Eight fights. Seven wins. One “Fight of the Year” candidate. One championship.

That’s Eddie Alvarez’s Bellator tenure in a nutshell. In the course of his time in the promotion, Alvarez reached the heights of consensus lightweight rankings and raised plenty of questions about how he’d fare versus the UFC’s best. Once he steps out of the Bellator cage on Friday night, he might finally get to answer that question. With free agency looming after the final fight on his Bellator contract, a move to the UFC could be in the near future for Alvarez.

But first comes Bellator 76, where Alvarez is pitted against Patricky “Pitbull” Freire in what will be Alvarez’s final fight in Bellator.

Alvarez leaves the promotion after being with it from the very start, having fought and submitted Greg Loughran in the season-one lightweight tournament quarterfinals at Bellator’s inaugural show. The former Bellator lightweight champion faces a tough competitor in Pitbull in this final contract fight. It will most certainly produce fireworks as both are explosive, tenacious strikers and will leave it all out in the cage for this fight. Especially if Alvarez’s last fight is any indication, considering how good he looked against Shinya Aoki.

Also on the card is the quarterfinal round of the featherweight tournament. Rad Martinez makes his Bellator tournament debut against Nazareno Malegarie and Wagnney Fabiano returns from his absence from MMA against Akop Stepanyan. In the other half of the featherweight tourney, Mike Richman fights Jeremy Spoon and Cody Bollinger fights Shahbulat Shamhalaev.

Bellator 76 airs live from Windsor, Ontario, Canada at the Caesars Windsor Hotel and Casino. The main card action begins at 8 p.m. ET on MTV 2 and airs in HD on EPIX with the prelims airing at 7 p.m. ET on Spike.com and Bellator.com and beginning again after the main card at 10 p.m. ET.

LW: Eddie Alvarez (23-3) vs. Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (10-3)

Freire (bottom) threatens with a triangle choke (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

This is going to be an exciting fight, and it is the fight I’ve looked forward to the most this season. This is Alvarez’s last fight for Bellator as his contract expires when the bell rings for the final time. This is probably the biggest fight in Alvarez’s career, as he has everything to lose in this fight and only a small marginal gain.

A win for Alvarez helps out tremendously with his contract negotiations, as he is seen as the best non-UFC lightweight outside of Gilbert Melendez. A loss possibly derails any hope of him getting offered a contract by the UFC and also further derails his hype train.

There is a lot going for Alvarez, who has great boxing and can hang with just about anybody on the feet. Alvarez dismantled Shinya Aoki in his last fight, and I mean dismantled Aoki. Aoki was his last career loss outside of Michael Chandler, and Alvarez just punched through the Japanese submission star.

If Alvarez even fights like half of what he did in the Aoki fight, this one is over early. Alvarez is somewhat weak on the ground, with his last two losses coming by submission. But even though Freire is a black belt in jiu-jitsu, I see no way of this fight hitting the ground.

Alvarez and Freire have really good striking, but Freire’s striking is more Muay Thai than anything else. Freire utilizes the clinch really well and throws a lot of kicks and knees, something Alvarez will have to be prepared for. Freire is also pretty quick and will catch just about anybody with his speed. Alvarez has to be ready for an arsenal of different strikes for this fight.

This fight is going to be awesome and the only downside is that it will only be a three-round affair. These two will go to war, but in the end I see Alvarez taking a split decision win in a close fight over Freire, outstriking him and just easily finding the holes in Freire’s striking.

FW Quarterfinals: Rad Martinez (12-2) vs. Nazareno Malegarie (22-2)

Martinez (Andy Hemingway/Sherdog)

Rad Martinez makes his Bellator tournament debut against Nazareno Malegarie in what should be a good close to the opening round of the tournament.

Martinez is a wrestler and was an All-American at Clarion University. He has good takedowns and superb ground-and-pound that he will look to use to break the will of Malegarie. Martinez’s keys to this fight are to secure the takedown and work some ground-and-pound, going for the finish. Martinez’s wrestling background makes him highly capable of succeeding in this, and it’s hard not to root for the guy after watching his Outside the Lines piece on ESPN. Truly inspiring stuff.

Malegarie rattled off 19 wins on the Brazilian regional MMA circuit before making his jump to Bellator in the season-four welterweight tournament. There, he lost to Daniel Straus—another really good wrestler—and then lost in the semifinals of the Summer Series featherweight tournament to Marlon Sandro—another fighter with a good ground game.

Malegarie does have 13 submission victories, but most of them come on the regional circuit against fighters that don’t have the backgrounds of Sandro, Straus or even Martinez. That makes a difference, especially considering Malegarie is only 1-2 inside the Bellator cage.

Martinez will be able to secure the takedown and work some ground-and-pound on his way to a unanimous decision victory.

FW Quarterfinals: Akop Stepanyan (12-3) vs. Wagnney Fabiano (14-3)

Fabiano (top) pummels his opponent (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Akop Stepanyan makes not only his Bellator debut, but also his North American debut, here against Wagnney Fabiano, and that might be a big difficulty to overcome for the fighter.

It could be a very tough adjustment to a cage; we have seen it ruin many good fighters before and it could very well play a big part here. Stepanyan is riding a 12-fight winning streak, though, and owns a set of really powerful hands. If he wins, it comes by way of knockout. He has six victories by knockout, five by straight knockout. Not a TKO, but a knockout.

Stepanyan, a Master of Sports in both boxing and kickboxing and a black belt in taekwondo, does a real nice job of utilizing everything—kicks and punches—and will most likely use it to try to keep Fabiano at a distance.

Fabiano is a WEC veteran making his Bellator debut as well. He is also jumping in the cage for the first time since his submission loss to Joseph Benavidez almost two years ago. This could play a big part in who wins in this fight. This will also be Fabiano’s first fight at featherweight since October of 2009, so it will be interesting to see how he moves and if all goes well in cutting weight. Fabiano is known for his jiu-jitsu skills, owning seven wins by way of submission with five coming by chokes of all different kinds.

I like Fabiano, and I think he is a good, quality fighter in this tournament. He is also my pick to win the whole thing. After seeing Vinicius Queiroz shake off the ring rust last week, it makes me hesitant to pick against Fabiano, knowing he is the better fighter here. Fabiano by submission in the second round.

FW Quarterfinals: Mike Richman (12-1) vs. Jeremy Spoon (12-1)

Richman (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Jeremy Spoon is getting a second chance at the Bellator featherweight tournament after getting ousted by Daniel Straus earlier this year. Straus dominated Spoon in that fight utilizing his size advantage and made Spoon look like it was his first pro fight.

Spoon does have good jiu-jitsu that could make going to the ground a very dangerous proposition for his opponent, Mike Richman. Spoon owns eight wins by submission and this will be his third fight in Bellator. He might want to utilize his jiu-jitsu in this fight, get it to the ground and look for an opening to a submission or grind out the decision win.

Richman is another guy with a good jiu-jitsu background, but he also possesses the power to end the fight with his fist. Richman is coming off of an awesome knockout victory over Chris Horodecki earlier this year in his lone Bellator fight. It might benefit Richman to keep this fight standing, but if he wants to take the fight to the ground, he can do so and work some ground-and-pound on his way to victory. Richman is better-rounded than Spoon with his submission victories and the Horodecki win earlier this year.

I’ll take Richman to win the fight by unanimous decision, keeping control of the striking and equally controlling the ground.

FW Quarterfinals: Shahbulet Shamhalaev (9-1-1) vs. Cody Bollinger (13-2)

Bollinger (top) drops a right hand (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Shahbulet Shamhalaev is another fighter coming over from Russia and kind of has a ghost record (meaning that the results of his fights leave out the method by which he won and the round in which he won). It’s hard to break down a guy like Shamhalaev with a record that’s severely lacking in details.

Again, I think it’s tough for a fighter coming from a ring to a cage, especially given the history. Shamhalaev’s lone loss does come against Khabib Nurmagomedov, a top prospect in the UFC.

Cody Bollinger is less of an enigma. He has been a solid fighter on the regional circuit and is on a five-fight winning streak. Bollinger is a former state champion wrestler, and that could be the key here. He does have a submission loss on his record by way of an armbar and his no-contest against Din Thomas was originally ruled a submission victory for Thomas via armbar. There may be something there for Shamhalaev to pick up on.

I think Bollinger can utilize his wrestling, get the fight to the ground and get the decision victory.

Preliminaries

FW: Jason Fischer (3-0) vs. Kyle Prepolec (5-1)

Jason Fischer has finished all three opponents he has faced, including a win earlier this year in Bellator against Taylor Solomon. Kyle Prepolec is another finisher, with all five victories coming by way of knockout or submission. Prepolec won earlier this year in Bellator as well, and he is a good young prospect with a pretty good ground game, which I think is the difference here. Prepolec by TKO in the third.

LW: Chad Laprise (5-0) vs. Ainsley Robinson(5-1)

Chad Laprise is another fighter making his return to Bellator after winning earlier this year. Four victories by TKO for Laprise and if he can get the fight to the ground, he can get his fifth win here. This will be Ainsley Robinson’s first foray into Bellator. Robinson also can finish with strikes, he has good power in his hands and can score the TKO. However, I think Laprise gets going early, lands a few good shots and eventually drops and finishes Robinson.

MW: Simon Marini (9-5) vs. Ali Mokdad (5-2)

Ali Mokdad is a rear-naked-choking machine, owning four wins by way of the choke. Mokdad is currently on a two-fight losing streak though. Luckily for him, he faces another fighter on a losing streak in Simon Marini, who is currently 2-3 in his last five fights. Somebody has to win in this fight, and I think Mokdad might be able to drop Marini or get his back and sink in a rear-naked choke for the victory.

WW: A.J. Matthews (6-1) vs. Dom O’Grady (14-5-1)

Dom O’Grady submitted Nathan Gunn earlier this year in his Bellator debut and looks to do the same here against A.J. Matthews. O’Grady is very comfortable on the ground and has a solid armbar going off of his last fight. If the fight does hit the ground, O’Grady holds the advantage. It might not get there, though, as Matthews is a good striker, owning four wins by knockout including the sickest soccer kick knockout earlier this year against Charlie Rader in Bellator. Please go watch the soccer kick, I’ll wait. Matthews by knockout, first round.

FW: Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (16-5) vs. Nayeb Hazem (13-12)

Magomedrasul Khasbulaev is excellent on the ground, submitting people with leg locks, arm locks, pretty much all types of locks. Ten wins by way of submission for Khasbulaev, and he’ll be yet another fighter making his debut on North American soil. Nayeb Hazem is another guy with a lot of submission victories and is comfortable on the ground. Regardless, I think Khasbulaev gets a heel hook submission here.

Top Photo: Eddie Alvarez (Sherdog)

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain you. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a diehard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Packers.