a deep kneebar from the teenage grappler that looked like it might end the bout quickly.
Chandler defended and ended up in Held's guard, where he was supreme. Held continued to look for armbars and triangles, but Chandler made him pay, dropping heavy shots through Held's arms and legs with volume and regularity. Chandler eventually passed guard, saw an opportunity for an arm-triangle choke and locked it up. Chandler quickly passed to side control, and though Held tried to defend, the choke was tight. Held's face turned purple, his eyes bulged and he passed out, forcing Copeland to halt the action at 3:56 of the first round.
"I don't care if [my knee] is broken, separated, I'm good. I'm gonna win this tournament," Chandler said after the bout.
Chandler, based out of Xtreme Couture, is now 6-0 with six stoppages after starting his MMA career in August 2009.
Another unbeaten, Missoula, Mont., native Lloyd Woodard, showed off some stellar takedown defense en route to a second round-stoppage win in his quarterfinal matchup against Carey Vanier, moving his record to 11-0.
Vanier did land an early slam that shook the cage and brought the Shreveport crowd to its feet. However, Woodard's sprawl was otherwise brilliant, shutting down repeated Vanier shots. Woodard closed the first frame with an uppercut that had Vanier reeling.
The end came quickly in the second, as Woodard cracked Vanier with a short left hook that crumbled him. Vanier got up when Woodard went for a kimura, but "Cupcake" stayed on him and caught him with a rush of punches and knees that put the Greg Jackson product back on the mat. Woodard pounded away until Copeland saved Vanier just 46 seconds into the round.
In the quickest quarterfinal, two-time Bellator lightweight tournament runner-up Toby Imada made short work of late tournament addition Josh Shockley.
Shockey entered the Bellator draw at Friday's weigh-ins, after Olympic judoka Ferrid Kheder did not weigh in and left the venue. The 21-year-old native of Hobart, Ind., got a quick takedown, but Imada quickly locked up an armbar. Shockley attempted to slam out but yelled in pain from the hold as they hit the mat, forcing Copeland to call the fight just 79 seconds into the bout.
Following the event, Bjorn Rebney announced that in the tournament semifinals, Michael Chandler will take on Lloyd Woodard, while Patricky Freire will face Toby Imada at Bellator 40 on April 9 in Concho, Okla.
Leonhardt Stops Leo in Local Headliner
In the evening's local main event, Shreveport's own Chad Leonhardt forced Jackson, Miss., native Kelly Leo's corner to throw in the towel after 10 dominant minutes in their middleweight contest.
Through the first round, Leonhardt landed standing and slammed Leo on the mat into side control repeatedly. Leo was able to get back to his feet and survive but quickly fatigued under the pressure of Leonhardt.
Leo had a chance to halt Leonhardt in the second round with a heel hook, but Leonhardt grimaced and gutted it out. The rest of the round saw Leonhardt crush Leo to the body with punches, elbows and knees on the ground. Obviously down two rounds to none after the second frame, the battered Leo was held out of the third round by his corner, which ended the fight before the third-round bell.
"He's a tough dude. I hit him with four or five shots that I thought would end it," the local Leonhart said after the fight. "It was nice fighting in my hometown, but I wanted to put on a better show."
Kevin Aguilar used an aggressive guard and slick jiu-jitsu to neutralize an early takedown from Matt Hunt in their 150-pound catchweight contest. After Hunt postured up to drop shots from top position, Aguilar slapped on a triangle. Hunt defended and continued punching away, but he eventually was swept and gave up his back, and Aguilar began dropping heavy leather to the side of Hunt's head, forcing referee Myron Gaudet to stop the fight at 3:02 of the first frame.
In the evening's opening bout, Booker Arthur weathered an early onslaught from Javone Duhon in their 150-pound bout, surviving an early knockdown to take his opponent's back in round one. Arthur slammed Duhon hard to the mat in the second round and let his elbows and fists fly until Gaudet called it at 2:31 of the round.