MMA
Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer 80d

Patricky 'Pitbull' Freire gets in; Paul Daley gets 40th career win at Bellator

MMA

Bellator MMA lightweight Patricky "Pitbull" Freire improved to 4-1 in his past five fights at the expense of former UFC champion Benson Henderson, who dropped to 1-3 in the Bellator cage.

Freire (18-8) squeaked by Henderson with a split decision victory at Bellator 183 inside SAP Center in San Jose. Judges Marcos Rosales and Wade Vierra each had it for Freire 29-28, while Derek Cleary saw it 29-28 for Henderson.

The 31-year-old Brazilian took the opportunity to call out defending champion Brent Primus, who won the title by defeating Michael Chandler at Bellator 180 in June.

"I eat former champions for breakfast," Freire said. "I want Brent Primus. You have my belt. You have my gold. Stop the run from Pitbull. I come for you."

Henderson (24-8), who hadn't fought in 10 months due to ACL surgery, looked stunned by the decision. It was the Arizona-based fighter's second consecutive loss by split decision.

It was a difficult fight to score, as neither fighter ever seemed to have clear control of the action.

Henderson attacked the body with kicks and landed several resounding shots, but his long efforts to get Freire down in the second and third rounds were unsuccessful, and he was momentarily knocked down in the third round.

Freire actually took Henderson down with a trip at the end of the second frame. Most of his offensive came in the form of his right hand and inside leg kick. He also scored a few knees to the body off failed Henderson takedown attempts.

There was a bit of family revenge in the victory for Freire, as his brother Patricio, a featherweight, lost to Henderson in August 2016.

Bellator has not yet announced a date or opponent for Primus' first title defense. The former champion, Chandler (16-4), is very much in the running. Chandler suffered a freak foot injury during the June loss to Primus.

Daley puts Larkin away in second-round KO

English welterweight Paul Daley's 40th career win was a big one.

Daley (40-15-2) stunned former title challenger Lorenz Larkin (18-7) with a clean left hook in the second round. Referee Mike Beltran gave Larkin time to recover, but he was basically out on his feet, and Daley landed follow-up punches to finish it at the 2:40 mark.

The two exchanged plenty of words and one shove at the event's weigh-in but showed a good deal of mutual respect in the cage. They both fought conservatively early, but Daley took full advantage of the opportunity to finish when it was there.

"The first round, I wanted to feel out his standup," Daley said. "In the second round, I have an underrated clinch game, and I knew he wouldn't expect me to clinch or go for a takedown. I did that to distract him.

"The only people who have stood with me and got out successfully are Nick Diaz and Douglas Lima. Anybody else who stands with me is getting knocked the f--- out."

Larkin, who is 0-2 since leaving the UFC and signing with Bellator, won the first round behind leg kicks and some late ground and pound, but momentum quickly shifted after the first break.

Daley hit a knee to the body in close, then grazed him with a spinning backfist. The Southern California native has been knocked out only twice in his career.

Daley, of Nottingham, rebounds from a submission loss to title challenger Rory MacDonald in May. He called out fellow Englishman Michael Page after the fight.

Prized prospect Pico delivers in sophomore appearance

Well, that's more like it.

Three months after losing his professional MMA debut in just 24 seconds, 21-year-old prospect Aaron Pico delivered a highlight-reel knockout of Justin Linn in the first round of his second pro fight.

Pico (1-1), who turned 21 on Saturday, ricocheted Linn (7-4) off the cage with a devastating left hook. Linn went out cold from the shot, and the bout was called at the 3:45 mark.

A former wrestling standout who now trains with Antonio McKee and famed boxing coach Freddie Roach, Pico slammed Linn to the mat early and hurt him on the feet multiple times. He ate several good right hands in the process but took them well.

It was a far cry from his first fight, when Zach Freeman hurt him with a right uppercut and submitted him shortly after.

"That was the game plan: take time and be patient," Pico said. "I have the skill set, just don't rush. It feels good to go out and do what I can do."

Pico's debut took place at 155 pounds, but this took place at the 145-pound limit. Bellator was so impressed with Pico that it signed him to a developmental deal at age 18.

Nelson wrestles his way to win in Bellator debut

Hard-hitting heavyweight Roy Nelson (23-14) leaned heavily on his wrestling skills to earn a unanimous decision over Javy Ayala (10-6) in his Bellator debut. Nelson, 41, took Ayala down throughout the three-round fight and racked up offensive points from top position. All three judges had it for Nelson: 30-26, 29-28 and 29-28.

Although Nelson was the clear winner, it was not necessarily an easy win. Ayala, of Porterville, California, landed a hard, jumping knee late in the first round and a huge front kick to Nelson's chin in the second. Nelson, who fights out of Las Vegas, has a historically good chin, however, and never appeared to be hurt from the shots.

He moved to mount on Ayala in the first round and hurt him with uppercuts late in the middle frame. Both fighters looked tired in the third frame, but it was Nelson who took Ayala down and controlled him late.

A longtime UFC veteran, Nelson signed with Bellator in May. He is 1-1 in 2017.

Japanese prospect Yamauchi ends Piccolotti's unbeaten streak

Lightweight Goiti Yamauchi (22-3) submitted the previously unbeaten Adam Piccolotti (9-1) via rear-naked choke in the first round, good for his eighth win in the Bellator cage.

The 24-year-old looked spectacular start to finish. He timed a flying knee early, as Piccolotti shot for a takedown.

Yamauchi then threatened with a tight guillotine before taking the back in a scramble and locking in the choke. He now has the most submission wins in Bellator history, with six.

Piccolotti, 28, was starting to generate some hype coming into the bout, having won his first five Bellator fights. He drops to 5-1 in the promotion.

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