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Bellator MMA returns to SoCal with fans clear to attend bouts on July 31

Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire will fight at the Forum in July
Patrício “Pitbull” Freire will face off against A.J. McKee, of Long Beach, during the main event July 31 at the Forum, marking Bellator MMA’s return to Southern California for the first time since the pandemic began.
(Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

Bellator MMA is returning to Southern California after a pandemic-driven hiatus, announcing the Featherweight World Grand Prix will be held July 31 at the Forum.

Patrício “Pitbull” Freire will face off against A.J. McKee, of Long Beach, in the main event of the night. Bellator will stage five fights that will air on Showtime, with preliminary bouts to stream online via Pluto TV starting at 4 p.m. PDT.

Tickets will go on sale Friday, with 12,000 people cleared to attend the fights at the Forum.

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The July 31 event is a culmination of a two-year Featherweight World Grand Prix that started with 16 athletes. The tournament was supposed to take place more than one year ago, but it was severely delayed due to COVID-19.

Bellator was stationed at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., since July 2020, hosting more than 15 events since the pandemic forced all sports to change gears. The group also hosted closed events in Italy and its first major event in Paris.

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“Sports has now had a chance to look at what it’s like without having fans. And, I don’t think it felt good for anybody. And I think that people in the sports world are excited to have the fans back,” Bellator President Scott Coker told The Times. “And I think that the fans, fans like myself and other general sports fans, need live sports. And I think, I think live sports need the fans there.”

June 11 was the first time since March 13, 2020, that fans were allowed to attend a Bellator event. The Mohegan Sun Arena hosted 1,800 people for bouts. The main fight saw Yaroslav Amosov take home the Bellator welterweight belt after dethroning Douglas Lima.

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Bellator officials are looking forward to relocating their show to Los Angeles.

“It’s very similar to like a WWE setup where there’s a ramp and a stage, the final walkouts of the music. And it’s just produced, I think, at a really high level. And, we’re excited to bring that show to L.A.,” Coker said.

The main event at the Forum features Freire (33), a Natal, Brazil, native who has been described as the crown jewel of Bellator. He’s the featherweight world champion and the lightweight world champion, holding those belts simultaneously.

Freire will meet, arguably, the top homegrown Bellator fighter in McKee.

The Long Beach fighter is 17-0 and all of his bouts have been in a Bellator ring.

“We got a great fight card. We’re going to bring our best because L.A. is a big market, and we’ve always brought our best fights to L.A.,” Coker said.


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