13 May - 
What will it take for Bellator dual champ Patricio Freire to convince us he's actually pretty good?

One right hand behind the ear. A few short wraparound lefts. Then a final right to the back of the head as the referee was intervening, just for good measure.

The whole thing took just 61 seconds, and when it was over Patricio Freire stood before us as a Bellator double champ. The featherweight and lightweight titles both now belong to Pitbull the Younger, which pretty much makes the Bellator world his oyster.

What will he do next? Well, unbeaten featherweight A.J. McKee keeps talking like he wants a piece, so there’s that. There’s also bound to be some pressure for a rematch with Michael Chandler, considering the questionable stoppage in this fight. Since MMA is inherently a copycat business, he’s also going to go ahead and float the idea of a fight with boxing champ Canelo Alvarez, because that’s just what champ-champs do, right?

The hard part for Freire is this: Even with two Bellator belts hanging off his shoulders, how does he convince the MMA public that he’s truly, genuinely very, very good at this? How does he make the case that, at either 145 or 155 pounds, he might even be one of the best? Is such a thing even possible from his current station, especially if it hasn’t already happened?

Freire isn’t the first fighter to face this dilemma. This goes back decades, to the days of PRIDE and Strikeforce and maybe even DREAM. Every so often, some fighter outside the UFC starts racking up the wins, and we’re forced to confront the question all over again. How much can you really prove if you don’t fight on the sport’s biggest, or at least most well-known, stage?

Consider Freire’s resume. He’s 29-4 overall, and he subsequently avenged two of those defeats (decision losses to Pat Curran and Daniel Straus, the latter of whom Freire has submitted twice). The first of those losses was a split-decision to Joe Warren, back when Warren was the hot new thing on the scene.

His most recent loss was an injury TKO against former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson, after which he won four straight leading up to this first-round stoppage of Chandler.

After all that, where does he sit in the big MMA picture? We here at MMA Junkie have him ranked No. 10 at featherweight, though that listing will be updated Tuesday. ESPN’s rankings have him at No. 8. Sherdog doesn’t even have him anywhere on the board.

And yeah, we all know these rankings are subjective and largely theoretical, more a platform for arguments than a meaningful final assessment. But still, it tells you something about how the MMA world views most fighters outside the UFC, doesn’t it?

There’s a very good chance that none of this ever has or ever will matter to Freire. He’s got two belts and a wealth of options. What does he care about which number we put next to his name?

But you look around at who he’s already beaten and who he might reasonably get a chance to beat in the near future (and no, Alvarez is not on the more realistic version of that list) and it sure seems like he’s stuck.

A win over a top up-and-comer like McKee would be nice. So would another victory over Chandler. Maybe Bellator will continue signing legit free agents who still have some good years left, and Freire could make his case against them.

Over time, who knows, he might even crack the top five. He can help himself, but only so much. If he’s ever going to get the credit he’s due, eventually he might need us to meet him somewhere in the middle.

For complete coverage of Bellator 221, check out the MMA Events section of the site.