Bellator 160: "Henderson vs. Pitbull" takes place tonight (Fri., Aug. 26, 2016) inside Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., featuring a 155-pound No. 1 contender eliminator match in the Spike TV-televised main event between former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight champion Benson Henderson and former Bellator Featherweight champion Patricio Freire.
Henderson has a second chance to make a first impression following his failed attempt to become Bellator's Welterweight champion in his first fight for the promotion. A return to the 155-pound weight class suits Henderson -- it's the division in which he has had the most success throughout his mixed martial arts (MMA) career. The same is not true of "Pitbull," though. From July 2013 through June 2015 he was the undisputed king of Featherweights in Bellator, winning the title and defending it successfully against Daniel Straus and Daniel Weichel over seven straight fights.
After Straus ended his dominance in a rematch, it looked like Freire would work his way back into contention, but instead he's looking for a new challenge at 155 pounds. One that the Brazilian is eager to accept, according to a recent interview with MMAmania.com.
"The fight against Ben Henderson is something I believe fighters should always be challenging (for). That's exactly what (this) is to me now. He's a former UFC champion, he's a former WEC champion, and he's as big as a challenge can be. I'm very anxious (to fight) and look forward to it happening."
The question on the minds of fans looking at this fight is whether or not Freire would return to the 145-pound division down the road or if this is a permanent change in weight class.
"To me the weight class from now on doesn't really matter. It's about the challenges. Fighters should always be trying to challenge themselves, and (title) belts are just a consequence of that."
What does this mean for Daniel Straus then? Even though Straus ultimately beat him for the Featherweight strap, Freire beat him enough times before that could argue that he can prove his divisional dominance by getting one more win.
"Yeah, of course, I can beat him. I'm 2-1 against him in all of our fights. I've accomplished more than him in the weight class or accomplished more than him in Bellator. The belt has a special meaning to me, that is something that I'm thinking about. My goal is to go back when he's ready, when he returns. My goal is to go back to Featherweight and welcome him back and get my title back."
Does that mean Freire could actually try to pull off the rare feat of being champion in two weight classes simultaneously achieved by the likes of Dan Henderson and David Branch? Freire won't rule it out.
"During my career I have spoke about having the chance to be a multiple time, multiple weight class champion. I'm in a No. 1 contender fight at Lightweight, but it's just something that lined up. I didn't go specifically to look for this fight or this and that it just naturally happened. Yes, there's a real possibility in the future I could be a two-division champion in Bellator."
The cart is getting a little bit ahead of the horse, though. First he has to beat Henderson before a title shot against Michael Chandler is even a possibility. And Freire has already sized up his opponent and determined that size, indeed, matters.
"He's a tall guy -- especially to me -- and he likes to fight at the long range. He doesn't come in close and come into the pocket to trade punches all that often. That's what I look for and get off (first) on my opponents in that. So the pressure is going to help and he'll be trying to fight long and I'll be trying to close in on him."
For that reason, some of the other fighters in the promotion don't seem to think his prospects are that good against Henderson or at 155 pounds. And a few even seem to think Freire should "stay in his line." Freire doesn't mind the haters.
"(Then) be better than me. I'm here for a reason. I'm the record breaker in Bellator history. I'm the oldest (longest tenured) guy in the organization. Who had more quality (fights) than me? Point to me one of these guys who's complaining, what has he done, how does he compare to me? So he could be in my place right now. Bellator they put me here where I am because I made it happen -- I accomplished it. I made myself get here."
For Freire there's a simple road ahead to follow -- fight Henderson, earn that No. 1 spot, and then seek revenge on Michael Chandler for what he did to his brother, Patricky.
"My brother is coming back from his loss, I know he has a bright future ahead of him. He was caught by a punch which was of total merit from his opponent, but the odds of him getting knocked out were much smaller than the odds of him knocking Chandler out. As far my future at Lightweight goes, I am 100 percent focused on this fight against Benson Henderson, and after that all I care about is taking off Michael Chandler's head. That belt will just go in a trash can. (I'll) go back to Featherweight and get my belt back from Daniel Straus and keep ruling that division, so no one will ever take it back from me. I'm not even gonna let people touch this belt after I get it back."
I think that says it all, really. Tune in to Spike TV later tonight to find out if Patricio "Pitbull" Freire can reclaim the family pride with a win over a former champion to earn a fight with the current champion.
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.