It may not have been pretty, but Patricky Freire found the revenge he was looking for on Saturday night at Bellator 183. In a grinding affair, Freire defeated former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson via split decision, narrowly outpointing the American a little more than a year after Henderson defeated Freire’s younger brother, Patricio, inside the Bellator cage.
The fight was an altogether uneventful one, as Freire (18-8) and Henderson (24-8) spent large chunks of each round either trading potshots from range or stuck in a clinch battle against the fence. Freire defended every one of Henderson’s takedowns, and even scored one of his own in the closing moments of the second frame. The final round was Freire’s best work, as the Brazilian briefly dropped Henderson with a short shot inside the pocket and seemed to have Henderson’s timing down better for counters.
In the end, two judges scored the contest 29-28 for Freire, while the lone dissenter gave it to Henderson by the same score, awarding Freire his 11th victory under the Bellator umbrella. Now riding back-to-back wins over UFC veterans, including a controversial second-round knockout over Josh Thomson, Freire took his shot in the post-fight interview and called out Bellator lightweight champion Brent Primus.
“I eat former champions for breakfast,” Freire said without the aid of a translator. “I want Brent Primus. You have my gold. You have my belt. Stop running from ‘Pitbull.’ You know you ran two times. Two times! Baby, I’m coming for you.”
Henderson, meanwhile, dropped his record to 1-3 since signing with Bellator in 2016.
In the night’s co-main event, British welterweight Paul Daley (40-15-2) settled the beef between he and Lorenz Larkin (18-7, 1 NC) in vicious fashion, knocking out the ex-UFC contender with a highlight-reel salvo of punches at 2:40 of the second round to score the biggest win of his Bellator career.
The lead-up to Daley vs. Larkin was a fiery one, as both men traded shots with one another for weeks before nearly igniting a melee Friday at Bellator 183’s weigh-ins.
But despite the enmity between the two sides, the fight itself began as a slow and measured contest. Daley eventually tripped while throwing an early head kick, which allowed Larkin to ride out the final few minutes of the opening round in top position. The second frame looked to be more of the same until Daley clipped Larkin with a spinning backfist, then let loose with a wicked left hook that put Larkin on wobbly legs.
Smelling blood, Daley pounced and unloaded a bombardment of punches that forced referee Mike Beltran to intervene.
The spectacular win moved Daley’s record to 5-2 in the Bellator cage, while Larkin dropped to a surprising 0-2 start with his new promotion. Afterward, Daley took aim at another one of his rivals, fellow British welterweight Michael Page.
“Like I said building up to this, the only people that stood with me and got out successfully are Nick Diaz and Douglas Lima. Anybody else in the welterweight division stands with me is getting knocked the f*ck out,” Daley said.
“Now, one of those rematches I get can’t, the other is fighting Rory MacDonald in January. But back home you’ve got a very similar character to me, a little young boy called ‘MVP’ over in the UK that keeps talking on social media. Get that little punk in here with me. He's getting knocked out as well.”
Elsewhere on the card, the Bellator debut of Roy Nelson (23-14) proved to be a smashing success. The 41-year-old ex-UFC heavyweight, who inked a deal with Bellator in May following the end of his UFC contract, used his rarely-seen grappling acumen to pick up an entertaining unanimous decision win over Javy Ayala (10-5).
Ayala, a heavyweight veteran who upset Sergei Kharitonov with a 16-second knockout this summer, found an advantage in the striking exchanges, but it was Nelson’s overwhelming ground game that was the key to the match. “Big Country” easily and repeatedly took the fight to the mat, scoring double-leg takedowns in all three rounds and suffocating Ayala with a barrage of offense.
Ayala had no answer for Nelson’s top control, being forced to defend short punches and various armlocks as Nelson patiently transitioned from half guard to side control to mount. The final judges’ tallies were 30-26, 29-28, and 29-28, all in favor of Nelson, who pushed his record to 3-2 over his last five fights.
“Viacom and Spike were talking about they needed some film footage, so I had to give it to them,” Nelson joked afterward. “The plan was just to go out there and get the ‘W’ and show the fans what I still have.”
The sophomore outing of Aaron Pico (1-1) was an unforgettable one, to say the least.
Competing just days before his 21st birthday, and having moved down from the lightweight division to 145 pounds, the blue-chip prospect scored a highlight-reel knockout that will be replayed on Bellator highlight packages until the end of time, sleeping Justin Linn (7-4) with a monstrous left hook at 3:45 of the opening round.
Pico is a widely considered to be one of the most talented prospects in the sport, but after suffering a stunning 24-second loss to Zach Freeman in his pro debut, the pressure was on him Saturday to validate his hype — and he did exactly that. The young Californian effortlessly wrestled Linn to the floor twice before brawling against the fence and landing the fight-ending shot, sending Linn crashing to the floor unconscious. Pico showed some holes in his defense, as Linn tagged him a few times with hard punches, but the end was about as resounding as it gets.
“It’s just a proud moment to get my first victory,” Pico said. “It’s something I’ll always remember on my 21st birthday.
“Right now I’m still young, I’m just going to stay in my lane and do what I do, and I will be the world champion. It’s just a matter of time.”
In the opening bout of the televised card, Goiti Yamauchi (22-3) propelled himself high into Bellator lightweight title contention, running a grappling clinic on Adam Piccolotti (9-1) before scoring a sensational rear-naked choke victory over the previously undefeated prospect at 3:19 of the first round.
A 24-year-old submission specialist, Yamauchi dragged Piccolotti into his world early, catching the American in a guillotine attempt off of a flying knee. Piccolotti defended that attempt as well as a slick omoplata, only to have Yamauchi scramble onto his back as soon as the fighters retook their feet. From there, the end was nigh, as Yamauchi locked up the fight-ending choke and secured his third straight first-round submission since moving from featherweight up to 155 pounds.
With the win, Yamauchi etched himself into Bellator history, tying Marcin Held for the most submissions (6) ever finished in the Bellator cage. And afterward, he delivered a message to Bellator lightweight titleholder Primus.
“One thing I have to say to the champion: work hard and good luck in your career, because the monster’s coming, baby.”