Patricio “Pitbull” Freire is of course the Bellator MMA featherweight champion. He is known for his knockout power, but his last fight against Daniel Straus played out in an unexpected way. While Straus showed improvements in his striking and enjoyed a reach advantage, “Pitbull” displayed his superior skills on the ground and submitted Straus. I had expected the opposite from both fighters before the fight happened. Such a fight only happens when both fighters have drastically improved.
We asked “Pitbull” about his fight against Straus and about other topics including comparisons to UFC fighters and his personality outside of the cage.
-Your fight against Straus was not a fight that I had expected beforehand. I thought that you would try to strike at close distances while Straus would try to take you down. Straus showed that his striking has improved, but did you expect that he would have improved that much?
I stood up with him, but I was hit, hurt. Took some eye pokes, low blows, head butt. It rendered a bit of my performance. But he was very good, I can't take his merit away. I thought I won rounds 1 and 2, he won the third and the beginning of the fourth was his, but I submitted him. I knew he would be very tough, although I didn't expect to be knocked down, but it happens in the fight. We can be surprised, but I was very well trained and was able to react to reverse the situation, which was what I did.
-Did you have a particular game plan for this fight? If so, how did it compare to the actual fight? If not, did you rely more upon what you train on a daily basis?
Yes, I have an strategy for all the fighters on the weightclass. I watch all fighters not only from Bellator, but the UFC, WSOF, I know everybody. I may not know everyone's names, but I know their styles and the strategy to face them. Every fighter that can offer me any form of danger I know the antidote. In a fight everything can happen, but I know how to act and with Straus it wasn't different. I studied him for months. I didn't bring Eric Albarracin (wrestling coach) to Natal just for show. Thank God I was able to bring the victory home. I was better than him on his best field and he was a worthy opponent at my biggest asset. It's been 4 years I wouldn't try to submit anyone, only get knock outs, and Straus was able to stand and strike with me the entire fight. There were a few different things I planned to do I ended up not doing, but I will strengthen those aspects of my game, practice them more and make automatic so I can show it in my next performances.
-You have shown considerable skill in grappling many times before, but because you often finish fights with huge knockouts, people have paid less attention to your grappling skills. You already showed your positional superiority against Straus in your first fight and also against Reis. This time, you submitted Straus, who won his Bellator title fight with grappling. Do you feel that your performance made a statement to the rest of the featherweight division?
I think the Featherweight division can't misjudge the kind of fighter I am. I'm a well rounded fighter. When I don't see a need to take my opponent down and use my jiu jitsu I don't do it. If I can take care of business standing I'll do it. On the day I face problems and get hurt like it happened with Straus, the third round I couldn't see anything. My strategy was based on closing in on him, my corner told me to do it but I had the opportunity to take him down as well. Eric told me that any time I wanted to take him down I would, so that's what I did. The division has to be worried, I'm the world champion and it's natural for me to be a complete fighter.
Patricio Pitbull Submits Daniel Straus
-Did you see Georgi Karakhanyan's performance against Bubba Jenkins? If so, what was your impression? What can we expect from a rematch between you and Georgi?
I did. I thought it would be a tougher fight. He's a very tough opponent, very skilled on the stand up, has good transitions on the ground, his takedowns are ok. His ground game and takedowns were already good, but he improved on them a little bit. But I see myself as a much tougher fighter than him. I think I can take the fight wherever I want. If I want to stay standing I will do it, if I want to bring it to the ground I will do it. I don't see anyone in the weightclass able to beat me.
-You don't have an overly big frame for your weight class, but fighters like Frankie Edgar have gotten respect for fighting larger opponents. People rarely mention your frame disadvantage. How do you feel about it and how do you overcome it?
There are very few fighters than can hit me. I have a very good footwork, my boxing is at a high level. The guys that hit me were Straus, a southpaw who's very tall, but was unable to hit me the first time we fought, and Curran who was able to hit me both fights. But I was in their faces the entire time. If you see my first and second rounds with Straus the rounds were back and forth. I know I'm small for the weightclass, but I see guys fighting at Flyweight who are taller than me, at Bantamweight too, Lightweight too, so it's not like I can choose. I feel my advantage at Featherweight is that I'm a compact guy, maybe I'm stronger than the other guys. They beat me in width, but they can't beat me in speed or footwork and specially in strength. That's my differential, I can nullify the difference in height and width with it.
-Bellator champions are always compared to UFC fighters. Of course, we can only imagine you versus UFC fighters for now, but how do you compare yourself with Aldo, Mendes, Edgar and McGregor?
I didn't know much about McGregor. I haven't seen too many fights of him. I've watched him for a little bit more than one year, he's a guy that talks a lot and got a title shot. He beat some weak guys and was able to promote himself well. He has expressive wins against guys that aren't convincing, so I can't imagine how good he would be against a top guy. I would need to see him versus a Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, someone tougher in the weight class. But everyone in Brazil asks me how would a fight between me and Aldo be. I already said it would be a very tough fight, Aldo is a calm and composed fighter, such as I am, he defended his belt 7 times which creates an extra pressure. I made my first defense, was knocked down for the first time in my career, but I was able to overcome the situation. It's positive to me. I never lost faith, always kept my confidence high. Only God can tell who would win a fight between us if it was to happen some day. A lot of people compare me to Aldo, but I have my doubts if his kicks are stronger than mine. I see he's faster than me, but I think I'm stronger. It's a curious fight, I think both would go out very hurt and the one with the stronger spirit would prevail. I admire him as a fighter and a person, it's a fight that makes sense. And about the weight class in general, I know I can beat any man.
-Conor McGregor is bringing a lot of attention to your weight class. How do you feel about his actual fighting skill and media tactics?
He needs to be tested. After he's tested I'll say more about him. Let's watch him versus Aldo, which is a fight I don't think he'll be able to survive the first round. Only after this fight we'll be able to say something about him. He's shown he's got a good boxing, good distance, kicks on the right time and is slick, but he did all that with weak guys, so I can't say much.
-Scott Coker becoming Bellator president may make a difference, but I thought during the Rebney era that Bellator failed to showcase non-American fighters’ personalities and relate them to the audience. How do you feel about how you are promoted by Bellator now (Coker) and then (Rebney)? Also, please tell me about your personality away from fighting. Which other sports do you like and which hobbies (music, movies, etc.) do you enjoy?
I think it's normal for Bellator to give me more exposure now, I am the champion. The champion is the best of the weight class, so that's natural. I would bring a lot of attention because of my knock outs, 4 years knocking out a lot of people, so my performances would showcase me by themselves. Today I can have a bigger exposure, Bellator is in a good TV channel in Brazil, a good tv channel in the US, they can have good ratings and better fighters and starts. People that can bring, as Scott Coker said, the casual audience. That's what Bellator is doing and I'm very happy with it.
And my hobbies, it's tough to say because I like to fight a lot. On my free time I like to train jiu jitsu, I'm going to start training Karate as well to loosen my mind a bit. But I like speed, I like cars, I like to run. I love to watch action movies, si-fi movies. There has to be a bit of lies (laughs), special effects, super powers, like Spider-Man, Thor, Iron-Man, among others.
-In Japan, Big Nog is major figure. In Brazil, he is known for supporting struggling Brazilian fighters. What has he meant to you? Has he been a teacher, supporter, idol, or a combination of all?
Rodrigo is a combination of all of it. Specially a friend. I've seen him support a lot of people. I've spent 3 and a half years as part of Team Nogueira and one of the people I saw him help was my brother who was going for a tough time without fights and not making money, Rodrigo would give him money monthly, that's something I will never forget. I see him as an older brother, an idol, several things. He doesn't need to prove anything to anyone, he inspired generations. Rodrigo Minotauro is synonymous with guts, overcoming adversities, champion. I only have good things to say about him.
-Please share a message for your fans about your fighting career and future.
I use to say I don't have fans, I have friends. The people that follow my work and know of my dedication and my effort I'm able to be friends with. Fans to me are the people that root for you when you win and throws stones at you when you lose. So I don't have fans, I have friends. People that support me when I win and support me even more in the tough times. I use to create friendship with those people, I try to answer everyone on my fan page, instagram and twitter. I do it myself. I try to have friends and not fans, the word fan means a lot. We don't know who's a real fan or who's a fake. That fan that just supports you when you're winning you have to worry about. Specially in Brazil. The people support a lot who's the champion, but when you're in a tough spot they forget or criticize you. But there are those people who are truthful and to me they're not fans, they're friends.
About my career, please support me as I keep trying to write my name on the sport's history. I'm here for any challenges, I will fight any man. I want people to talk about me as the best fighter to ever grace this sport.
Patricio Freire Official Twitter
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Big thanks to Matheus Aquino (Fort MMA) for coordinate and Robert Sargent (MMA Rising) for English editing.