Patricio "Pitbull" Freire isn't wasting any time on his road back to a Bellator title shot.
The Brazilian standout needed just 1:19 to knock out debuting Zuffa vet Diego Nunes in the opening round of the season nine featherweight tournament on Friday night.
Freire clipped Nunes (18-5) with a left hand behind the ear in the opening moments of the Bellator 99 main event at Pechanga Casino in Temecula, Calif. That blow dropped Nunes, then referee John McCarthy stopped the proceedings after a series of strikes on the grounded fighter.
"I've been very trained for this fight," Nunes (19-2) said through an interpreter. "I trained very hard at Team Nogueira, I'm going to come after that belt with all my power."
Freire came just one round on one card away from taking featherweight champion Pat Curran's belt in a memorable split-decision loss in January. Freire's keeping his eyes on the prize.
"He was the only one who got on my nerves," Freire said. "I'm coming after him really hard."
Freire will face Fabricio Guerrero (18-2, 1 NC), who was an across-the-board, 29-28 winner over Des Green (8-2) on Friday, in the semifinal round on Oct. 11 in Wichita.
"Pitbull's" finish wasn't the only memorable fight stoppage on the night. Justin Wilcox appeared all but done in his featherweight tourney fight against Akop Stepanyan. Wilcox was clipped with a spinning back kick to the head and was bleeding profusely.
But a fading Wilcox (12-5, 1 NC) pounced on his opening and choked Stepanyan (13-6) cold at 2:20 of the second round, ending a two-fight losing streak and moving onto the semifinals.
The Northern California-based Wilcox took the bout on seven days notice and cut 22 pounds to make weight.
"If that doesn't make a believer out of you," Wilcox said. "He hit me with a sweet roundhouse kick to the back of my head, and I was rocked. I could hear [Josh] Koscheck in my corner say ‘you're fine, you're fine,' and I said ‘yes I am.'"
In the main-card opener, Alliance MMA's Joe Taimanglo (19-4-1) punched his ticket to the featherweight semis with a unanimous decision win over Andrew Fisher (12-5-1). Most of the bout was held standing. Taimanglo, a native of Guam, was at both a height and reach disadvantage, but used solid movement to dart in and out and score. Judges' scorecards were a pair of 30-27s and 29-28. Wilcox and Taimanglo will square off in the other semifinal fight.
In a light heavyweight bout which isn't likely to end up on any best fights of 2013 lists, Vladimir Matyushenko scored a unanimous-decision win over Houston Alexander. The light heavyweight bout featured the sort of methodical pace one might expect from a pair of over-40 fighters. And while Alexander occasionally landed his signature right hand, Matyushenko otherwise outclassed Alexander (15-10) both standing and on the ground.
Matyushenko (27-7) won on scores of 30-27, 30-27, and 29-28, and snapped a two-fight losing streak.
In an undercard bout of note, undefeated Bulgarian heavyweight Blagoi Ivanov returned to action with a first-round front choke of Manny Lana. The match was Ivanov's first since a Feb. 2012 incident at a bar in which Ivanvov was stabbed in the chest and nearly died.