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Patricio Freire explains why he chose Carvalho, not Caldwell, for March title fight

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Pedro Carvalho felt like “a kid on Christmas” when Bellator featherweight champ Patricio Pitbull chose him for his next title defense.

Thanks to the “champion’s choice” twist, Patricio Freire had a big decision to make during the selection process for the Bellator featherweight grand prix quarterfinals bracket: he could fight anyone he wanted.

The 145-pound champion, who on Saturday retained his title with a decision win over Juan Archuleta in the Bellator 228 co-main event, made it known ahead of time that he wanted to fight at the latest date.

That would be March 2020, which by the time it was Freire’s turn to pick, was already taken by Darrion Caldwell and Pedro Carvalho. But due to his status as champion, Freire, who had the No. 8 pick in the lottery, was able to override any earlier selection and force another fighter to take the last unfilled spot: in this case, a January 2020 fight with undefeated Adam Borics.

Instead of choosing to fight Caldwell, who has called out Freire in the past, “Pitbull” went with Carvalho, a 24-year-old Portuguese prospect who trains at SBG Ireland.

“I feel like a kid on Christmas,” Carvalho said at the Bellator 228 post-fight press conference in Inglewood, California. “I know a date when I’m going to become world champion, so I’m pretty happy.”

Carvalho said he strategically chose to fight in March, because he had heard that’s when Freire wanted to return to action. But whether or not it would work, Carvalho wasn’t sure.

“I was like, ‘Who knows if he’ll pick me?’” Carvalho said. “I don’t know why he picked me. Maybe he underestimates me. That was pretty much the story of my life. Since the very beginning of my career, everyone looked down on me. Everyone said I wouldn’t do it. Look where I am right now — 24 years of age, I will become world champion, mark my words.”

A fight between Freire and Carvalho wasn’t on many people’s radars before Saturday, but according to the Brazilian titleholder, there is solid reasoning behind his decision to give the prospect a shot at his championship.

“Caldwell, he’s coming from two losses (before his Bellator 228 win). I don’t like to fight a guy like that,” Freire said.

Freire also said the fight could be the beginning of an actual rivalry between the Pitbull Brothers team and SBG Ireland. Freire has called for a Bellator card full of Pitbull Brothers vs. SBG Ireland matchups numerous times.