The Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix semifinals will be set Friday night. And that weight division's title will be on the line.
It all will happen in an empty Mohegan Sun Arena, as promotion president Scott Coker announced Thursday that, "out of an abundance of caution" over the coronavirus pandemic, Bellator 241 will be closed to the public. The fights will go on, in front of 10,000 empty seats in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The main event pits Patricio Freire against Pedro Carvalho in a fight whose importance is twofold. Freire, who reigns at both featherweight and lightweight, will be defending his 145-pound title. And the winner of the bout will not just be champion but will move on to the final four of the yearlong tournament.
In Bellator, the tourney is held not simply to determine a challenger for the champ. It includes the champ, testing him along the way.
There are important fights up and down the card. Here's a look at what to watch for at Bellator 241.
Is 'Pitbull' underestimating Carvalho?
Last September, Freire was granted "champion's choice" during Bellator's Grand Prix selection show. "Pitbull" was allowed to manipulate the bracket however he wanted, choosing his quarterfinal opponent and date. Freire tabbed Carvalho, the least-known fighter in the draw, as his foe. It was a very good strategic move. So was bouncing the other favorites in the field -- A.J. McKee and Darrion Caldwell -- to the other side of the bracket. Freire chose an easier path, as he should have.
But how easy of a challenge is Carvalho? Not really that easy at all, truly. Carvalho is a 24-year-old prospect out of Portugal. He trains under John Kavanagh at SBG Ireland, rubbing shoulders with Conor McGregor, among others. Carvalho has won six straight, four of them via finish. Maybe Carvalho ends up being the surprise of this tournament.
Can Weichel or Sanchez be a tournament sleeper?
Just like in any tournament, one of the most fun things is pegging who will be the sleepers. Weichel and Sanchez are two names people are not buzzing about. But they are both consistent and solid, with the ability to finish a fight either while standing or on the ground.
Sanchez has only two losses going back to 2015: to Freire and Weichel. He is seeking to avenge a 2016 split decision defeat to Weichel, a fight Sanchez believes he won. Weichel, meanwhile, has lost to Freire twice, but in their first fight he rocked the champion and in the second he took the Brazilian to a close split decision. Either one of these men has a chance to win this fight and give the Freire vs. Carvalho winner a tough time in the semifinals.
Can Paul Daley earn a rematch with MVP or a title shot?
Daley, the exciting, charismatic British slugger, has won two straight after being ousted from the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix by Michael Page in February 2019. He meets Sabah Homasi on Friday night. Homasi is a UFC veteran on a two-fight winning streak and is no easy test. If Daley passes it, he'll put himself in the conversation for a fight against welterweight champion Douglas Lima.
There is also the possibility that Daley could earn another date with Page, his countryman, with whom he has a rivalry. Daley called for that rematch against "MVP" after Daley stopped Saad Awad with strikes last October. At 37 years old, Daley is not still the same guy who came close to fighting for the UFC welterweight title 10 years ago. But he's still a lightning rod -- and still capable of putting foes to sleep with one left hook.
Will Leslie Smith vs. Jessy Miele produce a challenger for Cris Cyborg?
Who is next for Cyborg, the newly crowned Bellator women's featherweight champion? Perhaps the answer can be found on the Bellator 241 undercard. While it seems Arlene Blencowe has the inside track right now, either Smith or Miele can put her name in the hat with a big performance.
Smith was actually Cyborg's first UFC opponent in 2016 and is a friend of the champion. But she has lost just once since fighting Cyborg -- to Blencowe in November -- and her bouts are always exciting to watch. Miele, meanwhile, has won four straight and could position herself as a top contender with a win over a known commodity like Smith. Cyborg will surely be watching closely.
Where does Robson Gracie Jr. stand as a prospect?
"Prospect" is an odd term. What does it really mean in MMA? Someone young? Someone unproven? Gracie isn't young. He's 30 years old. But in MMA, he's inexperienced, with just three pro fights -- all with Bellator, and all since 2018. Every one of his fights has ended with a submission win, which should come as no surprise given his last name. His family helped bring Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the United States and was essential in starting the UFC in 1993.
Robson is the youngest brother of Renzo Gracie and, of course, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. He has looked strong in MMA so far, and his challenge Friday will be Billy Goff, a 21-year-old Connecticut-based fighter who is 2-2, mostly with local regional promotions. This is very much a showcase fight for Robson, who should win. If he doesn't, we can definitely hit the brakes on that "prospect" distinction.