BELLATOR 178 PREVIEW: Grocke’s preview and predictions including Straus vs. Freire, Middleton vs Macfarlane

By Michael Grocke, MMATorch contributor

Bellator MMA returns to the States for Bellator 178. The event takes place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut and features the long awaited return of Daniel Straus. Straus will put his Bellator Featherweight Title on the line when he faces long-time rival Patricio Freire in the main event. The bitter rivals first fought each other at Bellator 45 where we saw Freire take a unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27). After the win, Freire was supposed to face Joe Warren for the title but an injury put him on the shelf for almost two years. Freire did get a shot at the title upon his return but lost to then champion Pat Curran at Bellator 85.

Daniel Straus was the champion when he fought Freire for the second time at Bellator 132. It wasn’t the prettiest fight, but it was a fight Freire won with a rear naked choke to capture the title. Straus got his rematch at Bellator 145 and won the title back, but was injured in the fight. On Saturday night he makes his return to take on Freire once again with his title on the line.

The co-main event takes us to the women’s flyweight division where either Jessica Middleton or Ilima-Lei Macfarlane will suffer their first defeat. The main card rounds out with the undefeated AJ McKee taking on Dominic Mazzotta and Saad Awad vs. Ryan Quinn.

The prelims will stream live on starting at 6 PM CT with Spike TV taking over at 8 PM CT for the main card.

Main Card

Daniel Straus (23-6) vs. Patricio Freire (25-4) – Featherweight 145 lbs.

Current Odds: N/A

Patricio “Pitbull” Freire makes his return after suffering a leg injury in his fight against Benson Henderson at Bellator 160. The injury could not have come at a worse time considering Freire seemed to have won the first round and was continuing to get the better of Henderson early on in the second round as well. Prior to suffering the TKO loss to Henderson, Freire was 1-1 over his previous two fights. After losing his title to Straus at Bellator 145 he returned at Bellator 153 where he submitted Henry Corrales.

Daniel Straus returns to the Bellator cage for the first time since Bellator 145 where he won the title from Freire by decision. That fight took place back in November of 2015 so it will be interesting to see if the long layoff will have any effect on the champion.

After fighting three time already both fighters will be well prepared. The winner of this fourth fight will be the fighter who can execute his game plan and show enough patience to not get lured away from it. Freire is 2-1 against Straus, but all three fights were back and forth affairs. In the third fight, Straus managed to avoid tiring in the championship rounds even with Freire picking up the pace in an effort to take advantage of the injured Straus. Freire came close to getting the finish late in the fifth round, but Straus was able to fight off a rear naked choke and take the decision.

Straus and Freire match up very well against each other. I would give Freire the slight edge in striking, but Straus was able to hurt him with a big straight left that turned the tide in Straus’ favor in their previous fight. I give the edge to Straus when it comes to their ground games. It’s on the ground where I see Straus winning the fight. If he has success scoring take downs I think he has the skill and the strength to be able to control Freire and do just enough on the feet to grind out a decision. Straus has to be careful not to get caught up in fire fight due to Pitbull’s power and ability to finish. He has 19 stoppages in 25 career wins. On the flipside, 58% of Straus’ wins have been by decision.

I see this fight going one of two ways; either Freire gets the finish or Straus outpoints him to a decision. What I don’t know is how the layoffs for each fighter will affect their cardio. While I slightly favor Daniel Straus in this one, this fight is ultimately a pass for me.

Pick: Straus by decision

Jessica Middleton (2-0) vs. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (5-0) – Flyweight 125 lbs. 

Current Odds: N/A

Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is 4-0 under the Bellator banner and 5-0 overall. Her last two wins came against Rebecca Ruth at Bellator 157 and Emily Ducote at Bellator 167. Macfarlane, who fights out of Team Hurricane Awesome has three finishes in her five wins.

Jessica Middleton is 2-0 since signing with Belllator after going 2-0 as an amateur. She beat Bruna Ellen in her debut at Bellator 159 and followed that win up by decisioning Alice Yauger at Bellator 171.

The women’s flyweight division has some good talent including; Macfarlane, Anastasia Yankova, and Lena Ovchynnikova. After beating Helen Harper last week at Bellator 177, Ovchynnikova called out Yankova so it will be interesting to see which direction Bellator will go with a title fight. Will they make Yankova vs. Ovchynnikova for the inaugural title or will Macfarlane, with a win on Friday night get the winner?

As for Macfarlane, this is a fight she should win. She is by far the better fighter regardless of where Middleton tries to take the fight. A win here should put her in line for a title fight against Yankova. Or possibly the winner of Yankova/Ovchynnikova if Bellator decides to go that route.

Pick: Macfarlane by submission

Dominic Mazzotta (11-1) vs. AJ McKee (7-0) – Featherweight 145 lbs.

Current Odds: N/A

Top prospect AJ McKee will look to make it eight straight wins when he steps into the cage against Dominic Mazzotta on Friday night. His most recent fight took place at Bellator 171 where he beat Brandon Phillips by decision. After beginning his Bellator run with five straight finishes, McKee has been taken the distance in his last two fights.

Dominic Mazzotta will be making his Bellator debut on Friday after going 6-0 fighting for Pinnacle FC. Mazzotta’s only loss came against current UFC Champion Cody Garbrandt back in March of 2014. His most recent fight occurred at Pinnacle FC 15 where he won a decision against Solon Staley. Mazzotta is a finisher with ten of his twelve wins coming via stoppage.

McKee is an excellent striker who uses his length and reach to maintain distance and dictate the pace of his fights. He also has the power to end fights on the feet as his three wins by KO/TKO show. McKee’s ground game is what makes him even more dangerous. He has shown the ability to out wrestle his opponents while also having the strength to be able to control them once on the mat. While his cardio was an unknown due to his first five fights ending via stoppage, he has been taken the distance in his last two, showing he has plenty in the gas tank.

While I expect AJ McKee to win this fight, he shouldn’t take Mazzotta lightly. With thirteen professional fights and four as an amateur he clearly has the edge in experience. With nine submissions in twelve pro wins, the potential is there for Mazzotta to pull off the upset.

Pick: McKee by decision 

Ryan Quinn (13-6-1) vs. Saad Awad (19-9) – Lightweight 155 lbs.

Current Odds: N/A

Saad Awad has lost his last two fights after beating Evangelista Santos at Bellator 154. He dropped a decision to Derek Anderson at Bellator 160 and at Bellator 163 he was stopped by Brennan Ward. While the Bellator veteran won’t be fighting for the lightweight title any time soon, his fights are usually exciting to watch. In nineteen career wins he has seven wins by submission and eight KO/TKOs.

Connecticut’s own Ryan Quinn enters Friday night’s fight on a two fight winning streak and winning three of his last four. He last fought under the Bellator banner at Bellator 140 where he submitted Waylon Lowe with a guillotine choke.

Quinn is a well-rounded fighter. His ground game is where he has the advantage against Awad. I expect him to try for take downs in an effort to get the fight to the ground where he can work his submissions. While Quinn is decent on the feet he won’t be able to match Awad’s power. Saad is going to want to throw hands and try to end the fight early. Awad does tend to leave himself open so the possibility he gets caught by Quinn is there. This should be a fun fight. I don’t have a strong feel one way or the other, so I’ll back the heavy handed Awad in a fight that can end in the first round.

Pick: Awad by TKO

Prelims Quick Look

Shainis over Kelleher

Perrin over Carvalho

Watford over Lachinov

Lopez over Caedarelli

Foster over Manley

Tugman over English

Young over Caron

Ruth over Mundell

Fortune over BusickGiovanella over Ricci

Alley over Xhema

Enjoy the fights! And in the mean time, check out the official weigh-ins below…

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS PREVIEW: BELLATOR 177 PREVIEW: Grocke’s preview and predictions with odds including High vs. Dantas

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