Daniel Weichel heads into Bellator 203 this Saturday in the pursuit of championship vindication, as he challenges Bellator MMA featherweight titleholder Patricio Freire for the second time. Having been knocked out by Freire in June 2015, Weichel claims to be a more focused and well-rounded fighter ahead of their rematch.
When he looks back on what cost him, the former M-1 Global champion’s thoughts are clear.
“I think it was just my [mind telling me], ‘I want to finish this fight. I want to get this belt,” Weichel said, “and I got a little bit too pumped up.”
Late in the first round, Weichel had “Pitbull” on the brink of defeat. “I felt him want to close the distance and move forward, so I instantly did a side backstep and countered with the right hand,” he said. The right hand connected and left Freire badly stunned. It should have been a prelude to victory, but unfortunately for Weichel, the bell sounded and essentially saved the defending champion. “My corner told me do exactly what you did in the first round,” he said. “Control the distance, keep moving.”
However, with blood in the water at the start of the second round, Weichel’s emotions got the best of him. He ignored his corner’s orders and quickly went for the kill. It was a disastrous miscalculation. Freire recovered between rounds, and when the opportunity arose, he landed a massive left hook that knocked out the challenger and put his title hopes on hold.
“I paid for [the mistake], and the rest is history,” Weichel said. “I know exactly where my mistake was. I’m 100-percent sure that it won’t happen again.”
Weichel eyes their rematch in Rome with confidence, not because he thinks he can correct the mental lapse that undermined his efforts but because he believes he is a better fighter than he was the first time around.
“I think I definitely [became] more complete [since the first fight],” he said, “and I put things together better, like from striking to wrestling [and] from jiu-jitsu to wrestling. I think this is the key to become a better mixed martial artist, to put each art of the game perfectly together for each style that you have.”
With that said, Weichel expects to see a new and improved Freire, as well.
“Absolutely, I definitely think we both have changed,” he said. “He’s changed a lot of his footwork and his distance. He tries to stay more on the outside, explodes to the inside and closes distance better. I expect the best Patricio ‘Pitbull,’ and I’ve trained for that.”
Weichel had originally planned for a second battle with “Pitbull” in November. However, a knee injury forced the Brazilian to withdraw mere days before the event. Because of the fight postponement, Weichel only fought once in 2017, and he admits the inactivity has been a source of frustration.
“I like to stay [much busier],” he said. “I’d like to fight three, four, [and] if I’m healthy, I’d like to fight five times a year. One fight a year is not enough.”
Fortunately for Weichel, the rematch was rescheduled for Rome -- about a two-hour trip from his home in Germany. Long-distance travel has become the norm during his time with Bellator. With many family and friends expected to attend Bellator 203, he feels an added boost of excitement from getting to fight so close to his roots.
“It’s great to fight back in Europe again,” Weichel said, “and I enjoy the short trip.”
MMA is not a mainstream sport in Germany. Weichel’s love for it was born out of training Brazilian jiu-jitsu at a young age and viewing old video tapes of legends like Renzo Gracie and Rickson Gracie. With a win over Freire, he hopes he can achieve a lifelong goal and provide greater awareness of the sport in his home country.
“MMA is still very small in Germany,” Weichel said, “[and] I would love to be an ambassador for MMA -- and Bellator -- here as a champion. [Achieving the goal] really means a lot to me.”
At 33 years of age and with 48 professional mixed martial arts bouts under his belt, Weichel knows he cannot fight forever. However, he feels like he still has a lot left in the tank.
“If my body one days says you can’t do it anymore or if I feel like I don’t want to do it anymore, then I will stop,” Weichel said. “Right now, I don’t feel the disadvantage of my age. I actually feel that I train smarter [and] healthier, and I really feel [I’m] in the best shape of my life.”