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The Weekly Takedown: Can Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire cement his place as the 'king' of Bellator?

'I can still go out there, compete, and beat all these young guys that are supposedly the future,' Freire says.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

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Patricio "Pitbull" Freire has no plans to retire. And, he assured, when the time to end his legendary career does finally arrive, it will not be because of A.J. McKee.

The reigning Bellator featherweight world champion, Freire (33-5 MMA, 21-5 BMMA) will defend his title on Oct. 1 against Adam Borics (18-1 MMA, 9-1 BMMA) at Bellator 286. Despite the excitement surrounding Freire in a bout against the hungry, explosive Borics, there is unfinished business still left to be settled with McKee.

Last week, McKee said, "I'm going to retire him. If he beats Borics and doesn't retire, I want a fight. I want that on the record – and I'll come back to 145 pounds, because I know he doesn't want me to whoop his ass at 155."

Unsurprisingly, Freire disagreed with McKee's bold statement.

"That's bullsh-t," says Freire, speaking through a translator. "I just fought the man for five rounds, and he didn't do anything against me. He couldn't stand with me. He tried to take me down, but he did nothing. I got him in a tight guillotine, which he only barely escaped. He can keep talking, but it's clear who is the best fighter among us. Let him talk. I'll prove it again the next time we fight."

McKee defeated Freire in July 2021, ending a seven-fight win streak and capturing the featherweight title with an impressive first-round submission victory. Freire responded with a championship performance in the rematch, regaining the belt with a unanimous victory and putting a permanent scar on McKee's previously undefeated record.

McKee will also be on the Bellator 286 card, fighting in front of his hometown crowd in Long Beach, California. It won't be a rematch against Freire, instead competing in a lightweight bout against Spike Carlyle. Freire also wants the trilogy fight, seeking to prove definitively that he is the superior mixed martial artist.

"Ever since the second fight was over, I've wanted one more," Freire says. "The score between us is tied. I'm not satisfied with the win he has over me, and he's not satisfied with the win I have over him. This is a story that needs another chapter, and I want to close it for good. I really hope we get to do the trilogy fight. The story will be over after I beat him once more."

Before the fireworks of Pitbull-McKee III is a title defense at 286. Borics is coming off an outstanding victory this past March against Mads Burnell. It stands as the most impressive win of his career, though the 29-year-old will be in for an entirely new test against Freire.

"Borics showed a very complete game in that fight," Freire says. "He defends the takedown so well and he is such a diverse fighter. I'm very excited and anxious to defend my belt against this young and talented fighter."

The most decorated, accomplished fighter in Bellator history, Freire looks remarkable at the age of 35. Now in his third reign as featherweight champ, he relishes the idea of defending his title against all the emerging stars in the division.

"I can still go out there, compete, and beat all these young guys that are supposedly the future," Freire says. "I'm still the king. That is what motivates me.

"This title reign shows I'm still on a higher level. I'm not a kid anymore, so it makes everything I'm doing more impressive now than before. I just beat the guy who everyone was saying was the next big thing, and I beat him unanimously over five rounds. I'm not someone in the top 10, I'm the top of the hill."

Freire currently sits as Bellator's No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter, but his future is full of major obstacles. In addition to McKee and Borics, there is the threat of Burnell, as well as perhaps the future of the division in rising star Aaron Pico. Another run through all the top contenders will further cement Freire's legacy.

"I am driven every day," Freire says. "I'm still evolving, and I know I'm not even close to perfect. That gives me even more motivation to keep improving.

"How long can I be the best?" said Freire. "That's the challenge for me."

'Chito' Vera sees victory against Dominick Cruz as launchpad to title shot

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Marlon "Chito" Vera is taking an out-of-the-ordinary route to a bantamweight title shot by fighting down.

Vera (21-7-1 MMA, 13-6 UFC) is ranked fifth, yet took a fight against the eighth-ranked fighter in the division. That makes more sense knowing the opponent is the great Dominick Cruz (24-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC), one of the most dominant performers to ever grace the octagon.

"Rank doesn't matter," says Vera, who fights Cruz in the main event of this Saturday's UFC on ESPN 41. "Cruz is a former two-time champion, someone who's been at the top. It's a guy who doesn't lose too often.

"Look at his last couple wins," Vera says. "If I win this fight, it's huge. It would set me up for a title fight."

Initially, Vera did not expect to fight Cruz, instead believing he was on a collision course with former champ Petr Yan. But Yan had no intentions of fighting this month, preferring to return to the cage in November.

"Why wait three more months when I'm ready now?" Vera says. "Why would I wait for him until November? Let's be honest. It's not just who you beat, it's how you beat them. I'm going to show that on Saturday night."

Victorious in four of his past five fights, Vera's lone loss during that stretch took place against Jose Aldo in December 2020. Aldo grounded Vera in the third round, refusing to allow any significant offense.

"I was ready to finish him, I just couldn't get out of that position on the ground," Vera says. "Credit to him for not letting me escape. I would take that fight again if it was offered."

Despite the loss, Vera has been building momentum ever since. During that stretch, he has defeated Davey Grant, Frankie Edgar, and, most recently, Rob Font. Cruz represents an entirely different entity, a massive figure in the sport – with a victory representing a potential route leading to a title fight.

"It's no guarantee I'll get a title fight if I win," Vera says. "I can't control that. Whatever happens later will happen. There is only one thing I can control, and that's to win the fight. And I'm going to get it done on Saturday night."

The Pick 'Em Section:

UFC Fight Night main event: Dominick Cruz vs. Marlon Vera

  • Pick: Dominick Cruz

UFC Fight Night featherweight bout: David Onama vs. Nate Landwehr

  • Pick: David Onama

UFC Fight Night women's strawweight bout: Yazmin Jauregui vs. Iasmin Lucindo

  • Pick: Yazmin Jauregui

UFC Fight Night middleweight bout: Bruno Silva vs. Gerald Meerschaert

  • Pick: Bruno Silva

Bellator 284 middleweight bout: Pat Downey vs. Keyes Nelson

  • Pick: Pat Downey

Last week: 2–2

2022 record: 89–51

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.