Dublin-based Portuguese contender Pedro Carvalho was considered one of the dark horses in the Bellator featherweight grand prix tournament. But now, with the brackets starting to play out, the SBG-trained fighter is finally getting the exposure he feels his skills deserve.
Carvalho (11-3 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) challenges reigning two-division champion Patricio Freire for the Bellator featherweight title in the main event of Bellator 241 in Uncasville, Conn. It’s the opportunity the 24-year-old has been waiting for and, one month out from the biggest fight of his career, he told MMA Junkie he’s ready to prove he belongs at the top of the division when he faces “Pitbull” (30-4 MMA, 18-4 BMMA) at the Mohegan Sun Arena on March 13.
“I can’t deny that I’m pretty happy with all of this,” he admitted. “Main event, face Patricio, fight for the belt, be at this tournament, it’s all stuff that has me pretty happy. But at the same time, my focus is still the same. It’s just a fight, like all the others. I’ll just go out there and do what I always do and try to prove that I’m one of the best in the world. Nothing changes, but of course, all of that leaves me pretty happy and satisfied because I’ve worked so hard for this moment. Now I finally got some payoff.”
Carvalho was originally set to take on former bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell in the final quarterfinal matchup in the tournament bracket. But that all changed when “Pitbull” used his “Champion’s Choice” at the selection show and opted to face Carvalho, with Caldwell left to take on the other unmatched member of the draw, Adam Borics.
Carvalho explained that Freire’s “Champion’s Choice” may have come as a surprise to those watching, but the fighters already knew it was coming. And when “Pitbull” chose him, it meant that his pre-draw gameplan had worked out to perfection.
“Before the bracket day, the day before we already knew that the champion was going to have the ‘Champion’s Choice.’ It was just a surprise for the fans; we already knew,” he explained. “My eyes are always on my future opponents, and of course the champion is always one of my main targets. So I was seeing all of his interviews, and he was saying that he wanted some time to rest after the fight (and) he wouldn’t pick December or January, so I knew he would pick March or February.”
When it was Carvalho’s time to step up and place himself in the bracket, he had two options: Borics in January or Caldwell in March, and he explained that the champion’s words were uppermost in his mind when he eventually made his selection.
“By the time I had the draw, we had Borics and Caldwell, and I didn’t want January because I wanted to enjoy Christmas, and Caldwell was a former champion. And as I remembered (Freire’s) words that he wanted to rest, I thought I would put myself in March and see what happens.”
What happened was Freire stepped up, restated his intention to get as much rest as possible before returning, then chose to face Carvalho instead of Caldwell. It meant Carvalho had the fight he wanted all along, and even though he isn’t sure of “Pitbull’s” motives for choosing him instead of Caldwell, he says he’s just happy the champ called his name.
“It could be he thinks I’m an easy fight,” Carvalho said. “It could be that, strategically, he puts the undefeated guys and Caldwell on one side (of the bracket) and all the guys he already beat on our side. Or it can be like he said, that he wants to start a feud with SBG. But I never really wasted my time thinking about that. I really don’t care. I was truly delighted to have the opportunity. I don’t care why he picked me. What I care about is I’ll be in that cage with him, then I’ll beat him and I’ll get my belt.”
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Carvalho’s confidence ahead of the matchup contrasts with the oddsmakers’ assessment of the matchup. But the challenger said his journey to the top of the Bellator featherweight division has been an object lesson in beating the odds as he has repeatedly triumphed as a betting underdog en route to a shot at the title.
“I saw from some betting website that I’m 4-to-1 underdog, but I’ve been the underdog my whole career,” he explained. “Right back from my fights in Portugal to my entire career in Bellator. My first fight in Bellator was against Daniel Crawford, who at the time was probably the biggest prospect in Europe. I was picked so I could be his party in his first fight in Bellator, but I went out there and I beat him. Then I faced (Derek) Campos and I was a huge underdog and I went out there and knocked him out. It’s not the first time I’m the underdog, but that doesn’t bother me at all.
“These people don’t see the amount of hours, the amount of work I’ve put in. I was 13 years old when I decided to not be like a normal kid so I could reach my dreams. I never did normal kid stuff during my teenage years, because I wanted to train and I wanted to reach my goals, I wanted to pursue my dream. All those hours, all that sacrifice – the betting houses, the cameras, they don’t see it. They don’t realize until these guys are locked with me in the cage. Then, everything changes.”
Freire, of course, is no easy nut to crack. The Brazilian has been one of Bellator’s longest-tenured stars, with his all-action fighting style and propensity to finish fights, often after wild battles, making him one of the most exciting stars on Bellator’s roster. In 34 professional fights, his only stoppage loss came via injury TKO against former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, but Carvalho says he has the game to change that statistic and become the first man to truly finish the Brazilian.
“They will see, on March 13, a Patricio ‘Pitbull’ like never before – a Patricio ‘Pitbull’ getting dominated, then finished,” he stated. “I’m going to be the first guy to finish him. I doubt he passes the second round. If he passes the second round, he’s going to be just a body hanging around the cage. And if he’s still alive in the third round, I’m going to have some fun and then I’m going to finish him. I’m going to knock Patricio out.”