Bellator 288 breakdown: Will Usman Nurmagomedov outpace Patricky Freire to become lightweight champion?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the Bellator’s top bouts. Today, we look at the co-main event for Bellator 288.

Bellator 288 takes place Friday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. The main card airs on Showtime following prelims on MMA Junkie.

Patricky Freire (24-10 MMA, 15-8 BMMA)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’7″ Age: 36 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 71″

  • Last fight: TKO win over Peter Quealy (November 5, 2021)

  • Camp: Pitbull Brothers MMA (Brazil)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ Bellator lightweight champ
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ 16 KO victories
+ 1 submission win
+ 8 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Accurate shot selection
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Dangerous right hand
^ Counter hooks, uppercuts, etc.
+ Hard leg and body kicks
+ Dangerous flying knee
+ Improved wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
+ Works well from topside

Usman Nurmagomedov (15-0 MMA, 4-0 BMMA)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 24 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 72″

  • Last fight: Submission win over Chris Gonzalez (July 22, 2022)

  • American Kickboxing Academy (California)

  • Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ Freestyle wrestling base
+ 8 knockout victories
+ 5 submission wins
+ 10 first-round finishes
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Solid footwork and range management
+ Accurate shot selection
^ Attacks all three levels
+ Dynamic kicker
^ Hard leg and calf kicks
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Dangerous knees off collar ties
+ Excellent wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
+ Works well from topisde

Point of interest: Kicks and counters

 

The co-main event for Bellator 288 features a lightweight title fight between two men who are familiar with kicks and their associated counters.

Despite starting off in wrestling and hailing from a particular part of Dagestan that is known for its Wushu Sanda, [autotag]Usman Nurmagomedov[/autotag]’s style shows a lot of muay Thai influences.

His lead leg kicks still come with a bit of a Sanda flare attached, but Nurmagomedov packs potent attacks from multiple ranges. From the outside, Nurmagomedov usually sets up his long-range weapons off of prodding shots and feints.

Once able to establish his distance, it typically doesn’t take long for the Dagestani fighter to find his opponent’s legs through mimicked stances and crushing calf kicks. Nurmagomedov is also good about finding the body of his opposition, whether he’s utilizing simple body jabs or well-timed spinning sidekicks.

Even though the 24-year-old talent possesses solid counters at boxing range and dangerous knees in the clinch, he’ll need to respect that pocket presence of [autotag]Particky Freire[/autotag].

Fighting professionally since 2005, there’s very little that Freire hasn’t seen at this point.

Akin to his brother, Patricio Freire, “Pitbull” also stepped onto the scene as a heavy-handed brawler who came from a jiu-jitsu background. But as time has passed, Freire has also steadily refined his game as a striker.

More comfortable controlling range off of his backfoot, Freire has gotten a lot better when it comes to managing his pacing in a fight. Soon after suffering his first slew of losses under the Bellator banner, Freire learned to utilize first rounds as feeling-out periods, often finding his finishes in the second frame.

From feints to prodding jabs that pull out his opponent’s returns, Freire, like his brother, has a knack for creating and finding counter opportunities. Although we see his patent flying knee a lot less these days, Freire will still change things up when feeling in stride by occasionally switching to southpaw to let strikes go.

That said, I’ll be curious if Freire leans into weapons like bodywork, uppercuts and his previously-mentioned knees considering the potential for level-changing threats this weekend.

Point of interest: Potential grappling threats

Given where the Nurmagomedov clan traditionally makes their money, no one should be surprised if we see heavy doses of grappling in the challenger’s game plan.

Introduced to freestyle wrestling at the age of 8 and coming up in a combat sambo-heavy team under the care of Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov (Khabib Nurmagomedov’s late father), this iteration of Nurmagomedov carries a lot of the familiar stylistic hallmarks that you’ll see from his stablemates.

Nurmagomedov has a lightning-fast level change in open space that serves him well when under fire, but has no issue controlling grappling exchanges or finishing takedowns from the fence. And once his opponents hit the mat, Nurmagomedov wastes little time when it comes to making hay with whatever positions they give him.

Whether he’s blanketing foes with their backs to the mat or punishing them as they try to get back to their base, Nurmagomedov applies the methodical and crushing pressure that you would associate with his brand.

Even against credentialed wrestlers like Chris Gonzalez, Nurmagomedov has been able to comport himself well inside in tie-ups, creating clever scramble opportunities that led him to a slick font-choke finish. That said, someone like Freire should be all too familiar with front chokes considering who his main training partner is.

Although Freire will seldom flex his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt when fighting inside the cage, the 36-year-old has done a decent job of staying out of compromising positions throughout the years (outside of his lone submission loss to Lloyd Woodard in an underrated barn burner, that is).

Making quiet strides in his wrestling under the care of Eric Albarracin, Freire has really improved his ability to defend and control the takedown traffic in his fights (particularly when being pressed up against the fence). The 17-year pro also keeps a solid level-changing double in his back pocket that he likes to use to either even out striking exchanges or put a stamp on rounds.

Should Freire elect to grapple with Nurmagomedov, then he’ll likely need to be mindful of his gas tank in case he can’t control the young challenger and is forced to scramble.

Point of interest: odds and opinions

The oddsmakers and public are heavily siding with the challenger, listing Nurmagomedov -660 and Freire +490 via Tipico Sportsbook.

Despite my official pick and analysis, I don’t agree with the betting line being steamed this wide due to the popularity of both undefeated records and the last name “Nurmagomedov.”

However, in spite of my hate for casual narratives, I can’t help but see the promotional fast-tracking of Nurmagomedov paying off in this spot.

The challenger appears to have commensurate grappling chops to his brother, Umar Nurmagomedov, all while possessing a more potent striking game from multiple phases. For that reason, I believe that Nurmagomedov will be initiating the directions in this fight.

Unless the champion is able to catch him with a devastating counter on the way in, then I suspect that Nurmagomedov’s wrestling, pace and kicks will break down Freire for a third-round finish.

Prediction: Nurmagomedov inside the distance

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie