It almost didn't look fair. With a six-inch height advantage, challenger Pedro Carvalho towered over Bellator double champion Patricio "Pitbull" Freire. He took the center of the cage with a confidence that seemingly couldn't be contained.
It looked like a big brother humoring a younger sibling—at least it did right up until Pitbull landed his first left hand. Carvalho's legs buckled immediately. The fight was over in that moment, though it took almost two minutes to work out the details with another left followed by a right straight down the middle.
Carvalho couldn't handle the power Pitbull packs in his hands at 145 pounds. Based on his 31-4 career record, almost no one in the world can. Pitbull isn't just the greatest fighter in the world outside the UFC—he might just be the best featherweight on the planet.
"He takes the center of the ring. He will dare you," Bellator analyst Chael Sonnen said after the fight. "He will go out there and dare you 'try to hit me. I am going to counter and I'm going to put you down.' I've never seen quite a confidence in a standup fighter before. I will compare all the greats to him...it's like an old West quick draw and he beats them every time."
The victory moves Pitbull into the semi-finals of a 16-man Featherweight Grand Prix tournament that will leave the winner with the title strap and a check for a million dollars. But the champ wasn't the only winner on the night. Not only did his next opponent advance in the tournament, several other fighters made a case for big-time fights in the days going forward.
Fighting is a weird sport, where wins and losses can matter less than the way you make your mark. What follows aren't just the victors on paper—these are the real winners and losers in the court of public opinion at Bellator 252.
There's a misconception among many fans, especially newcomers to the sport, that fights become boring the second they hit the ground.
To be fair, that can certainly be true on occasion. There's not much worse than two fighters doing nothing more than buying time to breathe as they lay together on the mat.
When two fighters really get after it, however, grappling exchanges add a new element that can make a good fight feel special. There's something dynamic about the game of human chess that develops when two masters clash on the ground, a combination of the mental and physical that makes this sport unlike anything else in the world.
Logan Storley and Yaroslav Amosov gave us a taste of that for three whole rounds in a fight between two undefeated fighters that lived up to the hype. Amosov won a split decision—but this was a bout with no real loser. Both came out of the contest with a little more respect on their name and the appreciation of everyone watching on CBS Sports Network.
Loser: Cliches and Psychology
Some psychologists claim that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. But that simple maxim isn't always true—especially in the fight game.
In 2016, Daniel Weichel squeaked out a decision against Emmanuel Sanchez. Four years later, however, it was a different story entirely.
Now a mature fighter in his prime, the 30-year-old Sanchez demolished his foe, overwhelming him with punch after punch in a 25-minute shellacking. It was all Weichel could do to survive—merely lasting to the final bell seemed like an accomplishment in its own right.
Sanchez will move on to the semi-finals of the featherweight tournament where he'll meet Pitbull in another rematch that promises to be a barnburner.
Winner: Jarring Transitions
CBS Sports Network went from a long-form interview with a ballerina Misty Copeland discussing the challenges African American dancers face in the world of dance directly into Bellator 252.
That might be the most interesting transition I've ever seen in my years covering this sport.
I'm not sure how much crossover there is between these two worlds, but I found the interview interesting. Hopefully, some ballet fanatics took the leap into the cage with the Network and found something they could enjoy too.
"One four, one four."
The verbal signal was meant for fighter John de Jesus, indicating he should thrown a jab and an uppercut. But it was his opponent, Aaron Pico who was waiting for it.
His striking coach, the great Brandon Gibson, had cued into the tendency. Pico, it turns out, was waiting for it, moving offline and throwing an enormous winging right hand to counter.
The punch landed cleanly—and when Pico lands clean, fights tend to end quickly.
Once the brightest young prospect in the sport, Pico has rebuilt his game at the legendary Jackson Winkeljohn gym and, once again, seems poised to make major moves in the sport.
Winner: Displays of Respect
For more than 10 years, Devin Powell devoted his life to the martial arts. You've probably never heard of him, one of the countless young men dreaming of glory and success in the world of combat sports.
Powell made it further than most—his journey took him all the way to the UFC's Octagon, where he lost three of four fights by decision before the machine spit him back out.
There is a path to redemption—but losing a one-sided fight on the Bellator prelims isn't a stop on it. When the final bell rang, Powell knew the fight wasn't going his way. He left his gloves in the center of the cage, apparently calling it a career.
It's what happened next that was remarkable. Powell dropped to his knees post-fight and his opponent, Manny Mura, knelt with him and led a short prayer. It was the ultimate sign of respect—and a beautiful way to end a career in a sport that is anything but pretty.
Winners: Fathers and Sons
Chris Brennan may not be a household name in mixed martial arts, but the veteran journeyman made the sport his livelihood for more than a decade. He fought in more than a dozen promotions and six countries, from SHOOTO to Pride, to the UFC and everywhere in between.
Brennan has years of institutional wisdom to pass on—and, in his 20-year-old son Lucas, a willing protege looking to soak in knowledge. If we're honest, Andrew Salas was outsized and overmatched in this undercard fight—but the younger Brennan was able to get his reps and spend 15 very valuable minutes facing live rounds in the cage.
That's a big deal and sure to pay plenty of dividends when he advances to more challenging competition.
Loser: The Gracie Legacy
Twenty-seven years to the day after his father Royce helped launch modern mixed martial arts at UFC 1, Khonry Gracie had a much less impressive performance to open the streaming prelims at Bellator 252.
The 23-year-old, third-generation fighter struggled in his bout with Trevor Gudde which was mostly notable for his truly impressive mohawk. Gudde, who was likely on his way to a decision victory after controlling the bout in the clinch in the first two rounds, finished the fight in the final stanza after catching Gracie with a light knee to the chin.
Now just 2-2 in his fight career, contested primarily at a very low level, it's clear at this point that Gracie will never be an elite mixed martial arts competitor.
Patricio Freire (c) vs. Pedro Carvalho (KO, R1)
Yaroslav Amosov beat Logan Storley (Split Decision)
Daniel Weichel vs. Emmanuel Sanchez (Unanimous Decision)
Aaron Pico beat John de Jesus (TKO, R2)
Keri Taylor Melendez beat Emilee King (Rear Naked Choke, R1)
Manny Muro beat Devin Powell (Unanimous Decision)
Jornel Lugo beat Schyler Sootho (Unanimous Decision)
Lucas Brennan beat Andrew Salas (Unanimous Decision)
Roman Faraldo beat. Pat Casey (KO, R2)
Trevor Gudde beat Khonry Gracie (TKO, R3)