If Bellator MMA has a face to its franchise, it probably belongs to Patricio Freire.
“Pitbull” will defend his undisputed featherweight championship against the undefeated A.J. McKee in the Bellator 263 main event this Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Their five-round blockbuster serves as the final for the 16-man grand prix that started in 2019. Freire enters the cage on a seven-fight winning streak. The 34-year-old Brazilian last appeared at Bellator 255, where he choked Emmanuel Sanchez unconscious with a first-round guillotine on April 2.
As Freire prepares for his five-round confrontation with McKee, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped shape his remarkable career:
Warren eked out a split decision over the previously unbeaten Freire in the Season 2 featherweight tournament final atop Bellator 23 on June 24, 2010 at Fourth Street Live in Louisville, Kentucky. All three cageside judges struck 29-28 scorecards: Amy Evans and Rob Mooney for Warren, Jim Caskey for Freire. For a time, it appeared as though Warren would not survive to see the second and third rounds. He was thoroughly dominated for the first five minutes, as “Pitbull” battered him with jabs and power punches, mixed in a surprising takedown and even threatened him with a standing arm-triangle choke. As Round 1 drew to a close, the Brazilian dropped Warren with a pair of crackling right hands and followed him to the ground, where he stepped up the assault. Ultimately, Freire secured full mount and forced Warren to surrender his back. A series of unanswered punches and hammerfists had referee Jason Herzog’s finger on the trigger, and Freire cinched a tight rear-naked choke as the horn sounded. Freire’s offensive output dropped noticeably in the second and third rounds, as he allowed the NCAA All-American wrestler to gain a foothold in the match. Warren scored with his first takedown with 2:39 left in the second round and kept “Pitbull” on his back for the remainder of the period. He grew stronger in Round 3, where he delivered three takedowns and bloodied Freire’s lip with elbows, forearm strikes and hammerfists from the top. It was enough to shift the ruling in his favor.
Freire captured the Bellator MMA featherweight crown for the first time with a five-round unanimous decision over Curran in the Bellator 123 headliner on Sept. 5, 2014 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Brazilian swept the scorecards with 48-47, 49-46 and 49-46 marks from the judges, as he avenged a previous defeat to Curran and emerged as the promotion’s premier attraction at 145 pounds. Freire dropped the American on two occasions and staggered him on another, leaving no doubt regarding his superiority. The back-and-forth affair saw Curran try to close a noticeable power gap with output, and while he succeeded at times, he suffered from the reality that all the memorable moments belonged to his opponent. Freire left his final imprint on the rematch in the fifth round, as he cut loose with a combination that set the Team Curran rep on rubbery legs with less than two minutes remaining on the clock.
“Pitbull” submitted Straus with an arm-in guillotine choke to reclaim the Bellator MMA featherweight championship in the Bellator 178 main event on April 21, 2017 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. In the fourth meeting between the two rivals, Straus conceded defeat 37 seconds into Round 2. Freire leaned on leg and body kicks in the first round, held his own in the clinch and then made his move when the American left his neck exposed in a brief moment of weakness early in the second. The longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt sprang into action, bit down on the choke and pulled guard before coaxing the tapout to finish with a 3-1 lead in his head-to-head series with Straus.
Freire added the Bellator MMA lightweight crown to his collection when he cut down Chandler with punches in the first round of their Bellator 221 headliner on May 11, 2019 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. “Pitbull” drew the curtain 61 seconds into Round 1, avenging his older brother’s two prior losses to Chandler. Despite the heated emotions involved with the match, Freire remained disciplined and composed. He countered a Chandler jab with a perfectly placed right hook behind the ear that sent the onetime NCAA All-American wrestler to the canvas in a daze. Freire pounced, let more punches fly and forced the High Ridge, Missouri, native to turtle in a kneeling position. Chandler absorbed several more blows to the side of the head and did not adequately respond in Rob Madrigal’s eyes, as the referee swooped in for the rescue. The dethroned champion’s protests were immediate but fell on deaf ears.