'Pitbull' Freire earns place in the final

Patricio "Pitbull" Freire became the first three-time Bellator MMA tournament finalist Friday night in Wichita, Kan., defeating fellow Brazilian Fabricio Guerrerio after three decisive rounds.

Separated by three years and five inches, Freire and Guerrerio still offered similar 19-2 records heading into the promotion's Season 9 featherweight tournament semifinal round, which also featured a contest between Justin Wilcox and Joe Taimanglo.

Freire, 26, was looking for another chance at winning the 145-pound tournament and set himself up to finally capture the Bellator featherweight title.

In 2010 he won three straight, only to lose an extremely close fight with Joe Warren. The following year he ran through another trio of fighters before losing a hotly fought five rounder against current king Pat Curran.

"Pitbull" solidified his status as the second best featherweight in the promotion with that result against, and a third shot at the title is what he's angling for.

Guerrerio, a lanky kid aged 23, did what he could, which wasn't much. He struggled against Pitbull's takedown counters, and spent a good portion of the fight on his back, fighting off an advancing opponent. Freire did well to pass Guerrerio's guard, maintain control instead of going for big bursts of offense. The fight disappointed in the action department, a rarity for Pitbull who is a known finisher, as is Guerrerio who came into the bout having stopped 8 of his last 9 opponents.

Judges cage-side at the Kansas Star Casino saw it 30-27 across the board for Freire.

Wilcox used his wrestling skills to edge Taimanglo

Wilcox earned his way into the featherweight tournament final with a clear cut unanimous decision over Taimanglo (29-28, 30-27, 30-27).

Employing his broad-chested power and wrestling skills, Wilcox maintained advantages throughout most of the 15-minute contest. Wilcox threatened positionally, and flirted with an arm-triangle choke from time to time, but generally he won without much flare.

Taimangalo, a squat 29-year-old from Guam, bested Andrew Fisher on points in September to advance to the featherweight semifinals. He had no answer for the heavier, more skilled Wilcox, however, and bowed out quietly, falling to 19-4-1 in MMA action.

Wilcox went the distance for the first time in two contests at featherweight, building off his second round stoppage of Akop Stepanyan one month ago. The American Kickboxing Academy trained veteran moved to 13-5, 1 NC as a professional.

The move to 145 has served him well thus far.

"When I got the call, I said I'm in it," he said. "Let's do it."

Rickels dominates Ambrose

Kansan David Rickels experienced just about the best night he's had in a cage, stopping JJ Ambrose "caveman" style midway through the third round.

The bushy bearded Rickels gave Wichita fans a reason to cheer from the opening bell.

"All that positive energy coming from the crowd," he said, "that fed me right here in the cage."

From the early exchanges Rickels was sharp, mixing up meaningful lefts and rights. He strung together a beautiful front kick to the face followed by a right hand.

Ambrose, a lightweight from Southern California, wanted to wrestle with Rickels but didn't have much success. Even when he did gain some measure of cage control, "Superman" didn't do enough and was stood up by referee John McCarthy. Rickels took advantage and plastered Ambrose's liver with a kick. Somehow Ambrose survived and made it another round and a half, enduring rough stretches all the way through.

"As soon as I touched him with a couple punches, I knew I would keep building," Rickels said. "And once I hurt him the first time it was over from there. I felt a lot of his energy fade away."

In the third the crowd was briefly quieted when Ambrose put Rickels on the floor. But they soon scrambled and with Ambrose (19-5) on his knees Rickels (15-2) locked him in a reverse triangle. "Caveman" whaled away like "Bam Bam" for a full 60 seconds, at which point McCarthy called a halt to the contest.

"This is the road to redemption 'Caveman' style," he said. "I want to put beatings just like that one everyone in the division. I know I'm capable of that. I really believe I'm a top 10 fighter in the world."

Rickels' previous fight offered a chance to prove he belonged in that class, however Bellator champion Michael Chandler knocked him stiff in 44 seconds.

Zayats submits Rosa in Round 1

Mikhail Zayats pulled off an "I own you" move against light heavyweight veteran Aaron Rosa, yanking a Kimura from top position in 47 seconds.

The 31-year-old Zayats, sitting among a strong contingent of Russian fighters on Bellator MMA's roster, snapped Rosa, a tall grappler and former sparring partner for Tito Ortiz, to the canvas in one twisting motion. From side control Zayats (22-7) countered Rosa's attempt at rolling into him and getting to his knees, and immediately clasped his hands together.

It took a couple head fakes before Zayatas wrenched out Rosa's right arm, which was immediately pressed beyond the tapping point. Referee Robert Hinds put his hands on the fighters and it was done.

Zayats' victory gets him back on track after a decision loss in March to Emanuel Newton for the Season 8 light heavyweight tournament title. Rosa, 30, was making his Bellator debut after going 1-2 in the UFC.

His record slipped to (17-6).