While it was Michael Chandler who eventually unseated former title holder Eddie Alvarez, Patricky "Pitbull" Freire (10-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) knows it could have been him.
It was Freire who lost to Chandler in the finals of Bellator's season-four lightweight tournament, allowing his opponent a shot at the belt.
But now, Freire starts again chasing tournament glory, and he's got a few goals in mind: He's three wins away from a shot he desperately wanted to secure one year ago.
"Credit goes to him," MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) in his native Portuguese. "He's a guy who trains hard to be the belt holder, but I'd rematch against him any time. I learned I had to improve some areas such as wrestling and to better organize my training schedule for an important fight."
As one-half of Bellator's famed "Pitbull" brothers, Patricky was a relative unknown when he came to the promotion in 2011. Knockout wins over Toby Imada and "Razor" Rob McCullough quickly changed that.
Perhaps surprisingly, Freire's introduction to martial arts came through grappling rather than the striking he's best known for now.
"At 11 years old, I was already training jiu-jitsu," Freire said. "So my life as a child was somewhat divided between jiu-jitsu and soccer.
"The urge to learn martial arts came from both myself and my brother. There was an academy near our home. All of our friends trained, and it was a very popular thing to do. The fever pitch was already high in 1997 in the northeast of our country. Our father always dreamed of becoming a professional boxer. Unfortunately since he was from a small town in the northeast, there was no opportunity to train, but he always enjoyed the sport. He also studied personal defense in the military school, so he supported us in entering jiu-jitsu."
As it turned out, Freire's brother – six-time Bellator vet Patricio "Pitbull" Freire – wound up being his most valued training partner.
"Eventually, before and after classes, we'd start messing around at home, which would turn into a real fight, and we'd end up breaking up the furniture," Freire recalled.
Now fighting for Bellator, the two brothers have broken a lot more than furniture, putting together a combined 8-2 record with five knockout wins between them.
Patricky tonight begins his second quest for a tournament crown, facing Lloyd Woodard in the featured bout of the MTV2-broadcast Bellator 62 event in Laredo, Texas. Woodard has been vocal about his intentions to brawl, and Freire said it hasn't gone unnoticed.
"He's a hard guy, very aggressive," Freire said. "I cannot underestimate him. I imagine it will be a difficult fight.
"He said that he'll dominate the fight and then finish me. I think he believes I'm deficient in some areas. I will love it when we're in that fight."
There other talented fighters in the tournament, as well. Rick Hawn and Brent Weedman are each dropping from 170 pounds. J.J. Ambrose, Ricardo Tirloni, Thiago Michel and Rene Nazare all appear to have significant upsides, as well. But Freire's experience has boosted his confidence, and he knows he has the ability to compete with the world's best.
Tournament wins, high-profile rematches, highlight-reel knockouts – all of it could lie ahead for Freire. However, his mind isn't wandering. There's just one goal in mind.
"My plan for the future is to be the champion," Freire said. "Who doesn't want that?"