Patricio Freire has the opportunity to become a two-division champion on May 11 when he challenges Michael Chandler for the lightweight gold at Bellator 221 in Rosemont, Ill., but he has no intentions to stay at 155 pounds.
Unlike Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier, who successfully moved up in weight to collect more UFC belts and never returned to their weight classes, “Pitbull” told MMA Fighting that he’s going up to lightweight to settle his rivalry with Chandler once for all, not for more Bellator gold.
”The only difference is that those guys moved up to have the belt. I don’t want the belt, I want Michael Chandler’s head,” Freire said. “I want a win over him. His belt is not my goal. His belt will be the consequence of my win. My goal is to beat him up, make him feel pain.”
With his brother Patricky Freire climbing the 155-pound rankings for another shot at the title, the featherweight king says “the belt will be vacated on the same night. I have no plans holding that belt.”
A superfight between Freire and Chandler has been discussed for years, but never came to fruition. The Brazilian admits he had finally given up on the idea this year, asking his team to stop mentioning the desire to make it happen, until Bellator finally reached out with an official offer for May.
”The best moment is right now,” Freire said. “I’m the champion, I cleaned my division, and he’s the lightweight champion again. It’s the perfect moment (to make this fight) because of the rivalry and because now it’s a superfight between champions.”
“Pitbull” fought once at lightweight before under the Bellator banner, losing to Ben Henderson due to a leg injury. Chandler is headed to the Allstate Arena riding a three-fight winning streak, capped off by a decision in a rematch with Brent Primus.
The featherweight star wouldn’t call Chandler the toughest opponent of his MMA career, saying he has faced “more complicated” match-ups style-wise before, but admits that “Iron” has more knockout power in his hands than anyone he’s ever shared the cage with.
One advantage he has over Chandler’s previous opponents, he says, is that he has emulated Chandler’s style twice in the past, when his brother fought “Iron” in the cage. Patricky lost both fights, but that helped Patricio learn a lot about his rival’s game.
”I was Michael Chandler twice. I had to do his game twice,” Freire said. “We’ve deciphered him, but he’s still a very dangerous opponent. He’s very strong with the takedowns, his knockout power is violent, but he’s not a complete guy. He fights well, has good takedowns and heavy ground and pound, does well on the ground. He’s not fantastic in the jiu-jitsu area, but he does well, and that’s why he’s the lightweight champion.”
“Pitbull” has to ignore Chandler’s wins over his older brother — especially the last one, a violent first-round knockout in 2016 — as he prepares for Bellator 221’s superfight. He’s been there before, when he had to leave the personal issues outside the cage for his rematch with Pat Curran, and expects to be able to “almost zero it” for Chandler.
“I have to execute the strategy and not get out of line because he’s very dangerous,” Freire said. “I have to be alert from start to finish otherwise that can give me trouble, a knockout, a takedown… I can’t play in this fight.”
In the end, the Brazilian featherweight predicts a violent finish.
”I never imagine myself losing this fight,” Freire said. “I always imagine him sleeping on the canvas. I’m not saying this to sound cool in this interview, the image that comes to my head is him sleeping. I will catch him when he makes a mistake. If you take a closer look, he’s great when he’s attacking but he’s not good when he’s defending. He doesn’t know how to move backwards. He has heavy hands, moves that cannon-like right hand well, but you can see it coming.
”I know Primus is bigger than me, but Chandler’s face was a mess when they fought. He was dropped with a jab. His chin is not that great. He’s been saying that about me, but I’ve been in many five-round wars in my weight class with guys that were hitting me, not guys that weren’t that strong and caused so much damage (like Primus did to him).”