For Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, there is not much left to prove at this point in his career. And yet he feels he has to prove everything. The 34-year-old currently rules Bellator as both feather and lightweight champion and is already considered by many to be the best fighter in Bellator history.
Even with a million dollar prize at stake when he takes on AJ McKee (17-0-0) in the Featherweight World Grand Prix Finals for Bellator 263 on July 31, Freire is focused on continuing to forego those who to compete for his fights at the top.
“At this point in my career, I’m more concerned about my legacy,” said Freire (32-4-0). “It is not easy to continue to defend the title. For me it’s not just a professional thing, it’s a personal thing because I’ve wanted it all my life and people are trying to take it away from me. I don’t feel any additional pressure. I feel confident and trust myself and my abilities. I’m ready to go in there and defend it again. “
McKee has struggled on his chance at that opportunity since his Bellator debut. After many of his fights, he called Freire’s name, which has not gone unnoticed by the two-division champion.
When conversations about who might dethrone Pitbull have been discussed, McKee’s name is usually the supposed favorite. Defending his title is already the motivation he needs, but there is also the added fuel to silence his challenger and those contemplating taking his place.
“McKee was with Bellator from the start and has made his entire career here,” says Freire. “He’s still unbeaten and I think that’s a good scenario for me to get in there and prove everyone wrong again.”
The 145-pound Grand Prix tournament starts as early as September 2019 with 16 fighters. It took significantly longer to complete due to COVID. Many fighters have tournament style issues for a variety of reasons. Because Freire, who has defended his title five times so far, is one of those who are in favor.
“The tournament is fairer in that people know who is the best,” he said. “Sometimes it can lead to someone who is not number one fighting for the title because of the brackets, but after the tournament you know without any uncertainty who is the best.”
To prepare for what he can expect from McKee, he has trained with partners with similar fighting styles. In the later parts of the camp, his practices were full MMA exercises that included all arts. In the camp’s early Potions, the arts are separated over the weeks in order to concentrate fully on the individual techniques.
Freire believes McKee is the most dangerous opponent he will have faced in this Grand Prix. In addition to the challenge, McKee will leave his hometown behind with the fight at The Forum in Los Angeles. AJ’s father and trainer Antonio McKee believes Pitbull hasn’t seen a style similar to what he will see on July 31st. With all of these factors listed against him, Freire laughed, knowing he didn’t have much. n to be seen in the Octagon and next Saturday is just another test to continue to prove yourself as the best.
“I’m like water, my friend,” he says. “We adapt to everything our opponents bring with them. We are constantly changing and evolving to reflect all of the opponent’s game plans and everything we can take advantage of. Whatever the fight, we have an answer and I look forward to the challenge. “