RIO DE JANEIRO -- It's been more than five years since Diego Nunes finished an opponent. He wants to end that streak in his Bellator debut Friday night.
Nunes, a UFC and WEC veteran, meets Patricio "Pitbull" Freire in Bellator 99’s main event, and he believes now is the time to shine. Under the Zuffa banner, Nunes has defeated the likes of Raphael Assuncao, Mike Brown and Manny Gamburyan, but the lack of finishes bothers him.
"That haunts me, man," Nunes told MMAFighting.com after a workout session at X-Gym in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. "I believe it’s a matter of training. I train with Josuel Distak and Cesario Bezerra now, and I always knock people out during training. I always try to rip someone’s head during sparring, so I hope I can see the results on my next fight. Every day someone gets knocked out while training with me here, so I believe my hands will make the difference now."
Freire was the 145-pound tournament winner during Bellator’s fourth season, and that’s the type of fight Nunes wanted for his debut.
"Pitbull is a dangerous opponent, and I respect him a lot," he said. "I love his fighting style, he likes to stand and bang, so I’m sure it will be a great fight. Whoever has the heavier hands will win. I’m training for this fight for three months already, and I’m feeling great. The preparation is intense."
The winner of Nunes vs. Freire advances to the semifinal of Season 9’s featherweight tournament, and "The Gun" anticipates tough battles.
"That’s the best start I could have asked for," Nunes said. "I’m happy to be able to fight a guy like him in my debut. It’s going to be a great test for me. Patricio is one of the best guys in the division, and I believe I will probably face (Shahbulat Shamhalaev) next. My first two fights will probably be tougher than the final."
Nunes and Freire’s training camps are located two miles away from each other, and they almost trained together in the past.
"Patricio went to Team Nogueira when I was leaving, so we never trained together there," he said. "There’s no rivalry, a lot of guys from X-Gym train at Team Nogueira too, like Erick Silva, Anderson Silva, Rafael (Cavalcante). I also trained there in the past, and I like everybody there."
Nunes makes his Bellator debut eight months after a unanimous decision loss to Nik Lentz, which dropped his UFC record to 3-3. "The Gun" revealed he didn’t get cut from the UFC because of his record.
"Nobody knows it, but I didn’t leave the UFC because of the losses," he said. "I had problems with some medical exams, some got delayed ... But I don’t want to talk about that, it’s in the past. My home now is Bellator. I didn’t come to Bellator to fight twice and return to the UFC. I want to build a career here, want to be the first Brazilian to win the 145-pound belt."
Winning the tournament is not the final goal for Nunes, but the key to start a new life. Planning to get married with his girlfriend, the gospel singer Marcela Taís, and earning $100,000 for the tournament championship would give them the perfect wedding.
"I have a lot of plans, and getting married is one of them," he said. "This money will help me give my girlfriend the wedding she deserves. I’d be able to start a family with her. Everything changed after I met her. It’s not about Pitbull, not about the tournament: I want to start a new life now."