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Bellator bracketology: Matchmaking the 16-man featherweight grand prix

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Here at MMA Junkie we love a good tournament, and Bellator has brought back the format with a fair amount of success.

It’s seen Ryan Bader become a champ-champ by adding the heavyweight strap to his light heavyweight title, while the welterweight tournament has now reached its finale, with Rory MacDonald and Douglas Lima set to face off for the Bellator 170-pound title and a $1 million prize.

So, with the start of Bellator’s 16-man featherweight grand prix  – the promotion’s biggest tournament to date – set for Sept. 7, I was tasked with the job of coming up with a set of eight pairings that would make a fine first-round lineup for the tournament.

And so, with a respectful nod to my MMA Junkie colleague and author of “Sean Shelby’s Shoes,” Mike Bohn, I ease my size 10s into “Rick Chou’s Jimmy Choos” and try a bit of matchmaking of my own but – with a twist.

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Here are my eight (seven actually) first-round matchup predictions for the Bellator featherweight grand prix. I’ve put together a slate of fights that would excite fans and create potentially interesting narratives as the tournament progresses. I’ve even thrown in a couple of wildcard selections to mix things up and keep things interesting, too.

So, without further ado, let’s present our entirely unofficial, fantasy featherweight grand prix draw …

****

LEFT SIDE OF THE BRACKET: Top

The title fight: Patricio Pitbull vs Juan Archuleta

patricio-pitbull-friere-bellator-209.jpg

The first confirmed matchup in the tournament is also a battle for the Bellator featherweight title, as Patricio Freire puts his 145-pound strap on the line against the surging Juan Archuleta.

Bellator’s newest champ-champ will have the added pressure of putting his title on the line every time he competes in the tournament, but Freire (29-4 MMA, 17-4 BMMA) can’t afford to look too far ahead of himself. Archuleta (23-1 MMA, 5-0 BMMA) is as dangerous a contender as he could face right now.

“The Spaniard” is riding a superb wave of form and has the tools to give “Pitbull” all the trouble he can handle in their first-round matchup. But whose power will prevail?

The fight for the right: Daniel Weichel vs Henry Corrales

daniel-weichel-bellator-2101.jpg?w=1000&

The first fantasy match in the bracket is a huge one for the two participants, as it acts not only as a gateway to the quarterfinals but also as a world title eliminator.

And in Daniel Weichel and Henry Corrales you have two fighters with different motivations to get to the belt. For Corrales (17-3 MMA, 5-3 BMMA), it’s simple – he’s on a five-fight winning streak (including three finishes), and wants to earn his shot with one more win. But for Weichel (39-11 MMA, 8-3 BMMA), it’s all about redemption.

The German contender came close to finishing “Pitbull” in the opening round of their first meeting in 2015, but the bell saved the Brazilian, who then came back to claim the knockout win early in the second stanza. Then, when they faced off for the belt a second time two years later, Weichel was edged out by the narrowest of split decisions.

In this scenario, one of them would face off against the champion, whomever that may be, in the quarterfinals. But which story will continue? The rising star or the two-time challenger looking to prove the third time’s a charm?

Next page – Left side of the bracket: Bottom

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