SAN JOSE, Calif. – With the featherweight belt back around his waist after a respite of a little more than eight months, Patricio Freire has no plans on relinquishing it again anytime soon.
Freire (33-5 MMA, 21-5 BMMA) avenged his 2021 submission loss to A.J. McKee (18-1 MMA, 18-1 BMMA) in the Bellator 277 main event Friday at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., with a unanimous decision. McKee was more than a 3-1 favorite to retain the title, but “Pitbull” handed him the first loss of his pro career.
The fight was at times hard to score and closely contested. Freire got a 49-46 scorecard from one judge and a pair of 48-47s from two others. Of the MMA media outlets tracked by MMADecisions.com, 13 of 16 scored the fight for Freire.
The Brazilian, long considered to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in Bellator history, said he wasn’t deterred for long when McKee submitted him to win the belt in 2021.
“MMA is a tough sport,” Freire said at the Bellator 277 post-fight news conference. “To be defeated is normal. I don’t like it. Nobody likes it. I just went home, trained harder and smarter, and came back. That’s it: Focus.”
Now when it comes to his next focus, there likely are some options on the table – all of which Freire said he’ll just wait to hear answers on.
With their rivalry knotted at 1-1, the easy assumption is a trilogy fight against McKee would be the top option. But McKee said in his post-fight news conference he’d only welcome a third fight with Freire if it took place at lightweight since he intends to move up to that weight class – where Freire’s brother, Patricky, is the champion.
But Patricio Freire called no joy about such a potential move and said if McKee wants a shot at the title again, it’ll have to be at 145 pounds.
“He’s tough – he’s very good. But the king is here,” Freire told MMA Junkie. “The featherweight division is my division. I fought at lightweight (before) because of Michael Chandler (and our rivalry). My brother has the belt (at lightweight). I don’t care about that division. If he wants to fight me again, he has to come to featherweight. That’s it.”
And at featherweight, Freire has fighters like Adam Borics and former McKee teammate Aaron Pico waiting in the wings.
He also echoed a call many Bellator fighters have made over the years, which is the hope against hope that UFC president Dana White one day will agree to a cross-promotion matchup that would pit a Bellator champion against a UFC champion. In that case, Freire wants to fight UFC titleholder Alexander Volkanovski, even if it’s a pipe dream.
“If Dana White has some balls, let’s put champion vs. champion. That’s my goal,” Freire said. “(But) I don’t care who’s next. I’m going to kick all their asses.”
Check out Freire’s full post-fight interview in the video above.