Patricky “Pitbull” Freire started his career in mixed martial arts after growing up watching Brazilian stars fighting in Pride and has always mentioned it was a lifelong dream of his to be able to compete in Japan.
On Saturday morning, “Pitbull” enters the ring in Osaka to face Tatsuya Kawajiri in the first round of the Rizin Fighting Federation Lightweight Grand Prix.
“I was so anxious it felt like I was getting ready to make my international debut,” Freire told MMA Fighting. “It’s a dream for me. My brother (Patricio Freire) and I always wanted to fight in Japan, but we thought we would never have the chance with the downfall of Japanese MMA.”
When Bellator started co-promoting with other promotions like Rizin, “Pitbull” openly volunteered to represent the North American company in Japan. Riding a five-fight winning streak inside the Bellator lightweight division while his brother holds the belt, Freire felt it was the right time to make the jump to Asia.
The quarter-final match-ups were only set three weeks before Rizin 19, and that’s when the Brazilian found out he was going to face the Japanese veteran.
“Crusher” has competed for almost every major MMA promotion in the world except for Bellator over his 19-year career in the sport, and facing someone like him was everything “Pitbull” hoped for.
“The choice is perfect because one of my ideas entering this tournament was to fight a Japanese right away, and there were two in the tournament,” Freire said, referring to Kawajiri and Hiroto Uesako, who meets Wanderlei Silva’s protégé Luiz Gustavo.
“With all due respect, I wanted to fight a Japanese in my first fight and I think Kawajiri was the best option because he’s a veteran who has fought for many big shows like the UFC, Strikeforce, Dream, Shooto and even Pride. It’s an honor for me, but when the fight starts I’ll do my job and do what I do best, which is put a beating on him and win the fight.”
Freire doesn’t know who he will face later this year in the tournament semifinal if victorious on Saturday, but predicts he’s about to add another knockout win to his MMA record.
“That’s how I see myself beating him,” said Freire, 21-8 as a professional with 13 knockout finishes. “I believe he will try to grapple and avoid standing on the feet against me. I’m not underestimating him, but I expect him to try to take me down and then I’ll knock him out.
“There are a lot of things I picture working in this fight, and I believe it will work. I’m not obsessed with the idea of knocking him out, but our styles match up pretty well in a way that the fight ends like that.”