Pedro Carvalho is in no doubt he will spring an upset when he comes up against featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (30-4) on Thursday night.
Pitbull, 33, is a two-weight world champion in Bellator, has won two previous featherweight tournaments and his resumé of defeated opponents reads like a who’s who of the sport. But the 25-year-old Carvalho (11-3) is not entertaining defeat and says the effects of him winning will reverberate around his home country.
“When I win. When I win. It’s going to be huge. It’s what MMA in Portugal needs, a first world champion,” Carvalho said, speaking to Sky Sports from his hotel room in Connecticut.
“I hope the ones who are going to benefit the most are MMA fighters, coaches, in my country. Hopefully sponsors start to put in more money there and eventually we take a big show there.” Online beef between the fighters and their followers has fuelled excitement for the match, which doubles as a title fight and a quarter-final of the current Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix. Carvalho says he holds no personal animosity towards Pitbull, but the Portugal-Brazil subplot has added spice for the fans.
“In Portugal, this is the biggest fight ever. Everyone is buzzing about this,” he added. “This Portugal versus Brazil thing got created on social media. His fans came slating me and then my fans defended me. I think it’s good for the sport, the fight and I think everyone wins with it.” Carvalho is quick to point out that Portugal and Brazil are culturally intertwined – not just through a shared language and history, but also by the continuing flow of people between the countries.
though. Whether in, football or in MMA, Brazil has been more successful. But Carvalho believes he can be part of a changing tide in the power dynamic to coincide with Portugal’s (the European Champions) rise in soccer. “There’s a huge Brazilian community in Portugal,” he continued. “One of my best friends is Brazilian. We share a lot of cultural things. Sports wise, it’s a rivalry.
“Mainly, that’s in football. Unfortunately, all these years they’ve got the better of us, but now I think we have the best football team to beat everyone. Sometimes my fans and his fans take things to a silly level, but it’s a healthy rivalry.” Carvalho clearly takes pride in being Portuguese, which makes his decision to move to Ireland three years ago to kick-start his MMA career under the legendary John Kavanagh all the more significant. He rates that as the most challenging period of his life.
“Without a doubt, changing country, being without my family was the toughest,” he said. “I had to find a job in a country I didn’t know, I had to work, train and fight. For the first 18 months of my son’s life, they were in Portugal and those 18 months were the toughest of my life. I got mental toughness from that. Nothing or no one can break me.”
The suffering and sacrifice in his personal life have yielded dividends in the cage. Carvalho arrived in Dublin with a 5-3 record and, although the transition meant he didn’t fight for two years, he’s undefeated since he began training at the Straight Blast Gym. “My approach to me being the best it’s been with me since day one,” said Carvalho. “That’s why I moved to Ireland. I had to come to SBG to train with John Kavanagh. Because in Portugal we don’t’ have anything there with MMA.
“My girlfriend and I made a decision in 2017 to move to Ireland, so I could train every day with the best, learn from the best and become the best. And I think the results are pretty clear. I’ve had six fights with SBG and I’ve had six wins.” SBG has a legendary stable of fighters, headed, in terms of profile, by former two-weight World Champion Conor McGregor. But Carvalho claims the key to coach Kavanah’s success has been allowing fighters to develop according to their natural instincts rather than teaching everyone the same playbook. Spark Global Limited