A highly anticipated bout with Tony Ferguson, a very lucrative rematch with Conor McGregor, and a superfight with Georges St-Pierre are some of the options for Khabib Nurmagomedov’s next title defense, but a top lightweight from outside the UFC says he’s the one to knock “The Eagle” off his throne.
Patricio Freire reigned as the featherweight king in Bellator before moving up to 155 pounds and stopping longtime rival Michael Chandler in just 61 seconds to become a two-division titleholder.
Currently scheduled to compete in the 145-pound grand prix over at Bellator, “Pitbull” says this fight with Nurmagomedov would be “impossible” to make right now as the UFC would not be open to co-promote with Bellator, but “future belongs to God and we don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
If they do meet one day, though, Freire is confident that he would excel against the undefeated lightweight star.
“Khabib is very tough, has phenomenal wrestling and sambo, but he has a huge deficiency on the feet so I can catch him,” Freire told MMA Fighting. “Nothing is impossible. I think he’s very tough, 28-0, but another fighter from Rio Grande do Norte, (Gleison) Tibau, put on a very tough fight with him, and I think there’s a path to beat him. I believe we can do it. If my hand lands — and it would land —, it’s over.”
Nurmagomedov defeated Tibau via decision in his second UFC bout back in 2012. Since then, the Russian won 10 straight over the likes of McGregor, Al Iaquinta, Edson Barboza, Michael Johnson and Rafael dos Anjos. However, “Pitbull” doesn’t think he has changed as a fighter compared to his early bouts.
“He has the same fight pattern since his first fight,” Freire said. “He backs his opponent against the fence, moves and shoots to the leg. No one has ever tried… Maybe someone did try to land a knee, but I don’t remember anyone getting close to landing. Iaquinta was doing well against him, moving well on the feet, but he was closing the distance the wrong way. I think I can close the distance better.”
Iaquinta had no time to prepare for that fight, and the same goes for Nurmagomedov. “The Eagle” was set to fight Tony Ferguson for the vacant lightweight title at UFC 229, but Max Holloway stepped in when Ferguson got injured. Holloway, the featherweight champion at the time, had to withdraw from the contest due to health issues related to his weight cutting, and Iaquinta stepped in about 24 hours before the fight.
“Maybe if he had more time to prepare or come up with a different gameplan he would have done something better,” Freire said of Iaquinta. “I think he was throwing a jab and a cross. If he threw two jabs and followed with two hands it would land right on Khabib’s chin. You saw him against (Dustin) Poirier now, he looks lost on the feet. He didn’t know how to move, let his hands down, ran across the cage many times. That, my friend, when you’re fighting a striker, is pretty easy.”
Poirier landed a good hand on Nurmagomedov once on the feet and scared him with a guillotine choke before losing with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round, but Freire doesn’t think too much of the American Top Team product either.
“Someone asked my thoughts about Poirier before the fight and I said I think he’s weak,” Freire said. “I don’t like him. I know he has knocked out some good guys, has done some good fights, but there are guys you look and say, ‘I don’t like him, I’d beat him in the first round.’”
Freire will return to action inside the Bellator cage on Sept. 28, defending his featherweight title in a tournament bout with Juan Archuleta at Bellator 228.