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Just mere hours before one of sport’s pound-for-pound greats was
set to make his promotional debut, Bellator
MMA
’s best laid plans went horribly awry.

Matt
Mitrione
’s losing bout with kidney stones forced the
cancellation of the originally planned
Bellator 172
headliner, delaying the stateside return of
Fedor
Emelianenko
and likely doing serious damage to the big ratings
anticipated by Viacom, Spike and promotion officials.

Even without a big-ticket main event, the show must go on, and
Patricky
Freire
made sure it was an entertaining show indeed. The older
“Pitbull” brother became just the second person to knock out
Josh
Thomson
, finishing “The Punk” with an uppercut and follow-up
hammerfists 40 seconds into the second frame of their featured
lightweight encounter at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on
Saturday night. Just one bout removed from a devastating knockout
loss to Michael
Chandler
for the vacant lightweight title, Freire may have just
emphatically re-inserted himself right back into the championship
picture.

In the wake of Bellator 172, here are six matches that ought to be
made (online sportsbooks).

Patricky
Freire
vs. Michael
Chandler
:
In normal circumstances, Freire might need
another win or two to get back to a No. 1 contender’s spot in the
lightweight division. But not since Yves Edwards
floored Thomson with a flying head kick at UFC 49 in 2004 has
someone finished “The Punk” with strikes. Since Freire played the
spoiler in a matchup partially designed to set up a long-awaited
Chandler-Thomson showdown, he deserves to fill the void his
knockout victory created. Using his post-fight microphone time to
direct an expletive at the reigning lightweight king doesn’t hurt
his case, either.

Josh Thomson
vs. Benson
Henderson
:
The incidental clash of heads that occurred
before he was finished by Freire might have affected Thomson more
than we’ll ever know, but regardless of the means, it still stands
as a loss on the American Kickboxing Academy product’s record.
Assuming the 38-year-old Strikeforce veteran still has the desire
to continue, there is unfinished business with Benson
Henderson
, who took a contentious split verdict over Thomson
under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner in January 2014 and
is coming off a loss to Chandler at this past November.

Fedor
Emelianenko
vs. Matt
Mitrione
:
Kidney stones floored Mitrione before he
could make his walk to the cage on Saturday night, but it appears
that “Meathead” will still get his shot against the Russian legend
at a later date. While Emelianenko had no lack of willing
short-notice suitors, “The Last Emperor” reportedly preferred to
wait to make his Bellator debut against a fully healthy Mitrione.
Mitrione has notched a pair of KO/TKO victories over Oli
Thompson
and Carl
Seumanutafa
in his first two promotional appearances, while
Emelianenko has won five straight fights since his Strikeforce
release in 2011. Matchmaker Rich Chou can use the postponed bout to
potentially strengthen an upcoming card in the first half of
2017.

Cheick Kongo
vs. Bobby
Lashley
:
Kongo isn’t always thrilling, but at his best
he can be brutally effective. The Frenchman dominated former
training partner Oli
Thompson
in the co-main event, racking up some lopsided
scorecards (30-26, 30-25, 30-25) in a relatively easy decision
triumph. Since coming up short against then heavyweight champion
Vitaly
Minakov
in April 2014, Kongo has won six of seven in the
Bellator cage. Lashley, meanwhile, is unbeaten in five Bellator
appearances and should be ready for a step up in competition.
Promotion president Scott Coker has teased a heavyweight tournament
at some point in 2017, and Kongo vs. Lashley could fit in nicely
into such a hypothetical bracket.

Veta
Arteaga
vs. Anastasia
Yankova
:
Arteaga’s aggressive approach netted her a
third-round stoppage victory over muay Thai stylist Brooke Mayo
in a featured flyweight tilt. A straight right hand in the third
stanza landed cleanly, causing grotesque swelling near Mayo’s left
eye and forcing a doctor stoppage following a competitive contest.
Arteaga lost a controversial split decision to Yankova in their
first meeting at Bellator 161. Running that bout back could provide
some necessary closure for both women and some clarity in
Bellator’s 125-pound division.

Mauricio
Alonso
vs. Andre
Fialho
:
Alonso was as much as a +260 underdog entering
his Bellator 172 matchup with Josh
Koscheck
, but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt pulled the
upset, stopping “The Ultimate Fighter 1” veteran via technical
knockout 4:42 into the opening stanza. While Koscheck might not be
at the peak of his powers, it still ranks as the most significant
triumph of Alonso’s career and warrants another high-profile bout
in the Bellator cage. A native of Lisbon, Portugal, Fialho turned
heads with first-round knockouts in his first two promotional
appearances before being stopped in just 21 seconds by Chidi
Njokuani
at Bellator 167.


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