Daniel Straus finally solved the Patricio Freire riddle.
The American Top Team standout took a five-round unanimous decision from Freire in the Bellator 145 main event, as he recaptured the Bellator MMA featherweight championship on Friday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. All three judges saw it for Straus, awarding him 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47 marks on the scorecards.
Freire absorbed an inordinate amount of damage, starting in the second round. It was there that the direction of the fight changed, as Straus floored the Brazilian with a straight left and nearly finished him with a follow-up salvo. Though his efforts failed, Freire had been compromised. Straus continued to chip away at the concussed and disoriented “Pitbull” in the third and fourth rounds, utilizing searing left hands, a probing jab and sneaky kicks to the leg, body and occasionally the head. Freire made a play at the miraculous in round five, where he dragged the Cincinnati native to the canvas, wheeled to his back and fished for a rear-naked choke. His efforts went for naught, however, as Straus escaped to his feet and ran out the clock. Freire had won each of the previous two meetings between the two men.
In wake of Bellator 145 “Vengeance,” here are five matchups that ought to be considered:
Daniel Straus vs. Daniel Weichel-Georgi Karakhanyan winner: Straus remains one of MMA’s most underappreciated featherweights. The 31-year-old has won 21 of his past 24 bouts, losing only to Freire (twice) and former champion Pat Curran. With the bull’s eye on his back once again, Straus has a chance to gain some deserved recognition with an extended title run in what is arguably Bellator’s best division. Time will tell if he can pull off such a feat. Weichel will meet Karakhanyan at Bellator 147 on Dec. 4 in San Jose, Calif.
Will Brooks vs. Patricky Freire: The centerpiece of Bellator’s 155-pound weight class, Brooks tightened his hold on the promotion’s lightweight throne with a unanimous decision over Marcin Held in the co-main event. The 29-year-old American Top Team export has rattled off eight consecutive victories, the last four of them in title fights. In his latest outing, he beat Held at his own game and outmaneuvered the Polish submission specialist on the mat. Brooks has a built-in storyline with Freire, as he alleged that the Brazilian and his brother attacked him at a hotel on Nov. 4. The elder Friere last fought at Bellator 141 on Aug. 28, when he took a unanimous verdict from Saad Awad -- the only man to defeat Brooks.
Michael Chandler vs. Josh Thomson-Pablo Villaseca winner: Chandler has steadied himself following back-to-back-to-back losses to Eddie Alvarez and Brooks (twice). The former champion blew through his rematch with David Rickels, cutting down “The Caveman” with second-round punches in what turned into a bloodbath. Chandler, 29, will ride a modest two-fight winning streak into his next appearance and figures to stay on the short list of potential title contenders at 155 pounds. Thomson will lock horns with the once-beaten Villaseca in the Bellator 147 main event in December.
Bobby Lashley vs. Vitaly Minakov: Lashley’s MMA stock will never be higher than it is now. The 39-year-old former World Wrestling Entertainment star recorded his seventh straight victory and avenged one of his two career defeats, as he wiped out Pride Fighting Championships veteran James Thompson in less than a minute. Lashley turns 40 next summer and has a limited shelf life as a possible title contender. It would be wise for Bellator to pull the trigger and cash in on Lashley’s name recognition, star power and momentum while it can. Minakov has not defended the Bellator heavyweight championship since he turned away Cheick Kongo in April 2014. Lashley called for him to be stripped of the title in a recent interview.
Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Goiti Yamauchi: Sanchez has big plans at 145 pounds, and the Roufusport rep did just enough to squeeze out a split decision against “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 graduate and former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Justin Lawrence. The 25-year-old Milwaukee-based featherweight has rebounded from his short-notice decision loss to Curran in June with back-to-back victories, and he seems to have the attention of the powers that be in Bellator. Yamauchi, 22, finds himself on a similar trajectory, having won 14 of his last 15 fights. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt submitted Isao Kobayashi with a rear-naked choke at Bellator 144 on Oct. 23.