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When Daniel Straus returns to competition on Friday at Bellator 184, he will stand across the cage from someone other than Patricio Freire for the first time in more than two years.

He couldn’t be more thrilled about that fact.

Straus (24-7 MMA, 11-4 BMMA) and Freire (26-4 MMA, 14-4 BMMA) share arguably the most storied rivalry in Bellator history. They’ve fought four times since 2011, with “Pitbull” currently holding a 3-1 advantage. The most recent bout, at Bellator 178 in April, saw Straus lose the featherweight title to the Brazilian by second-round submission. It still frustrates him.

Despite the loss, Straus said he’s ready for a change in scenery when it comes to opponents. He meets Emmanuel Sanchez (15-3 MMA, 7-2 BMMA) in Friday’s Bellator 184 co-headliner, which takes place at WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla., with a Spike-televised main card following prelims on MMAjunkie.

Ideally Straus would have moved on to fresh competition with the 145-pound belt in his possession, but he’s accepted that’s not currently his reality.

“I’m so (expletive) happy to fight someone different,” Straus told MMAjunkie. “When you have to fight the same guy over and over and over, whether you won or lost, it does get to you.

“Bellator, they’ve done a great job with the matchups. I have nothing against it. But when you fight a guy four times, it kind of gets old. We had great fights. What can you say? Who didn’t want to see us fight again? That’s just how it goes in this business.”

For Straus one of the difficulties in getting past his most recent loss to Freire is the circumstances that surrounded the fight. After earning a unanimous-decision win over Freire in the third meeting, which took place at Bellator 145 in November 2015, Straus was forced into a 17-month layoff due to injuries. Returning from such a long break to defend his title was a great enough challenge on its own, but then he had to fight an opponent who knew him well.

Straus, No. 9 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA featherweight rankings, said he blames only himself for the situation. He said he doesn’t want to take credit away from No. 8-ranked Freire – even though he still considers himself superior.

“In that fight I just wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was,” Straus said. “Going into that fight when I was training, the week before the fight I had an incident that took away a lot of my confidence. I had a lot of things that played the part. Mostly coming into there, I didn’t even have a game plan. I was just ready to fight.

“I really do think I am better than Patricio. Hats off to him. He’s always done what he needed to do to become champ and stay champ. You can’t take that away from him. He was everything I wasn’t that night. He won. I can’t say (expletive) about that. I can only go back to the drawing board.”

Regardless of his feelings, Straus knows the scoreboard shows him down to Freire. The ultimate goal is to correct that with a fifth fight (and possibly more), but standing in the way is a tough up-and-comer in Sanchez. Straus praised his upcoming opponent but admitted “he’s not one of the best opponents I’ve fought.” He intends to prove his superiority at Bellator 184, and in his mind, that’s the first step toward regaining the belt.

“If I have to have 10 fights to get back to the belt, that’s fine with me,” Straus said. “I want to get back to that belt, I want to hold that belt, and I want to defend that belt. How many fights? I don’t know. That’s not my call. The only thing I can assure is the people they put in front of me, I’m going to put their ass out. I’m going to knock them down. That’s what my job is. A fifth fight with Patricio will happen.”

For more on Bellator 184, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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