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With two belts in his possession, every next fight is the biggest one of his career for Patricio Freire.
The Bellator lightweight and featherweight champion returns next month to put his 145-pound title on the line against Emmanuel Sanchez in a rematch that also happens to be a semifinal fight in the promotion’s ongoing featherweight tournament.
Freire (31-4 MMA, 19-4 BMMA) and Sanchez (20-4 MMA, 12-3 BMMA) first fought at Bellator 209 in November 2018 in Israel, where Freire walked away with a unanimous decision win. His next time out, he knocked out Michael Chandler in 61 seconds to add the lightweight title to his collection.
And while “Pitbull” has to worry about Sanchez first and foremost at Bellator 255 on April 2, there might never be a time he doesn’t have Chandler somewhere in the back of his mind given their personal history and Chandler’s history with Freire’s brother Patricky.
“My rivalry against Chandler – it was personal,” Freire recently told MMA Junkie. “On the same night he defeated my brother, he said he could beat my entire family. I made him pay for his words by knocking him out inside the cage in one minute.”
After Chandler’s knockout los to Freire in May 2019, he fought twice more for Bellator and delivered first-round knockouts of Sidney Outlaw and former UFC and WEC champ Benson Henderson. Then he left for the UFC as a free agent.
Chandler waited on the sidelines for a bit for his first UFC fight. But at UFC 257 in January, he made a big splash with a bonus-winning first-round TKO of Dan Hooker. The win was big enough to put Chandler into a title shot. At UFC 262, Chandler will fight Charles Oliveira for the lightweight title vacated this past week by longtime champ Khabib Nurmagomedov.
And Freire thinks one thing is evident by Chandler’s quick rise in the UFC: It means he – Freire, not Chandler – is the better fighter.
“Both casual and hardcore MMA fans should understand that what matters is the athlete, not the organization,” Freire said. “Many people are blind and only care about the UFC. That’s the wrong way of thinking. The proof is Michael Chandler, coming from Bellator, having such a devastating victory in his UFC debut against a highly ranked opponent. Chandler is just getting started. Seeing how dangerous he can be in the UFC further proves the quality of Bellator’s fighters – and how good a fighter I am.
“I don’t respect any of the ranking systems. I stopped paying attention. It’s completely political. People sell their opinions. I’d rather not be included. The only way to know if a fighter is better than the other is to have them fight. No one is as dominant as I am at 145 pounds. I even went up to 155 pounds and beat the No. 4-ranked fighter in the UFC. Rankings make no sense.”
One thing the UFC steers clear of is cross-promoted fights. So the chances of seeing Freire at his current peak against Chandler at his current peak likely are slim and none. So perhaps Freire will have to just keep that head-to-head win in his back pocket for a personal claim as the best, despite he and Chandler now fighting in separate promotions.
But when it comes to his next title defense at featherweight against Sanchez, he thinks he’s got the inside track already.
“If there’s one thing I do well, it’s rematches,” Freire said. “I always come back better. I already beat Sanchez. I realize this is a new fight, but I’m looking to win as quickly as possible, with the least amount of damage, so I can be in the final.”