With the start of Bellator’s eighth season, the promotion will finally dust off its championship belts and give the fans multiple, long-awaited title fights. The biggest of them all? A featherweight collision between champion Pat Curran and challenger Patricio “Pitbull” Freire.

Curran has been on the shelf since capturing the belt in March of last year. The Chicagoan—a multi-divisional tournament winner—demolished former champion Joe Warren with a third-round knockout. Unfortunately for Curran, a broken orbital delayed his first title defense until now.

Like his opponent, Freire has battled through his issues with injury. In fact, the Brazilian has now been out of action for 19 months. Freire was actually in line for a clash with Warren before Curran, but a broken hand bumped him out of the title contest. Now healthy, he’ll look to capitalize on his season-four tournament win.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills matchup against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Curran – 10, Freire – 10

Curran (R) connects with a flying knee (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Although both of these fighters are well-rounded, no one is going to complain if this fight stays on the feet. With 11 combined victories by knockout in their 34 wins, each has the ability to end the fight standing and neither has been knocked out in their career.

Curran’s striking has come a long way from when he started with the promotion. Despite winning the season-two lightweight tournament, Curran was completely outclassed by then-champion Eddie Alvarez in what could be described as a boxing match with four-ounce gloves. However, since dropping to featherweight, he has been a wrecking machine. Along with the destruction of Warren, he became the first to finish Marlon Sandro with a vicious head kick.

In the case of Freire, it’s all about aggression and unpredictability on the feet. He won’t surprise anyone with textbook technique, but his willingness to throw flying strikes from almost any position can end a fight unexpectedly. His relentless output was too much for Georgi Karakhanyan and Wilson Reis, and nearly earned him a win against Warren in their season-two clash.

Ground Game: Curran – 9, Freire – 10

Freire (L) controls his opponent (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

On the mat, Curran is far from a slouch. Training with former UFC and WEC veteran Jeff Curran—his cousin—the fighter has a strong submission attack from the top and off his back. His Peruvian necktie finish of Luis Palomino in the 2011 Summer Series tournament was a thing of beauty. Yet, what is a bit concerning for the 25-year-old is his submission loss to the largely unheard of Travis Perzynski prior to signing with Bellator.

The reason Curran should be concerned is that Freire is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under the Nogueira brothers. That’s not a thing that can easily be ignored. Like Curran, he is dangerous from the top and the bottom, and has scored wins by a variety of techniques. In his Bellator debut he netted a slick, first-round heel hook of Will Romero, and unlike his opponent, he’s never been finished on the mat.

Wrestling: Curran – 10, Freire – 9

Freire (R) throws a flying knee (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Where the fight is likely to swing in the favor of Curran is in the wrestling department. The former Florida high school wrestler has showcased strong takedown offense and defense in his Bellator career, including in his fight with Warren. Warren’s Olympic experience could not overcome Curran’s size and proved to be a huge factor in the fight.

That should be a huge concern for Freire because when he faced Warren, he found himself on his back multiple times later in the fight. And he’ll be giving up a significant height and reach advantage to Curran. If he tries to close the distance, Curran may look to plant him on the canvas and neutralize his explosive striking attack.

X-Factor

Both fighters have been out of action for a long time. Part of it can be attributed to the previously mentioned injuries, but the promotion also is to blame, opting to save the fight for its debut on Spike TV. How much that will affect the performance of these two fighters is yet to be determined, but don’t be surprised if this fight takes a while to turn into the firefight that most expect it to be.

Scorecard: Curran – 29, Freire – 29

Verdict: It’s hard to count Freire out of any fight being that his only loss is a controversial split decision defeat to the aforementioned Warren. But Curran is a much larger fighter and has looked like one of the best in the world since dropping to featherweight. Curran will keep his belt with a hard-fought unanimous decision win.

Top Photo: Pat Curran (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)