Only three men have solved the Patricio Freire puzzle: Daniel Straus, Pat Curran and Joe Warren, all of them current or former Bellator MMA champions. The Brazilian has no intention of allowing Benson Henderson to join their ranks.
Freire will meet Henderson in a lightweight title eliminator atop Bellator 160 on Friday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, where he expects to experience the same success he has enjoyed throughout his career. In Henderson, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder, “Pitbull” faces his most accomplished opponent to date. Freire sees it as a chance to show his quality.
“I want to always fight any other fighter who is the best, and I always want to challenge myself,” he told Sherdog.com. “When this opportunity came, I jumped at it. He is one of the best fighters in the world, and I am ready to prove to everybody that I not only belong in there with him but that I can beat him.”
Henderson owns one of MMA’s better resumes at 155 pounds, with wins over Frankie Edgar (twice), Donald Cerrone (twice), Josh Thomson, Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz and Jim Miller. Freire admits Henderson’s style has given some of the sport’s best fighters fits but maintains that he is neither fazed nor intimidated by it. While some fighters have tried to replicate Henderson’s awkward angles and unorthodox attacks in the gym, “Pitbull” scoffed at the idea.
“I train every fight like it’s the fight of my life,” said Freire, who last fought at Bellator 153 on April 22, when he submitted Henry Corrales with a second-round guillotine choke. “What he does in there, it’s hard to duplicate, so why bother? I worry about what I need to do and impose my will onto my opponents. I’m not worried about how he fights; I worry about how I am going to fight.”
Freire has more Bellator appearances (16), wins (13) and finishes (nine) than any other fighter. Still, he was quick to praise Henderson’s talent and poise.
“He’s a great kicker; he has powerful kicks,” Freire said. “He has strong ground-and-pound and has good range. He always puts on exciting fights. Also, he is always very calm. He doesn’t freak out if things don’t go his way in the cage, and I think that might be his biggest weapon. Because of all this, I think it should be a very good fight.”
This will be Henderson’s second fight under the Bellator banner. The MMA Lab rep made his promotional debut in April, as he moved up to 170 pounds to challenge reigning welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov. Virtually nothing went right for Henderson across 25 minutes. Koreshkov dominated from start to finish on his way to a lopsided unanimous decision. Freire gleaned little from the result.
“That was actually a fight I didn’t even bother to watch again, because I do not fight like [Koreskhov],” he said. “There’s nothing I can take away from that fight because we are completely different fighters, Koreshkov and I, so I don’t even pay attention to that because that is not how I will be fighting Benson. No need.”
The loss to Koreshkov led Henderson to return to the more familiar confines of the lightweight division. Freire, a former champion at 145 pounds, will be the smaller man when the two men enter the cage to face one another -- a fact he claims does not concern him.
“Weight does mean a lot, but I don’t think so much in this fight,” he said. “I haven’t had any problems cutting down to 145 [pounds] over the years, and this weight is my more natural weight; and with the way we fight, I don’t see the weight difference being an issue or advantage for him at all.”
The winner of the Henderson-Freire main event will next face Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler, an NCAA All-American wrestler who reclaimed 155-pound gold with a first-round knockout on Patricky Freire on June 24. While “Pitbull” would like nothing more than to avenge his older brother, Henderson has his full attention.
“I will say this: This will be the fight for everybody to pay attention,” Freire said. “This is one that should not be missed.”