COVID19 pandemic leads to Bellator tentpole event taking place behind closed doors
The confidence Pedro Carvalho exudes heading into this championship contest with Patricio Pitbull, the featherweight champion, beggars belief. The Portuguese fighter’s coach, John Kavanagh, says it mirrors that of Conor McGregor.
Given Pitbull’s vast gulf in experience to the challenger, the champion remains a huge favourite. Huge. Pitbull has also become more composed, more patient, over the last two years. And yet the bearing and belief of Carvalho makes it a fascinating duel nonetheless.
It will play out, of course, in the silence of a few voices from each corner, the commentary team, the referee’s voice and a few television presenters.The arena will be crowd-less due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s just another fight,” Carvalho told The Daily Telegraph last night. “Of course, I’m about to make history. It is a big thing for me as the first Portuguese man and first SBG man to win a Bellator belt. But at the same time, it’s just another fight. I’ll go out and do what I do best which is to beat people, finish people and win. I’m not trying to bring in any different emotions in this fight. I just want to prove to the whole world that I am the best. It just comes to be this is one of the best opportunities I’ve had in my career to prove I’m the best in the world. I’m fighting one of the best featherweights of all time and can become world champion. The rest is the same for me, just another day in the office.”
But the MMA world believes it is a win-win for the Portuguese fighter based at Kavanagh’s Straight Blast Gym. “Listen, I only have one thing in mind: win. That’s the only outcome that I accept. I’m going for that. Losing will not be on my mind. Going out there to get a split decision loss is not an option. It’s win, that’s it. It’s the only thing in my mind. It never goes through my mind that I can lose this fight. I am 100 per cent going to win this fight. I understand people overlook me and I’m a big time underdog. There are only stats. Inside the cage I am the greatest and will prove that. Beat Patricio, one of the best of all time, dominate him and finish him for the first time in his career. That’s the first step of the process of proving I am the best. Win, that’s the only thing we are looking for, we don’t accept anything else.”
There is deep motivation for his young family. “These other guys think they want something. They truly don’t know what it means to want something. They only realise when it’s too late and they’re locked inside the cage with me. Only then do they realise what it is to want something. When they look in my eyes and see I’m not f—— around. I’m not playing cool to the camera, I’m dead serious. Patricio will realise that as all the others before.”
Carvalho explained his mission, the journey he found himself on: “At the beginning of this journey I was love. I fell in love with this sport. I wanted to do it. I wanted to be at the place that I am right now. That was my first plan. Train and try to be the best I could. Week after week I wanted more and more and more and more. The only thing that never changed was the belief in myself. What I say now, I said 12 years ago. The reaction was the same during all these 12 years. Laughs, doubts. How could I be the one to be the best? I heard all this for all these years. I never for one moment listened. I kept driving and believing in my work. Day after day, doubt after doubt, they just made me stronger. I wanted to shut everyone’s mouths and here we are. I’m about to be world champion. It was love at the beginning. Everything with time, I started to grow as a fighter and a person. Everything is a process. I’ve made mistakes but I know I am in the right place to beat Patricio in a dominant fashion.”
Carvalho also had a training camp overlapping with SBG team-mate Conor McGregor. “We had some time together. He was around the gym training, so of course we trained together. SBG is a big family. We see each other’s as brothers and sisters. On the mat, we are training for ourselves but getting the best out of each other. We are improving as a family. We stick with each other and we help each other. SBG is one big family.”
The Pitbull versus Carvalho fight is on one half of the Featherweight Grand Prix draw, with Daniel Weichel and Emmanuel Sanchez also fighting for a place in the semi-final. The two winners will meet, and face the victory of AJ McKee and Darrion Caldwell in an autumn finale.
Weichel, who defeated Sanchez on points the last time they met, told The Telegraph: “I’m on a platform where I can compete against the best featherweights on the planet. My journey with Bellator, I’ve had two title fights but I still feel there’s a way to go. I can cement my legacy in this tournament.”
And the rematch with Sanchez ? “I think it’s an advantage to know the movement of the opponent in the cage, but when I started my camp for this fight like he was a completely new opponent. I look at the changes he’s made and the way he’s fought in his last couple of fights. I don’t look too much at the first fight we had. I want to concentrate most on my own skills.”
A second fight with Sanchez, and a second title fight with Pitbull, having lost a split decision in 2018 for the belt, in Rome, sits perfectly with there German fighter. “It couldn’t be written any better. We had two good fights and I know I can beat Pitbull when I’m on point. I know the mistakes I made in the first two fights and I know I won’t make them ever again. Fighting Patricio in a historical tournament like this, this would be how I complete my legacy.”
Sanchez, meanwhile, is also looking for a rematch with Pitbull, without overlooking Weichel. “I didn’t plan being on the same side as the champion. I knew that was going to be out of my control. I knew I wanted to avenge that lose and get that win over him. I’m excited and you can’t write a better story. I’m in a position to avenge my loss to Daniel and then to Patricio. Whoever is in the final, take them out and go 3-0 this year and become the Grand Prix winner.”
Elsewhere, British MMA standout Paul Daley takes on Sabah Homasi, looking for a trademark knockout victory, still hungry to claim the Bellator welterweight title. Mapping out 2020, Daley told Telegraph Sport: “Homasi’s definitely not part of the plan. I said yesterday, Douglas Lima (the champion) is probably going to middleweight. For me a logical fight is me against the Russian kid Amasov, who is undefeated, 23-0, or Lorenz Larkin. That’s an interesting match-up. There’s no real clear path. I am always there. Homasi is not a challenge for me. He’ll be taken care of and then I’ll decide what’s next.” Intriguingly, Daley chose to omit British rival Michael Venom Page.