Patricky 'Pitbull' is looking to score big over UFC vet Kurt Pellegrino. | Photo: Keith Mills
“With every fight, you learn something,” says Patricky Freire.
“I saw mistakes I was making in my fight with Michael Chandler and I’ve been working very hard to fix them ever since. I’m trying to improve and to never make any of those same mistakes again. My goal is to be as close to perfect as possible.”
Freire was nearly perfect in the first half of 2011. Competing for the first time outside his native Brazil, the 25-year-old Natalense ripped through the quarter- and semifinals of Bellator’s fourth-season lightweight tournament with vicious knockouts of two-time finalist Toby Imada and ex-WEC champion Rob McCullough. Then he ran up against Chandler.
“The two biggest lessons I learned in my fight with Michael Chandler were that I needed to improve my takedown defense and my conditioning,” Freire says of his May decision loss to the unbeaten wrestling stud who last weekend became Bellator’s new 155-pound titleholder. “I feel even more determined to win the Bellator lightweight championship because I came so close before. I don’t ever want to feel the taste of defeat again. No fighter likes to get that close to something and not get it.”
Taken down four times by the former Missouri Tiger, Freire was held on his back for nearly five minutes of the 15-minute encounter. It’s a fate the Brazilian has been working strenuously to avoid on Saturday, when he returns against onetime UFC contender Kurt Pellegrino at Bellator 59.
“Fighting another wrestler has definitely made me focus more energy on my takedown defense leading into this fight,” explains Freire. “Who knows, maybe he’s underestimating me a little and thinks he’ll take me down like Chandler did or make me gas. If that’s what he’s thinking, he will be very surprised. I’m not the same. I’ve worked hard to improve all aspects of my game, especially my flaws. I’m better at everything compared to last time I fought.”
Improving is something Freire has learned much about in the past four years. Sidelined with a serious knee injury in 2007, he made a decision to provide for his wife and newborn child instead of pursuing his career as a professional fighter. At 21, he took a job as a stockman on a construction site believing he would never set foot in the cage again.
“Becoming a father at a young age was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It brought me the responsibility of having to take care of another life and I had to decide what I would do with my life at the same time,” Freire says. “I started to train and work at the same time, but it was too tiresome and I couldn’t really develop. Thank God, I got a sponsor back then [Platinum Fitness owner Ricardo Sergio Faria] who made it possible for me to train full-time, and now I’m in this great organization.”
When it comes to rebounding from hardships such as injuries and losses, as well as learning what it takes to compete at the elite level in MMA, Freire need look no further than his stablemates at Rio de Janeiro’s Team Nogueira. Along with his talented sibling, top Bellator featherweight contender Patricio Freire, the elder brother “Pitbull” has taken his cues from Octagon stars Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
“If I feel pain and I’m suffering while I’m training, I look at the guys who train more than me and have gone through tougher situations than I did,” he says of his famous training partners and coaches. “The biggest examples are ‘Minotauro,’ ‘Minotouro’ and Anderson Silva. I admire other fighters, but these are the ones I try to mirror the most.”
Competing in his first Bellator tournament, Freire earned enough to keep his rent paid and his family -- including daughter Leticia, now 4 years old -- provided for. But six months removed from his last bout, the money and endorsements are drying up, motivating Freire all the more to get back in the win column and return home with both show and win money in hand.
“My experience in the Bellator Season 4 lightweight tournament made me a lot stronger mentally. It took a lot from me to stay away from my family for as long as I did,” says Freire, who made camp at Team Nogueira’s San Diego branch during his tourney run. “I also learned that I always have to train at a high level. I didn’t take a break ever since the last fight. As soon as I got back to Brazil, I started training.
“I have to work harder and fight as much as possible until things turn out better.”