Patricio Freire is now the winningest fighter in Bellator history.
At the Menora Mivtachim in Tel Aviv, Israel on Thursday, but was aired Friday night on tape delay, Freire managed to stave off Emmanuel Sanchez’s run for the featherweight title, earning a unanimous decision win to retain his belt at Bellator 209.
The first round saw both men set the tone of the fight with Sanchez pressuring from the opening bell while “Pitbull,” ironically, played the matador on the outside and landing the clearner, harder punches. Pitbull had success early, opening a cut underneath Sanchez’s eye in the second round. By the fourth round, Sanchez’s face was a lumpy mess but “El Matador” was undeterred and his pressure and leg kicks seemed to be slowing Freire down as they entered the final frame. The last round saw Pitbull show his championship mettle though, hurting Sanchez early in the round with a powerful left hook that put the challenger on skates. Freire was unable to finish the game fighter but he spent a majority of the rest of the round, controlling Sanchez on the floor. In the end, Pitbull won with 48-46, 48-47, 48-47 scorecards.
In the co-main event, Haim Gozali’s return to Tel Aviv was not as kind to him as his first outing, at least not in the fighting realm. In a competitive fight, Gozali lost a unanimous decision to Ryan Couture. Couture was able to get the better of the grappling and even hurt Gozali at one point on the feet, sweeping all three rounds on two scorecards and also earning a couple of 10-8 rounds. It wasn’t all bad news for Gozali though. After the fight, the Israeli fighter proposed to his girlfriend in the cage, and so even in defeat, Gozali can look back on tonight as a victory.
In a fairly major upset, Vadim Nemkov earned the biggest win of his career, squeaking out a split-decision win over former light heavyweight champion Phil Davis. For the first 10 minutes, the former NCAA wrestler wasn’t able to put his grappling to much use and was instead outworked by Nemkov’s pace and leg kicks. Perhaps sensing he was behind, Davis came out with renewed aggression in the third round even securing a takedown and even locking in a kimura at one point but it was too little too late. Nemkov was game and held on for the win, giving the young prospect back-to-back wins over former champions and putting him in excellent position to challenge for the light heavyweight belt next year.
In a women’s featherweight match-up, Olga Rubin kept her undefeated streak going, taking a unanimous decision victory over veteran Cindy Dandois. Rubin avoided getting into prolonged exchanges with the grappler on the ground and used superior striking to mark Dandois up for the majority of the fight. Dandois was able to mount a comeback in the last few moments of the bout but it wasn’t enough and Rubin picked up the victory. Rubin is now 5-0 in her career and could be staring down a fight with featherweight champion Julia Budd soon.
In the opening bout of the evening, Adam Keresh made quick work of Kirill Sidelnikov, knocking out “Baby Fedor”with a head kick in round one. Sidelnikov actually had a lot of success early on, hurting Karesh standing and then taking him down and working on a kimura. Keresh got back to his feet though and shortly afterwards, landed the left head kick that put Sidelnikov down. The win is Keresh’s second in Bellator and third overall.