Patricio Freire has his title back…
The 34-year-old Brazilian mixed martial artist, Bellator‘s franchise fighter, gutted out a unanimous decision win (49-46, 48-47, 48-47) over previously undefeated prodigy AJ McKee to win back the featherweight title in the main event of Bellator 277 on Friday night in San Jose, California.
McKee beat Freire, known as “Pitbull,” for the title via submission in just 1:57 of the first round last July.
Freire is now a three-time Bellator featherweight champion.
“That day, I came in peace,” Freire said, referring to his loss to McKee last summer. “Today, I came for war. And I’m bringing the belt home.”
It was a hard-fought, close battle between two of the best fighters in the world outside the UFC. ESPN had McKee ranked No. 3 and “Pitbull” ranked No. 5 in the world at featherweight coming in.
There was plenty of talk leading into this fight about how McKee, a 27-year-old whom many believe is a future superstar, would fare in a fight with UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski.
But “Pitbull” silenced those discussions Friday night. He did solid work in the early rounds, peppering McKee with leg kicks and punching combinations. In the third, he dropped McKee briefly with an overhand right and grabbed a tight guillotine.
McKee was able to escape that submission and do some of his best work in the late rounds. McKee landed solid combinations in the fourth round and several takedowns in the fifth, nearly getting Freire’s back at one point. In the closing minutes, McKee did his most damage, landing combos with his hands, a takedown and a hard elbow against the cage.
“He’s a tough guy,” Freire said. “He’s a great opponent. It was a hard fight to me.”
Freire (33-5) has won eight of his past nine bouts, including a 61-second knockout of current UFC lightweight contender Michael Chandler at lightweight back in 2019.
The Brazil native held both the Bellator featherweight and lightweight titles from 2019 to 2021. He lost the featherweight belt to McKee and relinquished the lightweight gold last November to focus on featherweight.
Freire has the most wins (21), the most featherweight wins (20) and the most title fight wins (11) in Bellator history.