“On this night, he was great,” Freire said Saturday night in his post-fight press conference. “He kicked my head and he almost knocked me out and he almost finished me on the same night, so he was good. Congratulations. Now he’s the champion.”
Freire lost to McKee via technical submission less than two minutes into the first round in the blockbuster finals of Bellator’s featherweight grand prix. McKee first downed Freire with a head kick before finishing Freire off with a guillotine choke to win the $1 million grand prize along with the Bellator featherweight title.
Freire never tapped to McKee’s submission, however referee Mike Beltran stopped the action just seconds after McKee told Beltran that Freire was unconscious. Freire initially protested the stoppage inside the cage, but after watching the replay, he indicated that he was willing to accept Beltran’s decision, even if he didn’t necessarily like it.
“I watched the fight. I knew I wasn’t asleep, but I saw my hands [start to drop],” Freire said. “I was standing, but that’s it. A fighter wants to fight until the end. That’s my mind.”
The loss marked an end to a seven-fight win streak that stretched back 2016 for Freire, as well as being the first time in Freire’s 17-year career that the Brazilian has been finished.
Heading into Bellator 263, “Pitbull” was widely considered to be the greatest fighter in Bellator history as well as the promotion’s most decorated champion. He still holds records for the most wins (20), fights (24), title bouts (12), title wins (10), and finishes in Bellator history (13), and indicated that his loss to McKee would only make him better in the long run.
“I am always motivated. My debut was in 2004, and now I have a lot of years fighting and dedicating myself to this game, and I am hungry every time,” Freire said.
“I spent a lot of years without being defeated, and today is a new day for me. It’s a different kind of feeling, and I want to rest a little bit, enjoy my son, my wife. But I will come back stronger. I know that. Everyone says that when they get a defeat, but I am different.”
Fortunately, Freire will likely get his chance at revenge.
Despite the loss, the 34-year-old remains the Bellator lightweight champion — and with McKee already angling for a rematch at 155 pounds with Freire’s other belt on the line, it appears as if the seeds are already being planted for round two between the two rivals.
“Before the fight I think he told somebody something like this, and it’s a good thing,” Freire said. “He beat me in the featherweight division. I know he’s big, he has trouble cutting weight. And let’s think about it. I have a belt. I’m still a world champion.”
If the rematch does happen at 155 pounds, Freire’s team made just one request.
Bellator 263 took place in McKee’s home town of Los Angeles and the crowd assembled at The Forum on Saturday night was largely behind McKee. For a potential second fight, Freire’s team simply hopes that favor can be repaid to their side as well.
“If we do something like that, this time I’d like it to be in Brazil,” said Freire’s head coach Eric Albarracin. “This guy’s been here for 10 years, double champ-champ, winningest fighter in Bellator history, most title defenses. Why are we fighting in Los Angeles? He’s the champ-champ. We’re fighting in the challenger’s hometown? Great, he won, give it all to him — he slept in his own bed, his dad’s a legend here, born and raised here, he’s born and raised here, 99 percent of the fans cheering for A.J., we’re in his house. Yet [Freire] is double champ-champ? Great, he won. Let’s do it in Brazil next. For one time, bring it to Brazil for the champ.
“Sixteen games in the NFL are played to get a home field advantage, 180 in baseball,” Albarracin continued. “He’s the world champ-champ. You ask a warrior, ‘Hey, where you want to fight?’ They say anywhere, any time. But obviously not in the home town of the challenger, giving him all the advantages — the youth, the range, the reach, and then throw all the home field advantage, where he’s sleeping and training in his own gym. We traveled 36 hours to get here. Let’s switch it up one time.”
Albarracin’s proposal ultimately drew a smile and a nod of approval from Freire.
“That’s why he’s my coach,” Freire said. “I need someone like him. He’s right, I agree.”