RIZIN 20: “Saitama” takes place at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, during the wee hours of New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31, 2019). Jiri Prochazka (25-3-1) fights C.B. Dollaway (17-9) for the Light Heavyweight title, Kai Asakura (14-1) fights Manel Kape (14-4) for the vacant Bantamweight title, and Ayaka Hamasaki (19-2) puts her Super Atomweight title up against Seo Hee Ham (22-8).
Rizin has the legacy of Pride FC under Nobuyuki Sakakibara, and continuing in that spirit they have brought in Bellator Lightweight star Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (22-8). He looks to advance to the finals of the promotion’s Lightweight Grand Prix tournament at the expense of Luiz Gustavo (10-1), with the winner of the 155-pound bout going up against the victor between Tofiq Musayev (16-3) and “Hollywood” Johnny Case (27-6-1) later in the evening.
One night, two potential fights.
Gustavo’s only loss of his career came earlier this year against Mikuru Asakura, but despite that decision loss he’s a proven finisher with an equal number of knockouts and submissions (five apiece). At only 23 years old, it’s fair to say that Gustavo’s star is on the rise, and defeating “Pitbull” and moving to the finals would be a huge statement.
More often than not the Pitbull brothers are the ones who make a statement, often doing it with the power of the punch. The elder brother Patricky finishes 64 percent of his wins (14 of 22) via (technical) knockout and is currently on a six-fight win streak, with all but two of those falling into the striking category. Gustavo’s statement may be, “What truck just ran me over?”
Freire recently chatted (via e-mail) with MMAmania.com about his preparation for this critical tournament and career bout in Japan.
“It was great. My team and I watched a lot of videos on him and studied his game a lot. Not only his, but of the other two semi-finalists as well. I can’t wait for fight day to arrive and to get these wins and the title.”
I asked Freire if he’s thought about the significance of either his win streak or advancing in the Rizin tournament going into the fight.
“I look at one step at a time, but of course my goal is the title. Having to do two fights at the same night is difficult, so we simulated that every week. The Rizin title means a lot to me. The winning streak is a consequence of a work well done and me being at the peak of my game. I plan to extend it even further and accomplish more titles on the way.”
Does it bother Patricky to think that he’s potentially the No. 1 contender for his brother Patricio’s Lightweight title?
“Not really. Things just aligned that way. Right now I’m focusing on winning the GP title and after that I’ll turn my focus on the Bellator title and we’ll see how that goes.”
When I asked him to expand on that idea though, he seemed to suggest his brother would have to lose first to somebody else before he went for the gold.
“(Brother versus brother) won’t happen. We said we would in the past a few times, but it’s not really serious. We’re in this to achieve our dreams and make each other grow if possible, not to confront each other.”
I’m sure they do that enough in sparring as it is anyway. Getting back to Luiz Gustavo though, what is Freire’s opinion of him as a fighter?
“He’s got that old Chute Boxe mentality and style. He urges forward and throws looping punches. He has very dangerous hands and is pretty aggressive. Seems to have a good chin, but even that and other parts of his game hasn’t been tested much. He’s had wins over good Japanese names and is trying to make a bigger name for himself. But I’m not going to be anyone’s stepping stone. I’m looking forward to stopping him.”
Freire obviously respects him but as is typical of the “Pitbull Brothers” he doesn’t fear him one bit. He does rate Gustavo highly in one area though.
“He’s more dangerous on the feet. And I don’t think he plans to fight me on the ground. It’ll be an interesting match.”
What does it mean to Freire to represent Bellator MMA in a Rizin tournament?
“It means a lot, I really appreciate that Bellator gave me this opportunity. I always wanted to fight in Japan, I dreamed of Pride when I was starting, and Rizin now is the closest thing to that. To be able to win a title on a stacked Saitama Super Arena is going to be a dream come true and I’m very excited to make that happen.”
Do any of Freire’s recent wins in his current fight streak stand out the most?
“The wins over Josh Thomson and Ben Henderson are the most prestigious, many didn’t think I could win those fights and questioned me, then after I won they tried to downplay my wins. I feel like me and my brother never get a fair share regarding our accomplishments and skills, and it was great to prove people wrong. But if I had to pick a favorite I’d say the Kawajiri one. For it being in Japan, everything that surrounded it and him being someone I looked up to when I first started.”
Finally, what does it mean to Patricky that he and Patricio are such a large part of the history of Bellator MMA as a whole?
“It feels great to be acknowledged like that. We literally put our blood into the company. We’re giving them the best years of our life. putting on shows, bringing people’s attention and elevating the Bellator name. There are guys that have just arrived and haven’t done anything here trying to call themselves this and that. These guys are idiots. We’re a big reason Bellator is what it is today.”
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