Patricky Freire feels he has more than paid his dues, and while he is frustrated with his promotion’s choice to have him labor on lightly-promoted cards outside of the U.S., he is willing to trust in the process -- for the time being.
Freire heads into the main event of Bellator Newcastle having won six of his last seven bouts, including four straight. Despite his impressive résumé in Bellator MMA, he will not be facing a marquee name, and promotion for the event here in the United States has been minimal. That situation has left the veteran of eight years in the promotion frustrated.
Bellator Newcastle will be the organization’s first event in its new initiative to keep growing its brand in Europe with a series of regional shows. The move is viewed as beneficial for the promotion and its fans in the market. However, an early drawback -- at least for this card -- is that the event will not air on Paramount Network, which broadcasts its North American events. That has left Freire confused. “The Bellator owners are the owners of [Paramount Network], so not showing it there in the US doesn't make much sense to me,” Freire told Sherdog.com.
“They made this card the first of the Europe series, but the Dublin card [Bellator 217] is a numbered event, and it's pretty much only locals [on the card],” Freire said. The man also known as “Pitbull” is excited to perform for the United Kingdom’s dedicated MMA fans at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but he questions the strategy of the event and its marketing.
“I know they have plans, and I'm happy to fight in front of the UK fans, and help the promotion grow there,” he said. “I just hope they can make everything as big as I know they are capable of. The bigger Bellator gets, the better it is to all of us, even more for them.”
As one of the faces of Bellator’s lightweight division in recent years, Freire has been matched up with some of the more notable names in the division, such as former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson and one-time Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Benson Henderson, as well as Bellator veteran Derek Campos and former Sports Illustrated cover subject Roger Huerta. Yet his opponent on Saturday will be a fighter making his debut in Bellator, BAMMA 155-pound champion Ryan Scope.
With 10 wins in his first 11 fights and a career spent entirely in Europe, Scope could be viewed as a prospect, which is a big departure from the caliber of fighters Freire has fought of late. However, he is not overlooking his 26-year-old opponent, especially since he has made that mistake before.
“Every fighter demands respect,” Freire said. “I underestimated opponents before and paid for it. I'm not letting that happen again.”
The Pitbull Brothers fight team co-founder will trust in the promotion’s matchmaking, and hope it is a smart booking and business decision. “He's in this fight for a reason,” he said. “If he was put in there in the main event, in his hometown -- and I heard he's a big ticket seller -- it's because they don't think it's going be a walk in the park for me. I've prepared for him like I was preparing to fight for the title. In several different ways, you can say this is the most important fight of my career so far.”
Freire will trust Bellator’s booking in this instance, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t questioned it in the past. Entering his eighth year with the promotion, “Pitbull” has only fought more than twice in three of those years. For a fighter that would prefer to compete four times a year, it has been a nagging issue.
“Ideally, I would like to fight at least four times a year,” Freire said. “Three to me, is the minimum amount. So, it was a bit frustrating to only fight twice these last two years. I even asked Bellator for some featherweight fights to be more active.”
Yet that annoyance pales in comparison to what has happened with the Bellator lightweight title over the last two years. After the title changed hands at Bellator 180, it went undefended for over a year and a half. Injuries, cancellations and booking decisions had led to the disappearance of title bouts. In that time, Freire believes he had done enough to earn a shot against then-champion Brent Primus.
“It's been terribly frustrating,” Freire said. “I should have fought Primus before [Michael Chandler] did. I should fight Chandler now, but he's talking s---, and will probably fight my brother instead. Chandler forgets he got embarrassed by Will Brooks in their second fight, asked to be saved, and then begged for a third fight. Brooks toyed with him and made him quit. Why did he deserve a third fight then, and I don't now? I'll answer my own question. See all the --- he's been talking? The self-convincing, and how he can't stop talking about our last fight [a first round knockout win for Chandler]. Now, imagine how broken he'll be if I beat him to a pulp and knock him out? He's terrified by the idea of losing to me, and me having the last laugh.”
The issues between Freire and Chandler date back before their rematch two years ago, and has only been heightened as his brother -- Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire -- has had a separate rivalry with “Iron Mike” since then. “He called me out a few times before [our second fight],” he said. “He did the same to my brother. He's always begged for our attention, but now he's trying to spin things the other way after we fought the second time. Every time he mentions our names some big website covers it. Check how many articles there are when nobodies in the organization [call them out], because they mentioned our names, or because they got a reply from us. We're genuine and this attracts viewers.”
Having a loss to the current champion twice puts Freire in a difficult position. However, outside of trying his hand at featherweight to stay busy, he has no plans to leave the lightweight division. He feels with another win on Saturday night -- which would be his fifth in a row -- he is the undisputed No. 1 contender to the title, previous losses or not. “I'm the No. 1 contender, and there's no reason I shouldn't fight for the belt after this fight,” Freire said. “If the fight between Patricio and Chandler is made, my brother will most likely be the next champion. So, if he vacates the belt, I'll fight Chandler, or anyone else Bellator thinks deserves it.”
With his current contract close to finished, the Bellator Season 4 and Season 10 lightweight tournament runner-up will not wait around if another title bout doesn’t come his way. “That said, I don't plan to wait forever, so Rizin FF in April, or someone else before June, would be fine by me.”