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Champ Patricio Freire, Pedro Carvalho get testy after Bellator 228

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Pedro Carvalho originally planned on taking out an ex-champion in the quarterfinals of the Bellator featherweight grand prix.

Carvalho, who advanced from the tournament’s opening round by stopping Sam Sicilia, thought the best statement would be to beat former bantamweight titleholder Darrion Caldwell. Then current champ Patricio “Pitbull” Freire walked on to the stage at The Forum.

A “champion’s choice” gave Freire his pick of fighters to nudge from the brackets during a live selection show aimed at spicing up the usual ordering of brackets. He didn’t chose Caldwell, who’d jawed at him after his title defense against Juan Archuleta in the headliner of Bellator 228, or A.J. McKee, who obliterated Georgi Karakhanyan in eight seconds.

Nope, “Pitbull” chose Carvalho, putting them on a collision course for March 2020.

“Maybe he underestimated me,” Carvalho said at the post-event press conference following Saturday’s event. “That’s pretty much been the story of my life. Since the beginning of my career, everyone looked down on me.

“Just look where I am right now – 24 years of age, I will become champion.”

Carvalho hasn’t won anything yet. But he seems supremely sure of himself in a way that others aren’t. Maybe not as confident as another very famous fighter from his gym, SBG Ireland, but somewhere in the ballpark.

“I’m fighting one of the best featherweights of all time, but he’s never faced a guy like me,” Carvalho said. “I don’t know if he knows that, but he’s never faced no one like me.”

Sitting across from his next challenger, Freire couldn’t help but pipe up.

“There are too many guys that are tough like you,” he said, adding, “I chose you because you are tough.”

“I hope so,” Carvalho replied. “I come for war, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

As Freire had explained earlier, his pick of Carvalho wasn’t entirely driven by ego. It was a play for a break after the defense of his title against Archuleta, who specifically targeted him for an opening-round matchup.

“I’m 32, but I’m feeling old,” Freire said. “After a fight like that, I need some rest.”

Still, a little extra fire couldn’t hurt when next year rolls around. Carvalho’s confidence provides more motivation.

“It looks like it’s real,” Freire said. “He’s confident. I like that. We’re warriors.”

And in six months, they’ll slug it out to see whose confidence is truly justified. Freire might be the most successful Bellator in the promotion’s history, but until he hangs up his gloves, there will be plenty of fighters with bold proclamations.

“I feel like a kid at Christmas,” Carvalho said. “I know a date when I’m going to become world champion, so I’m pretty happy.”