I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly think of Israel as a hotbed for mixed martial arts. But the country will host a solid Bellator 209 card on Thursday. The event will take place in Tel Aviv at Menora Mivtachim Arena, which previously hosted two successful events for the Viacom-owned promotion. Main card fights will air delayed on the Paramount Network starting Friday at 9 PM ET. Check back for MMA odds.
Bellator 209 Odds & Expert Picks for Thursday Night at Israel
Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (27-4) vs Emmanuel Sanchez (17-3)
Friere puts his featherweight belt on the line and will be the favorite. Freire beat Daniel Weichel in a title rematch this past July at Bellator 203 by split decision. It was a competitive fight for all five rounds. However, it seemed Freire was getting the better of the action for the majority of the time. Aside from a clear-cut third frame for Weichel, as well as some near-submission attempts, it was the Brazilian titleholder who was stacking up rounds in his favor as the fight wore on.
Two of the three judges agreed Freire had the more effective offense than Weichel, and he was rewarded with a title defense on his resume. Judge Sal D’Amato had it 49-46 for Freire, while Chris Lee gave him the fight 48-47. Derek Clearly was the lone judge to see it Weichel’s way, giving him a 48-47 scorecard.
Pitbull was originally slated to headline Bellator 188 in Israel last November but was forced out of the card with an injury. “Last year I got injured and was out of the event,” Freire said. “So when Bellator told me they would return to Israel and thought about doing this fight, I didn’t think twice. I want to put on a show for the Israeli crowd and MMA fans to pay you back this time.”
Sanchez, 28, has won his past four fights, most recently submitting Sam Sicilia in April at Bellator 198. Decision setbacks to ex-champ Pat Curran and two-time title challenger Daniel Weichel remain his only stumbles inside the Bellator cage. Asked to break down the matchup, Sanchez doesn’t point out a single negative in the champ’s game. From Freire’s black belt in jiu-jitsu or the great striking that can “put people’s lights out,” Sanchez says simply that Freire is an “overall amazing fighter.”
“I just believe that I want it more,” Sanchez said. I believe my desire, my pressure, my pace – it’s just something that no fighter knows until they feel it.”
He’s 7-1 in his past eight fights with the only blemish on his resume a split-decision loss to Weichel at Bellator 159 in June 2016. Sanchez could bring something different to the table for Freire. He thrives in the submission game and has never been stopped inside the distance in any of his losses.
Haim Gozali (8-5) vs Ryan Couture (11-6)
It’s a rematch between these lightweights from last June in New York City. Couture has always had a tough time of it in MMA as the son of the legendary Randy Couture. Ryan Couture isn’t the caliber of fighter that his father was, but he has built a respectable career of his own and beat Gozali. Couture utilized clinch work and takedowns to win the unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27).
Couture set the tone in the early going by mimicking his father’s dirty boxing style to win the opening round. In the second, he wore Gozali down from top position. Gozali, the first Israeli ever to compete at the famed Abu Dhabi jiu-jitsu tournament and a Renzo Gracie black belt, is a dangerous grappler with six of his seven career wins coming via submission.
He had his lone high spot of the match late in the second round as he sunk in a leg lock. But Couture managed to escape and regain his bearing. He went back to a clinch style to seal the decision in the third.
Gozali has fought twice since, earning a 45-second submission win at Bellator 188 and then losing via decision to Jose Campos at January’s Bellator 192. Meanwhile, Couture has fought just once, dropping a first-round TKO to Saad Awad at June’s Bellator 201.
Phil Davis (19-4) vs Vadim Nemkov (9-2)
Davis is a former Bellator light heavyweight champ. He last fought in May and won by impressive head kick knockout of onetime title challenger Linton Vassel. The win, notched at Bellator 200, was his second straight since losing the title to current champ Ryan Bader.
With Bader now pursuing heavyweight gold in Bellator’s Grand Prix, Davis gets to stay active against Nemkov, a largely unheralded talent who put himself on the map in February with a TKO of ex-champ Liam McGeary. Nemkov bludgeoned McGeary’s legs until the fight was called off in the third round, bringing him his fourth straight win.
Nemkov also holds a first-round knockout win over UFC vet Goran Reljic earlier in his career. Beating another ex-champion in his third Bellator bout would certainly be a good way for Nemkov to fast-track his way to the top.
“I want that belt back, and I’m doing everything in my power to get it,” Davis said. “A win over Nemkov, it’s going to be – he’s a tough guy. He’s coming in with a solid win over Liam McGeary, he’s a former light heavyweight champion. He was a terror in his day, for a lot of guys.”