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There isn’t much of anything left for Patricio “Pitbull” Freire to prove at this point in his career. And yet, he feels he has everything to prove. The 34-year-old currently reigns in Bellator as both the featherweight and lightweight champ and is already considered by many to be the best fighter in Bellator history.
Even with a million-dollar prize at stake when he takes on AJ McKee (17-0-0) in the Featherweight World Grand Prix Finals for Bellator 263 on July 31, Freire’s focus is on continuing to relinquish those who are vying to take his place at the top.
“At this point of my career, I’m more worried about my legacy,” Freire (32-4-0) said. “To keep defending the title is not easy to do. To me, it’s not just a professional thing, it’s personal because it’s something I’ve wanted my entire life and people are trying to take it away from me. I don’t feel any extra pressure. I feel confident and I trust myself and my abilities. I’m ready to go in there and defend it again.”
McKee has been gunning for his chance at this opportunity since his Bellator debut. He’s called out Freire’s name after plenty of his fights, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the two-division champ.
When talks of who could dethrone Pitbull have been discussed, McKee’s name is usually the presumptive favorite. Defending his title is already all the motivation he needs, but there is also the added fuel to silence his challenger and those contemplating who will take his place.
“McKee has been with Bellator from the start and has made his entire career here,” Freire says. “He’s still undefeated and I think this makes for a good scenario for me to go in there and prove everyone wrong again.”
The 145-pound Grand Prix Tournament begin with 16 fighters back in September of 2019. Due to COVID, it has taken considerably longer to conclude. Many fighters take issue with the tournament style for various reasons. For Freire, who has defended his title five times up until this point, is one of those who is all for it.
“The tournament is more fair in the way that people know who is the best,” he said. “Sometimes, it may lead the someone who isn’t the number one contender getting to fight for the title because of the brackets but after the tournament is over, you know who the best is without any uncertainty.”
To help prepare for what he can expect to see from McKee, he’s trained with partners with similar fighting styles. At the later parts of camp, his practices have been full MMA practices, which includes all the arts. In the early potions of camp, the arts will be separated throughout the weeks to focus fully on individual techniques within them.
Freire believes that McKee is the most dangerous opponent he will have fought in this Grand Prix. Adding to the challenge, McKee will have his hometown fully behind him with the fight taking place at The Forum in Los Angeles. Antonio McKee, father and coach of AJ, believes that Pitbull hasn’t seen any style similar to what he will see come July 31. When all these factors against him are listed, Freire laughed, knowing that there isn’t much he hasn’t seen in the Octagon and next Saturday is only another test to continue proving himself as the best.
“I’m like water, my friend,” he says. “We adapt to whatever our opponents bring. We change and evolve constantly to map out all the opponent’s game plans and whatever we can exploit. Whatever the fight, we have an answer for it, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”