What to Watch For: Bellator 152

Patricky Freire fancies himself a contender at 155 pounds, but a lack of consistency has kept him from reaching his desired heights.

“Pitbull” will be front and center when Bellator MMA tests out a new market, as he meets Edimilson Souza in the Bellator 152 main event on Saturday at Pala Alpitour in Torino, Italy. Like the rest of the lightweights on the Bellator roster, Freire and the newly signed Souza find themselves looking up at champion Will Brooks.

Freire has won five of his past seven bouts. The 30-year-old Brazilian last fought on Jan. 29, when he knocked out Ryan Couture in the first round of their Bellator 148 pairing at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California. He has procured 10 of his 15 professional victories by knockout or technical knockout. “Razor” Rob McCullough, Toby Imada, Kurt Pellegrino, David Rickels and Derek Campos all have starring roles in the “Pitbull” highlight reel.

A short-notice replacement for the injured Campos, Souza has compiled a 10-1 mark across his last 11 outings but parted ways with the Ultimate Fighting Championship following a defeat to Chas Skelly at UFC Fight Night 77 in November. All four of the onetime Jungle Fight champion’s losses have resulted in submission, three of them by rear-naked choke. Victories over Deep titleholder Katsunori Kikuno and Macaco Gold Team’s Felipe Arantes anchor Souza’s resume.

With the Freire-Souza clash on the marquee, here is what to watch for at Bellator 152:

Like Father, Like Son

A.J. McKee wants to blaze his own trail in mixed martial arts.

The unbeaten 21-year-old Californian will lock horns with fellow prospect Danilo Belluardo in a three-round featherweight showcase. McKee, who signed a multi-fight contract extension with Bellator in December, has closed out all three of his opponents -- J.T. Donaldson, James Barnes and Marcos Bonilla -- inside one round. None of them lasted longer than 3:19. His father, the retired Antonio McKee, once held Maximum Fighting Championship gold and competed in the UFC, Dream, the World Series of Fighting, King of the Cage and the International Fight League during his 37-fight career.

Belluardo, 21, has yet to lose in five professional appearances. However, the four men he has beaten -- he defeated Rajab Hammada twice -- have combined for a 6-12 record.

Home Cooking

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Perhaps Alessio Sakara can attest to such things.

Sakara will compete in MMA in his homeland for the first time in more than a decade when he takes on Brian Rogers in the light heavyweight co-headliner. The American Top Team-trained Italian boxer stopped a five-fight winless streak in September, when he needed just 92 seconds to put away Dib Akil with punches under the Final Fight Championship banner in Austria. It was Sakara’s first victory since he bested James Irvin at UFC Live 1 in March 2010. “Legionarius” has authored 13-, 20-, 30-, 72-, 87- and 90-second finishes during his 28-fight career.

Once a person of intrigue on the Bellator roster, Rogers has fallen on hard times. The 32-year-old has lost five of his last eight fights, though he appeared to stop the bleeding, at least temporarily, with a second-round arm-triangle choke submission on Virgil Zwicker at Bellator 147 in December.

Can Beauty Become the Beast?

Whether or not Anastasia Yankova can match hype with performance remains to be seen.

The 25-year-old prospect will make her organizational debut opposite Anjela Pink in a featured women’s flyweight clash. A national muay Thai champion in her native Russia, Yankova won her first two mixed martial arts bouts by submission prior to signing with Bellator, as she tapped Eleonora Tassinari with a scarf hold arm lock and disposed of Chommanee Sor Taehiran with an armbar. So far, she has drawn as much attention for her good looks as she has for her skills inside the cage.

Pink trains out of the same Sikjitsu camp in Spokane, Washington, that produced “The Ultimate Fighter” winners Michael Chiesa and Julianna Pena.

Branching Out

Bellator will unveil its kickboxing wing and utilize some big guns in doing so, as Melvin Manhoef, Karim Ghajji, Raymond Daniels and Kevin Ross will all compete in separate matches.

The California-based organization announced plans to promote kickboxing in February, with designs on casting a domestic and international shadow. The company first threw its hat into the kickboxing ring with “Dynamite,” which saw a card that featured both mixed martial arts and kickboxing bouts in San Jose, California, in September. Bellator partnered with Glory Kickboxing for that event. However, Spike TV and Glory have since parted ways, as the kickboxing promotion currently airs on ESPN3 and UFC Fight Pass. While the Glory-Spike relationship ultimately faltered, Coker sounded confident that Bellator can succeed promoting kickboxing on its own.

“If you look at our roster, we have a lot of fighters that can cross over and do both,” he said during a Feb. 18 press conference. “When you look at the TV side, they liked having kickboxing as part of their programming. We can do a great job, have the fan base that Bellator has already and really market to them and speak to them.”
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