Patricky Freire (21-8) is the latest Bellator export to travel to Japan to test his mettle against the RIZIN stable. The Brazilian is a part of the RIZIN Lightweight Grand Prix that kicks off this weekend at RIZIN 19 in Osaka, Japan.
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The tournament features a mix of international talent at varying stages of their careers. From young prospects still looking to demonstrate their valor to grizzled veterans who have been through the wars. Whether it’s a jiujitsu ace with KO power, a Wanderlei Silva protege with a similar penchant for mayhem, an Aussie banger willing to throw down with any man, or a Japanese MMA legend looking to prove he still has it after nearly 20 years in the game, this tournament has something for everyone.
It’s the latter, Tatsuya Kawajiri, who will find himself across from Freire in the quarter-final match-ups. Freire — who has finished 13 of his 21 victories by KO/TKO — plans to add the veteran to his list of victims.
“Kawajiri is a big name. I want to knock him out, too. I have a lot of respect for him, but it’s my time. It’s a dream come true to fight a big name like Kawajiri,” Freire said to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock, via a translator.
Freire is a fan of Japanese mixed martial arts and is excited to have the chance to fight for a promotion that many see as the reincarnation of DREAM and PRIDE. It was those promotions he watched before he competed in the sport. It was there he saw Kawajiri rise to prominence. Now, it’s his turn to step into the white ring.
“Fighting in Japan is a dream. So I don’t feel pressure. I just want to beat my opponents and make history. I feel in a sort of ecstasy. Back then, when Minotauro (Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira) and those guys had success in PRIDE and they would go in there and the Japanese fans treated them like gods. That’s something I always felt was amazing and after all this is said and done, I wonder if the Japanese fans will treat me with as much care and passion as they treated them.”
The land of the samurai
Patricky Freire is no stranger to tournaments. He’s fought in them before in Bellator MMA. But this one is different. This one is happening in the “land of the samurai,” as Freire affectionately refers to Japan.
“It’s a country that has a history of warriors and MMA in particular. The biggest MMA promotion to ever exist was PRIDE in Japan,” Freire said.
Another contrast in this and past tournaments he’s been a part of is the ruleset. In RIZIN, head stomps, knees to the head of a downed opponent and soccer kicks are all legal. That makes the whole thing more dangerous but also more compelling to Freire.
“If someone falls in front of me, I’m going to be kicking his head like a ball.”
While Freire feels most in the tournament haven’t face the competition he has and don’t carry the one-shot stopping power that he packs in his limbs, he’s not dismissing his opponents. When asked by The Body Lock’s John Hyon Ko who he thinks he’ll be facing down the road, should he get past Kawajiri, he had a few names ready.
“That’s a tough thing to say, but I believe I’ll fight [Tofiq] Musaev at some point either in the semi-finals or the finals. He’s that guy that I’ve had in my eyes on for a while and that impressed me the most among all of them. And Johnny Case, that guy as well, he’s very focused, determined and talented. So I think those could be my two matches in the semi-finals and final.”
Freire claims that some of his opponents are “just happy” to be taking part in the Grand Prix. He doesn’t believe their hearts are in it.
“That’s not the case with me. I’m going there to win and I have the spirit of becoming the champion and some of them don’t have it and they will feel that difference once we get across the ring.”
Brandon is a long-time fan of combat sports who has covered them for various outlets since 2017.