Patricio Freire has his immediate future all lined up. And every single fight on his planned schedule has a certain meaning to him.
One is the biggest name fight he could get. The next is for family revenge. And the last? A chance to get back the title he once held.
First up, of course, is a matchup with Benson Henderson in the main event of Bellator 160 on Friday night in Anaheim. On paper, the fight doesn't make a whole lot of sense in terms of rankings. But if you look a little deeper it has value, especially to Freire.
"Ben Henderson is a unique challenge," "Pitbull" told MMA Fighting through a translator. "He's a former UFC champion. He's a former WEC champion. He's the biggest name on the Bellator roster right now. He's the biggest name I could fight in any of the lighter weight classes. So, to me it's all about the challenge."
In terms of sheer name value, Henderson is probably the biggest fight of Freire's extremely successful career. It's also a means to an end. The winner has been told that he will fight Michael Chandler for the Bellator lightweight title at a later date.
"Pitbull" could not care any less about the latter part of that equation. The former part — Chandler — is of the utmost importance.
Chandler knocked out Freire's brother Patricky in June. After the KO, Chandler jumped up on the cage to celebrate. Freire, his his brother's corner, came over to him and said he wanted to fight him. Chandler told him, "I'll kill you." It didn't end there. Chandler said on MMAjunkie radio two weeks later that he'd take on "Pitbull" and "his whole family" in one night.
Those comments did not sit right with Freire, and he badly wants vengeance.
"I don't care about the belt," Freire said. "I just want to take his head off. ... Of course that was disrespectful. I told him directly that I wanted to fight him. He didn't have to involve my family and talk all that crap."
Freire (25-3) said he has been eyeing Chandler for a long time. In 2014, "Pitbull" said he offered to fight Chandler on two weeks notice for the interim lightweight title when Eddie Alvarez became injured. Bellator didn't go for it at the time. Now, things have heated up considerably between the two.
"He was always on my radar," Freire said. "I always thought I would match up well against him. I wanted that challenge. But now, it became personal. Because he's talking crap about my family. I just can't leave it at that."
A win over Henderson gets Freire the fight he desires. That's the bout he is most emotional about. But the one perhaps most important to him is a rematch with current featherweight champion Daniel Straus. Freire dropped the belt to Straus back in November after having beaten him twice before previously.
"I have unfinished business with Straus," Freire said. "The dream of my career right now is to be the champion at 145 and to finish that business with him. Sometimes I wanted to be the champion in multiple weight classes. That's something I've aspired to, but the only thing that matters to me right now as far as belts are concerned is the 145-pound title."
Freire, 29, has his next three fights all mapped out. Ultimately, though, he'll have to get by Henderson first before Chandler and Straus can come into play. Henderson, like the first boss in a video game, unlocks the rest. And that's what "Pitbull" really wants.
"When Bellator offered me Henderson, I thought it was a unique opportunity," Freire said. "It's something that could be very meaningful to me."