Going into the Bellator 36 main event, former WEC champion Rob McCullough (19-7) had the name recognition, but Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (8-1) came out victorious with an impressive third round TKO, moving on to the Bellator lightweight semi-finals and establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Like many young Brazilians, Patricky and his brother Patricio started their MMA training inspired by UFC great Royce Gracie, the unassuming Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt that dominated the early days of the sport. With a handful of years competing professionally under his belt, Freire is poised to make a mark of his own.
“The fights in Brazil prepared me really well, because there we have tough fighters of world-ranked level,” Freire told ProMMAnow.com. “I had to adapt a lot, because one of my specialties was stomps. I had three knockouts like that. I also used to soccer kick a lot, and there isn’t any of this here.”
Even though the bout against McCullough was his first in the U.S., Patricky felt comfortable in the Bellator spotlight. Patricio, a Bellator featherweight standout, had already been through the rigors of the promotion’s tournament format and told Patricky what to expect in his debut.
“He told me it was better than fighting in Brazil, because there is no pressure and that everything was perfect,” Freire said. “There is nothing bad to say about the cage or the event’s structure. Even the lights were perfect, so there was nothing that would get in the way.
“In Brazil we’d have bad rings and good [lighting], or good rings and bad [lighting]; it’s difficult to find a good match. We end up getting hurt some times.”
Although McCullough is an accomplished stand-up fighter, Patricky felt comfortable on the feet, dropping and almost finishing McCullough in the first round and knocking him out cold in the third. It was only the second time in McCullough’s career that he suffered a KO or TKO loss.
Asked about McCullough surviving the first round onslaught, Patricky replied, “I wasn’t surprised, because if he hadn’t hold on to my gloves I would have finished him. But he came in with a good strategy, a good ground defense and a good tactic for all of the rounds.”
McCullough’s heavy hands have taken out a number of opponents over the years, but Freire used his movement to keep “Razor” Rob off balance.
“He caught me with some good punches, but nothing that could create danger, that’s why we kept it standing,” he said. “About the success kickboxing, it’s because he’s from Muay Thai. He works without much movement in his body and head and didn’t use much footwork.”
Patricky will face submission ace Toby Imada (29-15) in the semi-finals on April 2 at Bellator 39 in Uncasville, Conn. Imada has twice advanced to the finals of the Bellator lightweight tournament and has an astounding 20 submission wins in his career.
“Imada was the one who impressed me the most,” Freire said of the other three semi-finalists. “I worked a lot of submission defense for this fight, but all the other things remained the same.”
Despite his impressive win in the quarterfinals, Patricky doesn’t view himself as the favorite to win the tournament. With Imada, Michael Chandler (6-0), and Lloyd Woodward (11-0) remaining, he knows there is still a lot of work to do.
“I do not consider myself the favorite,” Patricky said. “I like the tournament style, because it’s a way to have the athletes dedicate themselves. But it’s very tiresome, especially with having to go back to Brazil and here; the travels are too long.”
Controversy against UFC veteran Willamy “Chiquerim” Freire
Patricky’s only professional loss came against one-time UFC participant Willamy “Chiquerim” Freire (no relation) at Rino’s FC 4 in Fortaleza, Brazil in 2007. A simple question about what went wrong in that fight and what he learned from the loss resulted in a pretty surprising answer.
Patricky’s full response is below:
I learned that you must never leave the result in the hands of the judges, especially when you’re fighting at your opponent’s house.
About the fight, Chiquerim went in with baby oil over all of his body and a substance on his gloves that left my eyes burning — I could barely keep them open during the entire fight. The event producer was his manager and one of his primary sponsors. There were huge banners of him in the stadium, all the people in there were there [rooting] for him. Also, he refused to fight with the event’s gloves, he used his own.
I had trouble controlling him because he was too slippery. I even talked to the referee but he did nothing. He would pass my guard with ease and I would always try to regain it every time.
We exchanged a few punches with each having some success, but I was kind of blind during most of them. I hurt him BAD three times, he hurt me once, but nothing spectacular. He would run from the exchanges.
I couldn’t take him down even if I tried my hardest, couldn’t really hold him. Every time I tried to take him down, he would end on top. It was my take down, but he would slip and be on top. He only took me down once, all the other times [he] was slipping trough my takedowns.
By the start of the third round I tried to take him down, but we fell from the ring. The doctors attended to me and said I was ready to go, but he did not want to return to the fight.
He kept saying he had knocked me out. They even changed the result on Sherdog recently to a knock out on the second round, but we [changed] it [back].
After several minutes and his refusal to return, they decided to go to the judges’ scorecards. One judge scored it a draw and two other judges sided with him. The official time was 1:45 of the third round.
One of my former managers and sponsor, Ricardo Sergio, tried to get me a rematch, even offering him a fight purse of R$7000 — almost 3000 [U.S.] dollars by the time, and he didn’t even pick up his phone after that. And this purse is three or more times more than he usually received to fight.
Patricky asked to thank the following: I want to thank my sponsors BAMF Fight Gear, and please buy my personalized t-shirt because you will help me buy my house (laughs). I want to thank my team in Natal, Kioto, everyone from Team Nogueira where I also prepared for this tournament, to my physical coach Mario Novaes, my teachers Bruno Gouveia, Edelson Silva and Erivan Conceição, and to the owner of Platinum Ricardo Sergio who gave me a lot of support.