Most fighters focus on getting better with their fighting techniques, growing their arsenal of finishing moves.
No doubt, Bellator featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire works hard to make sure his weapons are in peak form, and tweaks his game as necessary to keep up with the times. But at 28 years of age, he has combat experience well beyond his years, so his focus has shifted to putting a greater degree of focus on his health, so that he can fire his weapons on queue.
Freire began training jiu-jitsu at 10 years of age and hasn’t stepped away from combat completion since. As a teenager, he trained alongside the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and the rest of the famed stable of fighter at the Chute Boxe Academy, eventually taking his first professional fight in 2004.
Freire (24-2) reeled off victories in his first 14 fights before suffering a split-decision loss to Joe Warren in 2010 in his third bout for Bellator. He’s stumbled only one other time, losing another split decision to Pat Curran. That was more than two years ago.
Currently on a seven-fight winning streak and considered one of the top featherweight fighters on the planet, you’d think that Freire had stayed in top form all those years. When it comes to his skills, yes, he is constantly at the top of the class. But when it comes to his health, the years of combat and hard training have taken their toll.
Heading into his third bout with Daniel Straus, at Bellator 145 on Friday night, Freire has focused more than ever on strengthening his body and refining his arsenal.
“We hired a scientist to work together with my team. We changed a lot of things in my training so I would be more healthy with no injuries,” Freire told MMAWeekly.com.
“I will never be 100-percent (healthy) because I’ve been fighting ever since I was 10 years old. My body now has 11 years as a pro. I have some injuries that I will never be recovered from, but I’ll be very close to 100-percent this time. I have had fights where I was 50-percent, sometimes 70, but I’m much more closer to 100 (now).
“I’m probably in the best form of my life in a very, very long time.”
Having already defeated Straus twice in his career, including a fourth-round submission earlier this year, Freire knows he has the skill to handle an ever-improving Straus, but making sure his body is at its peak for Friday night’s fight was key.
That said, he’s getting tired of having to repeatedly fight the same challengers.
“It’s very annoying having to fight the same guys over and over again,” said Freire.
It’s well known that Freire has been at odds with Bellator and Spike in the past, feeling under-appreciated, questioning the direction the promotion was headed.
Recent months, however, have shown a significant amount of change under the new leadership of former Strikeforce boss Scott Coker. Many fighters have praised the move to install Coker at Bellator’s president, and you can count Freire among them.
“It’s improved a lot. Scott has made some great changes. I have a pretty good deal with them now with TV exposure and the reach that Bellator has. They are paying fighters better. So I think it is going the right direction. Sponsorships are appearing and a lot of exposure,” said Freire, who also believes the new challengers are on the way.
“They are bringing in top guys. You’ve already seen Top 10 guys coming from other organizations, like UFC, and it’s just a matter of time until more of those guys land here,” Freire continued, relishing the opportunity to face some new blood.
“Bellator has (also) done a very good job in bringing new fighters in my weight class. We have some new talent shining. I think it’s just a matter of time before they come challenge for my belt.”
Before he turns to fresh challengers, however, Freire will have to defeat Straus for the third time during their Bellator tenures. As long as his health holds true, it won’t be surprising if Freire exits the cage with the belt still firmly affixed to his waist.