Pedro Carvalho failed in the biggest moment of his professional career. It was the exact lesson he needed in order to realize he wasn’t as ready as he thought.
One of the best MMA fighters to come out of Portugal, Carvalho challenged Patricio Pitbull for the Bellator featherweight title in 2020, but he couldn’t make it out of the first round. Carvalho was so mad, he decided to get back in the cage as soon as possible to erase that image of his mind. But he ended up suffering another stoppage defeat in Bellator, this time to Jay Jay Wilson.
At 2-1 since and now slated to face Jeremy Kennedy, Carvalho said on this week’s Trocação Franca podcast that those setbacks helped shape him into a better athlete.
“The first thing [I learned] was maturity,” said Carvalho. “I was too immature for that [Pitbull] fight — but I was only 24. I was always very confident, but that confidence was only mine. Win after win and that confidence growing. But what I thought to be confident was my ego. After I was booked to fight Patricio, all that attention on me, especially in Portugal, my ego and self-confidence growing, led me to fight day.
“I’ll never forget it. I enter the cage and then comes in Patricio, one of the best featherweights of all-time, and I said, ‘No way.’ The game plan was none of that. Quite the opposite, really, but I remember telling myself, ‘You know what, I’ll knock him out in the first round.’ My ego was out of control, to underestimate that opponent. I paid the price, but also learned a lesson and grew from it.”
It turns out that Carvalho still had lessons to be learned in Bellator. The 27-year-old didn’t realize it, but he hadn’t given himself proper time to adjust and evolve.
Carvalho agreed to meet Daniel Weichel shortly after the Pitbull loss, but then Wilson stepped up as a replacement. Carvalho missed the birth of his daughter ahead of the fight, and didn’t even have his team by his side given the travel restrictions in his home of Ireland caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He still decided to move forward.
“I was in this internal struggle, ‘It will work! It will work!’ But being there was too much already,” Carvalho said. “I should have pulled out of that fight a long time ago, but I insisted. I remember walking out to the cage, Jay Jay Wilson walked out first and I was waiting to be called. A fighter knows, that’s the most transparent moment of all. You can’t fool yourself. I was trying to do my mental ritual and the penny dropped. I remeter telling myself, ‘I’m not ready.’ I was seconds away from walking to the cage, ‘But there’s nothing to be done now.’
“I had warning after warning to not take this fight and I ignored all that, and I paid the price. But I learned from it. I’ve never felt so bad in my life like after that fight. I opened the bedroom door and just fell on the floor. It was bad.”
Carvalho ultimately reentered the cage seven months later in a fight against Weichel and won via decision. That was followed by a split decision setback to Piotr Niedzielski — one Carvalho still contests — and then his most recent appearance, a victory over Piotr Niedzielski.
“I hit rock bottom,” Carvalho said. “I hit rock bottom, but I gave myself time and rebounded. I learned lessons in those two losses and the Weichel win. I thought I had the puzzle figured out, and became more mature as a fighter. That fight gave me the click.
“It’s almost impossible to forget what happened, but I see it all in a positive light. I look back at those episodes, and talking about it gives me the certainty that I’m almost bulletproof mentally. I’ve been through so much, I’ve stumbled so much and still came out on top. I’m No. 3 of the division now, about to become No. 1 after everything that’s happened. That makes me proud.”