Bellator featherweight king Patricio Freire had a “champion’s choice” that could overrule any match-up in the quarterfinal round of the grand prix, and he selected a fight with Pedro Carvalho in March.
That wasn’t his original plan.
Standing onstage at The Forum alongside his brother, fellow Bellator fighter Patricky Freire, and their coach Eric Albarracin, the two-division champ heard his older sibling whisper something in Portuguese.
“Take the easy fight,” Patricky Freire told Patricio.
That wasn’t a reference to Carvalho, Patricky Freire explained to MMAFighting. It was a reference to two other grand prix entrants: Derek Campos and Darrion Caldwell.
“Pedro Carvalho is a tough guy, and Patricio knows that,” Patricky Freire said. “But the reason why we didn’t pick Caldwell, who I said was the easier one, (was because) our choice would be Derek Campos. But he was set to fight in December, and that would be too soon for Patricio.
“The other one was Caldwell, who (Bellator) president Scott Coker mentioned, but he was coming off two losses, and (Patricio) didn’t want to award him. He wanted someone who was coming off wins, who was actually growing instead of going downhill.”
Carvalho is on a six-fight winning streak after submitting Sam Sicilia at Bellator 226, while Campos and Caldwell only recently reversed skids; Campos took a decision over Daniel Straus at Bellator 226 after dropping three straight, while Caldwell moved up to featherweight at Bellator 228 and beat Henry Corrales, reversing a pair of decision losses to Kyoji Horiguchi for the Rizin and Bellator bantamweight titles.
At the post-fight press conference for Bellator 228, Caldwell accused the champ-champ’s coaches of protecting him from difficult fights. He implied Freire was taking the easy path to win the tournament, which carries a $1 million prize.
Patricio Freire’s bout with Carvalho will determine whether that theory has any merit. The matchup is the final quarterfinal fight of the grand prix and takes place in March 2020. Other tournament matches are: A.J. McKee vs. Derek Campos (Dec. 2019); Adam Borics vs. Darrion Caldwell (Jan. 2020); and Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Daniel Weichel (Feb. 2020).
Patricky Freire said he was representing his brother when Bellator summoned the grand prix combatants into a room before Bellator 228 to explain how the selection would work. Fighters got to talking about potential choices, and he voiced his pick. It wasn’t Carvalho.
“I picked Caldwell and said he talks too much, and then he started acting like it was a real thing,” Freire said with a laugh. “He asked me if I really wanted that, and I said sure. He asked me why, and I said, ‘Because you have no pressure. You only have pressure in the first two rounds, then you get tired and start running. You don’t like to get kicked in the legs, you don’t like to get hit in the body.’ He got quiet. He had nothing else to say.”
“I think Caldwell was the easiest fight for Patricio,” he continued. “He has nothing on the feet. He just goes for takedowns and gets tired. He lost to that Horiguchi in Japan because he got tired. He got tired in the rematch and started running because Horiguchi was chasing him. He doesn’t like to fight, he just wants to score takedowns, and I think would easily defend his takedowns.”