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Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire, now the not-so-grizzled veteran, sees his younger self in Pedro Carvalho

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Patricio "Pitbull" Freire (L) squares off with Pedro Carvalho at a news conference promoting the Bellator Spring & Summer fight cards on Monday, March 9, 2020, in New York City. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

There was a time when Patricio “Pitbull” Freire was the ambitious young fighter who would puff out his chest and confidently pop off about what he was going to do to an upcoming opponent.

They say that youth is wasted on the young, and more than ever, Freire understands that sentiment now. When 24-year-old Pedro Carvalho (11-3) predicted he’d knock Freire out Friday when they meet at Bellator 241 in the quarterfinals of the featherweight grand prix, Freire didn’t lash out angrily.

He shrugged and went about his work, because he lived that before.

“I like the way he’s confident and how he thinks he can beat me,” said Freire, who holds the Bellator featherweight and lightweight titles. “He is young, and I used to be young, too. I had that same mentality and I felt I would be able to do everything to everybody and no one would be able to do anything to me.”

Freire learned, though. He fought a 33-year-old Joe Warren 10 years ago when he was 23 and in his third bout with Bellator. Freire looked at the fight from every angle and didn’t see a way he could lose it, and he said so.

Warren, though, won a split decision.

“Old man Joe Warren showed me the other side of the coin,” Freire said. “It’s a fight I believe I won, but he had experience and he hurt me with some ground and pound and I lost that fight. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. But the thing that has helped me so much is that I have always tried to learn from every one of my fights.”

It’s been nearly a decade since that night, and Freire has morphed into the role of the not-quite-so-grizzled veteran. He’s 30-4 with 21 finishes heading into the fight with Carvalho, and has his eye on yet another prize.

He is in his second reign as Bellator’s featherweight champion, having won the belt on April 21, 2017, when he submitted Daniel Straus. He made two defenses of the belt before he got an unexpected shot at the lightweight title held by Michael Chandler.

He wasn’t so much looking for the lightweight belt so much as he was to beat up on Chandler, whom he doesn’t like much.

“The belt was just a souvenir to put in my home,” Freire said. “I just wanted to fight Chandler.”

On May 11, he knocked Chandler out in 61 seconds to join Ryan Bader as the only dual champions in Bellator history.

It was a heady achievement but it wasn’t enough for Freire. He’s looking to add a third belt to his collection.

The bantamweight title is vacant, and though it’s all but impossible in top-level MMA to defend belts in three divisions, he thinks it is possible.

“I usually fight two or three times a year, and I like to fight as much as possible, so if I could get four fights, that would be perfect,” he said. “But if it’s three, I can defend each one once a year. I know it’s not ideal to only have one title defense in a weight class in a year, but if I got four fights in a year, I could do one of them twice. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about and I believe I can do it.”

Bellator president Scott Coker was skeptical. While he didn’t flat-out say no, when he told Yahoo Sports, “That’s extremely ambitious with his current schedule,” it was his way of telling Freire he has enough on his plate already.

That it’s even remotely a possibility is something Freire credits to his eagerness to learn.

“I’ve been in Bellator 10 years and it’s been [16] years since I made my debut,” he said. “That’s something that is difficult to achieve. To stay around that long and remain at a high-level, you have to have an open-mindedness and a desire to learn. If I were the same fighter now as I was in 2004 or 2010 or 2013, I wouldn’t be here now.

“I am following the evolution of this sport. I’m looking for ways to get better and I feel that technically, I’m at the highest level I’ve been, because I’ve humbled myself and sought to learn as much about this sport as possible. That has helped me to become the fighter I am today.”

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