It’s not often that seemingly all the stars align for a perfect prizefight in MMA. Injuries, pandemics, age, and contracts are just a few factors to name as to why some of the best fights don’t get made. However, on Saturday one of the best fights that can happen, in fact, will happen. In the main event of Bellator 263, undefeated featherweight AJ McKee Jr. will challenge Bellator Featherweight Champion Patricio Pitbull.
The title fight has been years in the making, as it is the grand final of a 16 man tournament that kicked off in 2019. The big fight is given a suitably big stage on Saturday night, as it will headline a card from The Forum in Los Angeles, California, USA.
Here’s a preview of that fight, along with the rest of Bellator 263.
Preliminary Card (7:00PM EDT / 4:00PM PDT) (Youtube)
Bout 1: Brian Moore (13-7) vs. Jordan Winski (11-2) (Bantamweight)
Brian Moore will look to spoil the promotional debut of Jordan Winski in the opening fight of the card.
Moore is a regular of Bellator, having competed for them since 2016 now. He is currently on a two-fight win streak, including a stoppage victory he scored over Simone D’Anna last fall.
Winski is replacing Jared Scoggins, who withdrew from the card due to a positive COVID-19 test. He’s making his Bellator debut with a pro record of 11 wins and just two losses. He last fought over a year ago, defeating Terrion Ware on a CFFC card.
Bout 2: Georgi Karakhanyan (30-11-1) vs. Kiefer Crosbie (8-2) (Lightweight)
Bellator veterans Georgi Karakhanyan and Kiefer Crosbie will meet in the second bout.
Crosbie had a two-fight win streak broken in October, as Charlie Learly scored a win over him due to a doctor stoppage.
Karakhanyan returned to the win column last year, defeating Bryce Logan via split decision in November.
Bout 3: Johnny Cisneros (13-7) vs. Joshua Jones (10-5) (Catchweight 180 lbs)
Johnny Cisneros and Joshua Jones will return to the Bellator cage when fighting on Saturday’s prelims.
Both Cisneros and Jones scored a win in their last fight.
Cisneros last appeared on a Bellator card in September of 2019, where an injury to Mike Jasper took him out in the second round.
Jones went the distance in his last fight, defeating Brandon Bender via unanimous decision in early 2020.
Bout 4: Khasan Magomedsharipov (5-0) vs. Jonathan Quiroz (3-4) (Featherweight)
In the first of many matchups that sees a Russian prospect on this card, undefeated featherweight Khasan Magomedsharipov will fight Jonathan Quiroz.
Magomedsharipov has only been a pro since late 2019, although he has already attained five pro wins. His last fight was in December of 2019, where he scored his fourth stoppage victory.
He now fights Quiroz, who will be aiming to even his pro record to four wins and losses. He last fought in 2019, where Bellator prospect AJ Agazarm defeated him via unanimous decision.
Bout 5: Gadzhi Rabadanov (15-4-2) vs. Daniel Carey (7-4) (Catchweight 150 lbs)
Gadzhi Rabadanov’s Bellator debut on Saturday will come against Daniel Carey.
Rabadanov has been active as of late, having scored four wins in his last five bouts since 2019. He picked up a win earlier this year on an EFC card, defeating Valery Gritsutin.
Like many previously mentioned fighters on this card, Carey has fought in Bellator before but has been out of the cage for an extended period of time. He last competed in January of 2020, where Bellator prospect Aaron Pico stopped him in the second round with punches.
Bout 6: Vanessa Porto (22-9) vs. Ilara Joanne (9-5) (Flyweight)
Flyweights Vanessa Porto and Ilara Joanne are expected to close out the prelims on Saturday.
Porto, an Invicta FC veteran, lost her Bellator debut earlier this year against former UFC title challenger Liz Carmouche.
Joanne is making her return after a year-and-a-half-long absence from competition. She took her first Bellator loss in late 2019, being stopped by then-undefeated fighter Kana Watanabe.
She had a successful promotional debut in her prior appearance, submitting Bec Rawlings in October 2019.
Main Card (10:00PM EDT / 7:00PM PDT) (Showtime)
Bout 7: Chris Gonzalez (6-0) vs. Goiti Yamauchi (25-5) (Catchweight 160 lbs)
Undefeated prospect Chris Gonzalez will get a big test on Saturday when facing Bellator veteran Goiti Yamauchi.
Bellator has been developing Gonzalez as a prospect for quite some time now, as he has been under contract with them since 2019. He earned his fifth win in the promotion earlier this year, defeating experienced fighter Roger Huerta via submission due to strikes.
The fight was Gonzalez’s first stoppage win since entering the promotion.
Yamauchi has been on the Bellator roster since 2013 and has 11 wins under their banner. He had a three-fight win streak snapped in his last bout, as Dan Moret defeated him via split decision in April.
Bout 8: Islam Mamedov (19-1-1) vs. Brent Primus (10-1) (Lightweight)
Lightweight contender Islam Mamedov will get his first fight under Bellator when facing Brent Primus on Saturday.
Mamedov is making the move to Bellator shortly after wrapping up a long run in the PFL (formerly known as WSOF). While he went undefeated in his time there, he was not able to make the playoffs either year that he competed under the promotion’s seasonal system.
Mamedov advanced past the quarter-finals of the 2018 playoffs, although he was ruled out of the semi-finals due to injury. The next year, he lost a two-round fight against Loik Radzhabov in the quarter-finals. While it was a loss in PFL’s system, the circumstances of the fight result caused it to count as a draw on his record.
Mamedov’s last win was in November, where he submitted Martun Mezhlumyan with a kneebar.
Primus will be fighting to spoil the debut of Mamedov. The former Bellator Lightweight Champion has fought in the promotion since 2013 and similarly only has one loss on his record.
Primus has scored quick wins in his last two fights, submitting both Tim Wilde and Chris Bungard within two minutes. His fight on Saturday will be his first since early 2020.
Bout 9: Usman Nurmagomedov (12-0) vs. Manny Muro (12-6) (Lightweight)
Looking for his second win in Bellator, undefeated lightweight Usman Nurmagomedov will face Manny Muro.
Nurmagomedov scored his first Bellator victory just three months ago, defeating Mike Hamel on scorecards.
Muro is riding the momentum of a three-fight winning streak that includes two victories in Bellator. His last victory was in November, where he defeated Devin Powell via unanimous decision.
Bout 10: Mads Burnell (15-3) vs. Emmanuel Sanchez (20-5) (Featherweight)
Fighting to bounce back from a recent title shot loss, Emmanuel Sanchez will fight Mads Burnell in the co-main event.
Sanchez made it deep into the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix over the past couple of years. He submitted Tywan Claxton in the opening round of the bracket and fought five rounds for a unanimous decision win over Daniel Weichel in November.
Sanchez had troubles when he ran into Patricio Pitbull in April, as the champ stopped him within a round with a guillotine choke. The fight finished Sanchez’s tournament run and advanced Pitbull to the finals.
Burnell, a former UFC fighter, is aiming to score his third victory in what has been a busy Bellator run thus far. He entered the promotion in October, where he stopped Darko Banovic within a round with strikes.
He returned in April with a submission win against Saul Rogers.
Bout 11: Patricio Pitbull (32-4) vs. AJ McKee Jr. (17-0) (Bellator Featherweight Championship)
Bellator’s Featherweight Grand Prix will finally come to an end on Saturday night when Bellator Featherweight Champion Patricio Pitbull faces AJ McKee Jr.
The Grand Prix first launched in the fall of 2019 and has taken place for nearly two years. This was in part due to the large field of 16 fighters that it started out with, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic halting events from Bellator for a large portion of 2020.
Pitbull is currently a two-division champion for Bellator, wielding their 145 and 155-pound belts. Pitbull has held his bantamweight belt since 2017 and has defended it five times during his reign.
Three of those title fights have taken place in the tournament, defeating Juan Archuleta, Pedro Carvalho and Emmanuel Sanchez.
He now has a big challenge in McKee Jr.
McKee Jr. is the prototype of a prospect hand-crafted by Bellator. The promotion often picks up fighters early in their careers and attempts to build them up, but many don’t become big names – that’s just how the process works. But McKee Jr., a fighter who has had all 17 of his pro fights in Bellator, has been an example of that formula working perfectly.
McKee Jr. has fought in Bellator since 2015. While he has gone to scorecards in five of his wins, he has shown explosive ability with 12 stoppage victories.
McKee Jr.’s run through the featherweight bracket has been short yet sweet, scoring three finish wins. He opened the bracket with a bag in 2019, stopping Georgi Karakhanyan in just eight seconds with punches. Three months later, he advanced to the semi-finals with a triangle armbar submission over Derek Campos.
The undefeated contender dethroned a former champion in the semi-finals of the tournament, submitting Darrion Caldwell in the second minute of action with a fight with a rare neck crank submission.
While McKee Jr. has scored many impressive wins in his career, Saturday’s fight is the biggest opportunity of his career by far.