When the preliminary card for one of the world’s largest fight promotions is as stacked with talent as the first act of Bellator 155 will be on Friday night at CenturyLink Arena, it’s nearly impossible to zero in on any one bout as the must-see fight. Yet one tilt that will certainly garner loads of attention will be the battle between two native Idahoans with a perfect record on the line.
Tyler “Hulk Hands” Freeland and Joe “The Manwich” Hamilton both enter the cage on Friday night with perfect 3-0 professional records. Working out just feet away from each other on Wednesday morning, the fighters were well aware that Friday’s bout will be a fight to stay flawless in front of a national audience.
“Of course we both want to go 4-0 because nobody wants that loss on their record, but someone is going to get it,” said Hamilton. “It’s a different level of stress that we both need to deal with, but I think we’re going to handle it fine.”
The cage on Front Street is familiar territory for Hamilton. The Twin Falls native has earned all three of his professional victories at Front Street Fights. He earned his first win at FSF2 with a TKO of Brendon Raftery, earned another TKO win over Carson Frei at FSF4, and most recently defeated Regivaldo Carvalho via submission at FSF8.
“It almost feels like another fight because it’s in your backyard,” said Hamilton, who will be facing Freeland for the first time. “But then when you see the banners pop up, you’re reminded that it’s Bellator!”
Freeland will make his first pro appearance in his hometown. The Boise native will take his first pro fight in 2016 after winning both his pro bouts last year, earning victories at Gladiator Challenge- Showdown and Gladiator Challenge- Warrior’s just five months apart.
“I’ve taken my training to another level,” said Freeland on Wednesday. “I brought my camp out to Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas with John Wood. I got back a week ago and I’ve been finishing up my preparation for this fight.”
Both fighters’ records speak for themselves and to the preparation that each puts into every fight. While the glamour of Bellator feeds that flame, both of these men also know there is a lot of personal pride on the line as well.
“I feel like if I was fighting in someone’s backyard but it was going to go on my record, I’m going to prepare like I’m fighting in the Olympics,” said Hamilton. “I feel like I prepare the same for anything and take them all as seriously as I possibly can.”
There’s certainly a size dynamic that plays into this matchup, with Hamilton measuring 5-foot-7 and Freeland at 5-foot even. Freeland has been at a size disadvantage in each of his three fights, a measurement that has not played into the final results. Freeland has won unanimous decisions against 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-2 fighters, and has a TKO on his record as well. One reason for that is the pride Freeland takes in being a well-rounded fighter.
“I just train all-around,” said Freeland. “I don’t concentrate on one thing. It’s wrestling and kick-boxing, jiu jitsu- it’s everything really.”
That’s something Hamilton is well aware of for Friday, knowing that he’ll need to be mindful of his positioning in this bout.
“There may be some adjustments in striking to keep from overcommitting and getting over the top that you’re taken down easily,” said Hamilton. “I want to stay sharp and crisp with good technique and keep him where I want him.”
Both fighters were mindful of the importance of conditioning should this fight reach the third round, but they also know they both have knockout ability and will seize the opportunity to end the fight in a hurry if a window opens. None of Hamilton’s three pro fights have gone beyond Round 2.
“I’m ready to eat. I want to get in there, bang and do my thing to put on a show for the crowd,” said Freeland.
“The first 30 seconds of a fight are by far the most dangerous. You don’t realize how hard you’re punching” said Hamilton. “You might feel like you’re hitting hard but you’re running on straight adrenaline and everything is full power. Those first 30 seconds, it’s crucial to keep your head and be safe and take advantage of it yourself to land some good punches.”
Freeland and Hamilton both have a plan heading into Friday night, are both chomping at the bit, and both know the unique challenges brought by their opponent across the cage. With more eyeballs on them than ever before, the battle will boil down to a simple focus- which son of Idaho leaves CenturyLink Arena still perfect.
“It’s definitely an added element of pressure,” said Hamilton. ”But pressure makes diamonds.”