Patricky “Pitbull” Freire hit the ground running on American soil, as jaw-dropping finishes on former World Extreme Cagefighting champion “Razor” Rob McCullough and the well-traveled Toby Imada made him a clear favorite in the Bellator Fighting Championships Season 4 lightweight tournament.
Michael Chandler provided the reality check.
Not even a badly damaged left eye and a point deduction for repeated low blows could stop Chandler in the final, as the decorated amateur wrestler and Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts representative worked over Freire for three rounds at Bellator 44 and captured 29-27 verdicts from all three judges.
A four-time NCAA qualifier at the University of Missouri, Chandler stood toe-to-toe with the Brazilian for the majority of their first nine minutes together, ultimately scoring his first takedown near the end of round two. He did little to capitalize on the position, but it provided a safe haven from Freire’s potent right hand and allowed him to alter the tone and tempo of the bout. Chandler had a point deducted for a low blow in the third round but delivered another takedown and belted his fellow finalist with heavy punches from the guard.
Chandler moved on to defeat Eddie Alvarez and become Bellator’s second lightweight champion six months later. Freire went back to the drawing board, unsatisfied but ever determined to return and finish what he started.
The 25-year-old Brazilian will look to take an important first step back towards title contention when he collides with the once-beaten Lloyd Woodard in the Bellator Season 6 lightweight tournament quarterfinals at Bellator 62 on Friday at the Laredo Energy Arena in Laredo, Texas. Motivation does not figure to be an issue for Freire, as a crack at Chandler awaits the man who emerges from the eight-man draw.
“Winning this tournament means I can have a rematch against the last guy to defeat me,” Freire told Sherdog.com. “Also, becoming tournament champion means I’m halfway to becoming the world champion. To me, that will be a dream come true. At the same time, it also means putting food on the table for my family; I don’t want my family hungry.”
Freire (10-2) bounced back from his defeat to Chandler in stirring fashion at Bellator 59 in November, as he needed less than a minute to dispatch UFC veteran Kurt Pellegrino with punches at Caesar’s Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. He has won six of his last seven bouts, finishing five foes in that span. However, Freire does not believe he has peaked.
“I want to show the world how much I’ve improved since last year,” he said. “I want to show that I’m dangerous on the feet and on the ground. I also want to show everyone how much I’ve improved my conditioning. If the fight goes to the judges, I want everyone to see how much I’ve improved physically.”
Woodard shares a common bond with Freire, as he, too, fell prey to Chandler in the Season 4 tournament. “Pitbull” does not take the man they call “Cupcake” lightly.
“From what I’ve seen of Lloyd, it looks like he has a lot of heart and never gives up,” said Freire, who, like Woodard, has never been finished as a professional.
“Lloyd is the kind of guy that’s always walking forward trying to finish the fight and doesn’t back down. His heart and desire to win are two of his biggest strengths, but his aggressive style can definitely end up playing to my advantage.”
Prior to his 15-minute encounter with Chandler at Bellator 40 in April, Woodard had rattled off 11 consecutive victories, six of them resulting in first-round finishes. His list of victims included Strikeforce veteran Alonzo Martinez and Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative Carey Vanier. The 27-year-old Montana native underwent surgery six months after his decision loss to Chandler and has not fought since. Freire views his foe as a well-rounded threat.
“Lloyd looks like he has good standup and knows jiu-jitsu,” he said. “His reach can help him as much as it can hurt him in the standup and on the ground. He’s not shy on the ground, and it can give me [openings to exploit in] his game.”
Friere, who holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, has surrounded himself with an all-star cast of training partners at the Team Nogueira dojo, where he has worked alongside his younger brother, fellow Bellator mainstay Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, reigning UFC middleweight king Anderson Silva, former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and current UFC light heavyweight contender Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
“I want everyone watching to see how much I’m trying to improve in order to become Bellator champion,” he said. “I want people to think that I am one of the best lightweight fighters in the world.”
Freire has Woodard in his crosshairs.
“I’m coming into this fight to knock Lloyd out or to submit him,” he said. “If he says he wants to stand with me, I’m definitely looking forward to it. If he lied, I’ll be anxious to battle him on the ground. I see this fight ending with me knocking Lloyd out or submitting him and having my hand raised by the referee.”