clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Patricio Freire: The Bellator fighter too good to leave, too mad to stay

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

"Fighter screwed by or battling with Bellator" is an archetype of labor relations to which MMA fans are very accustomed. There's Eddie Alvarez's protracted court battle, Ben Askren's release while wearing Bellator gold, the 'injury' saga of Attila Vegh, Muhammed Lawal's outburst against Bjorn Rebney and numerous other examples.

There is, however, a uniting factor among those names. In the case of three of them, they're no longer part of the organization and, therefore, no longer subject to anything they do. In the other, the fighter and the new promoter are banking on a forging a new future together after sharing an amicable past.

Then there's Patricio Freire, a fighter unable to leave, but one who has no past with new President Scott Coker to reassure him. Given his position, it's arguable that leaving at this point would be disadvantageous to his career.

His story goes like this: in January of 2013, Freire fought champion Pat Curran to a split decision loss at Bellator 85, the first fight and title fight from Bellator on Spike TV. In a pitched battle, Curran retained his title in a split decision win.

Freire, however, believed he deserved an immediate rematch. He wasn't given one and Bellator asked him to compete in the season 9 featherweight tournament, which he agreed to and ultimately won. The problem is Curran lost his title to Daniel Straus at Bellator 106. Rather than place Freire in a bout opposite Straus, Bellator gave Curran an immediate rematch.

"The whole thing stemmed from the Pat Curran fight," Freire tells MMA Fighting via translator. "I fought him back in 2013. It was a very close fight. I felt I had the right for an automatic rematch. Instead they put me to fight someone else. They said if I won the tournament, I would be able to fight for the title. I won the tournament. I went through all that and still Curran went and got worked by [Daniel] Straus. They got a rematch right away. I felt like he was given an advantage in that situation."

As Freire tells it, Curran won for cosmetic reasons. "I was a bit messed up in my face. I was a bit deformed," he concedes. "He did land some good shots on me, but it was basically the head butts that closed my eyes."

All of which brings us to today. While Pitbull is set to get the title fight he believes he's been owed for over a year tonight at Bellator 123, Freire hasn't fought since November of 2013, a fact he finds infuriating. He regards the extra cage time as beneficial to building his skills, but was initially promised a June title fight. Then it was pushed to July. He's finally getting it, in September.

"I feel like it was beneficial for me to have those four fights, but at the same time, I've been off for 10 months after those fights. I was hoping to get the title match right after those four fights and it didn't happen. That was part of my frustration as well in the past few months."

Coker is known as a straight-forward operator and has built what appears to be a reputation of doing right by the vast majority of fighters he works with. Freire acknowledges what he hears about Coker is positive and feels good about the executive's new direction, but is quick to note he's yet to build any real relationship with him.

More importantly, the Brazilian's issues with Bellator were tied to what happened with previous CEO Bjorn Rebney. Freire is mixed on the former boxing promoter. He admits they've patched things up, but is candid that they fault came from Rebney's decisions to favor one fighter over the other.

"First of all, I have to thank Bjorn for giving me the opportunity to go into Bellator and bringing in my brother a year afterwards," he says. "He did me a few favors. I always performed. My brother always performed. It was favors in both ways. We had a bit of falling out at one point, but in the end, we left everything straight."

So frustrated was Pitbull that, for a time, the featherweight would take to social media to express his disapproval in being passed over for or having his title shot delayed. "This is going to be my twelfth fight in Bellator," he explains. "I've only lost two fights so far in two split decisions against two world champions. I've done a lot in the company. I've done a lot in my career to be to the point where I just stay quiet. I had to express my opinion."

It got bad enough for Pitbull to openly ask for his release in the media if Bellator weren't going to grant him his title shot on a normal timeline. Freire's request was either ignored or denied, which kept him in the gym and, to be expected, furious.

Still, one of the most interesting wrinkles to Pitbull's situation is his preference for the tournament model Bellator ran under Rebney. On the one hand, the hiccups in the model helped push Freire's title shot to an undetermined future date. On the other, it also guaranteed him one, no matter what. Given the promotional uncertainty he was placed in and how little he knows about Coker, Freire unsurprisingly regards the tournament model as superior to standard matchmaking. That doesn't mean, however, he can't get on board with the current system.

"I think the tournament is maybe the most fair way to fight for a title because, basically, it's a ranking system. It's an elimination system, so you gotta go through the tournaments to face the champion. If it's for the good of the greater organization, then some people might not agree who fights for the title, but I'm all for it."

The other interesting note about Friday's featherweight title fight is that Pitbull gets an opportunity for resolution of the conflict with one of the principle characters who the Brazilian believes was given the preferential treatment that ended up taking away his own opportunities. Does that mean there's a special joy in facing Curran rather than Straus? Yes and no.

"Obviously a rematch is good because it cleans the slate on a personal level and a professional level as well, but I feel like the correct thing would have been for me to have faced Straus and for Curran to get back into the tournament like I had to do," However, "it is going to be good to beat him in this moment as well."

Despite all the frustration and waiting, Freire says he never once considered quitting the sport. He'd done too much and had tasted success enough to know what he wanted. He also never asked for a release once Coker came on board. He believed, somehow, he'd eventually get what he was owed.

And while his battle with the previous Bellator regime received some publicity, it wasn't as high profile as Alvarez's or Askren's situations. Yet, both Askren and Alvarez were organizational champions, something Pitbull believes he could've been had he only been given to him what Bellator promised from the beginning. Tonight, he claims, he gets to finally end this tortuous chapter in his professional career not simply because it expires naturally, but because he's able to do forcibly close the proverbial show.

"I'm going to be the champion on September 5th," he says matter-of-factly. "Everyone they put against me, every fight that they have for me to defend, I'm going to keep that belt."

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting