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Bellator 221 is set to be a historic night for the organization. Along with former champion Douglas Lima and Michael Page kicking off the second round of the welterweight grand prix, the main event will feature a super-fight between promotional icons, as Bellator MMA lightweight champion Michael Chandler defends his belt against featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire.
During Bellator’s first 10 years in existence, Chandler and Freire have become synonymous with the brand and are certainly its two biggest home-grown stars. Both started with the promotion in 2010 and have gone on historic runs ever since. They are the two winningest fighters in the organization’s history and the only two men ever to win Bellator gold on more than one occasion. Besides being No. 1 and No. 2 in total wins, they also occupy the top two spots in Bellator’s record books for most title defenses, fights in their divisions, title fight wins and finishes.
After stamping their names all over the Bellator record books, in recent years they have begun a fiery feud manifested from a specific connection -- Patricio’s brother, lightweight contender Patricky Freire. The older brother of Patricio has lost to “Iron Mike” on two occasions, the latter of which spawned a cage-side yelling match following Chandler’s vicious knockout win at Bellator 157. Freire made it known from that moment on that the 155-pound champion was in his crosshairs.
Since that night in June of 2016, the two have traded barbs on social media and in interviews, with each blaming the other for a fight never coming to fruition. Until now, that is. After a three-year war of words, the two will finally clash inside the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois on Saturday night.
The bout’s stakes include Chandler’s lightweight championship, and it may settle the question of who is the best Bellator fighter of this decade, if not of all time. The momentous occasion has the attention of the MMA world, and with attention come opinions. Coaches and fighters from Bellator as well as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Professional Fighters League and One Championship weighed in with their thoughts on the fight, and who they see holding the 155-pound title at the end of the night.
Pros Pick: Chandler vs. Patricio 'Pitbull'
Din Thomas, coach at American Top Team: “’Pitbull’ is nearly perfect. He rarely makes mistakes. His only downfall has been when guys are able to dictate against him. That’s something Chandler does well—dictate. I see Chandler winning.”
Shane Burgos, UFC featherweight: "That's an awesome fight. When you get two really good guys it does come down to strength and size. I think Chandler is going to be a little too big. So, I am going to pick Chandler by decision. I think 'Pitbull' is really freaking tough though."
Neiman Gracie, Bellator welterweight: “I think it will be a very tough fight. I’m not sure what’s going to happen but, as a Brazilian I want to see ‘Pitbull’ win and become a double-champ. I think he is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.”
Carlo Pedersoli Jr., UFC Welterweight: “I hope my friend Patricio ‘Pitbull’ wins, but it is a hard fight, and Michael Chandler is one of the strongest in the world.”
Georgi Karakhanyan, Bellator featherweight: "The matchup between Chandler and ‘Pitbull’ is great for Bellator, and great for fans. Chandler is a fast starter, and if he performs the way he has in his past fights, it will be a short night for Freire. Chandler is a bigger guy. Even though he is little short for 155-pounds, he is a stocky guy, and stays in shape year-round. His last few opponents were tough tests for him, and he handled them very well. ‘Pitbull’ has gotten slower, even when I watched the tape of his last fight against Sanchez. He looked sloppy, he was letting Sanchez get him with too many punches, and with Chandler you can’t do that because he will knock your a-- out. My prediction is Chandler wins by first-round TKO.”
Demetrious Johnson, One Championship flyweight: "Michael Chandler. I just like him."
Matt Schnell, UFC flyweight: “I like ‘Pitbull’ in this matchup. I believe, if he can keep the fight standing, he will be the busier striker. After five rounds of defending takedowns, and being more effective on the feet, ‘Pitbull’ walks away with a decision.”
Lance Palmer, PFL Season 1 featherweight champion: “I’m actually really good friends with Michael Chandler, so I’m going with [him]. He’s been at the top of Bellator for a long time at lightweight. He’s already taken one of the brothers out, and I think that helps mentally going into the fight. Obviously, ‘Pitbull’ always has that knockout power but I think Chandler is one of those guys that’s a force in Bellator.”
Sam Alvey, UFC light heavyweight: “I am picking Chandler. He is the American, and when in doubt, go with the red, white and blue!”
Tyson Chartier, MMA Coach and Owner of Top Game Management: “Michael Chandler has the wrestling to dictate where the fight goes. I pick Chandler.”
Louis Taylor, PFL Season 1 middleweight champion: “Chandler is looking lean and mean. I feel like it’s his time. Although, in this is a fight, I wouldn’t bet too much money because both of these fighters are going to bring it.”
Saad Awad, Bellator lightweight: “I think Chandler takes it. He has a lot of power, and I don’t think Patricio will be able to handle it.”
Kelvin Tiller, PFL heavyweight: “I’m going to go with Chandler, because of the straight forward pressure and wrestling. He’s always down to fight no matter what. He's tough, smart, athletic and knows how to win.”
Austin Hubbard, UFC Lightweight: "I'm going to go with Chandler. I'm a fan of his. He's a hard-nosed type of dude. He gets after it. That would be my pick for sure."
Zane Kamaka, PFL welterweight: “I got to go with Chandler. He's a work horse. I saw him fight live at Bellator Hawaii and he won me over as a fan that night. ‘Pitbull’ is a good fighter, but Chandler looks hungry for this one.”
Andre Harrison, PFL featherweight: “I’m going to go with Michael Chandler. ‘Pitbull’ hits hard, and he’s tough. You’ve got to give him credit. But how many wars have you seen Chandler in? It’s like he welcomes that. You crack him, and what happens after that? You drop him, and he’s going to get up and keep going. I feel like you’re going to have to do more to beat Chandler [than just have big power]. Not taking anything away from Patricio, I definitely respect him as a fighter. For this particular matchup I just think Chandler brings more tools to the table.”
Picks for Chandler: 13
Picks for Freire: 1
No Pick: 2