Wilamy “Chiquerim” Freire, the Brazilian newcomer who faces Waylon Lowe in a lightweight bout on January 22nd’s Fight for the Troops 2 card in Texas, is a man used to being 'caged' since the first months of his life.
No, he wasn't treated like a dog in a kennel. Instead, Freire, a 23-year old born in Fortaleza, had busy parents, so he was taken care of by his grandparents, who hired a babysitter. The crying of the infant forced the babysitter to keep him in a crib the majority of the time. The crib, when added to the insertion of Northeast Brazilian slang, produced the name “Chiquerim”, a nickname which later became synonymous with the former 154-pound Shooto champion.
"I never looked at it that way," said Freire of his early days inside the 'cage'. “It’s funny to explain the meaning of my nickname because people think it's related to that Snoopy cartoon, where there's a character named Pig Pen (Chiquerinho, without the Northeast slang), who doesn't take a shower. They did think I was a bit dirty too (laughs)."
I confess that I imagined the meaning of his nickname was related to the Peanuts character, a mistake everybody who meets Freire for the first time makes. Anyway, the first time I contacted him for an interview, there wasn't any time for such light-hearted misconceptions, as Freire was sidelined from his Octagon debut, scheduled for last August against fellow Brazilian Thiago Tavares. On that occasion, a knee injury removed any smile from his face and put him in a personal limbo that young people believe will last forever. For him, it was mainly because after vacating the Shooto title, he had a dream accomplished by fighting for UFC, only to see it delayed.
"My friends and a few guys I met for the first time were important when it came to increasing my positive thinking," Freire said. "At the moment they (doctors and coaches) told me 'you can't fight in August', it demolished my world. Every time I talked about not fighting in UFC, a tear popped - that was a tough moment in my life."
Meeting him now, it's a completely different situation from what it was five months ago. The injury is healed and the only thing Freire is thinking about is the moment he looks across the Octagon and sees Lowe standing in front of him.
"When the UFC confirmed my bout against Lowe, time stopped. I didn't get to think about anything but the fight. It's a feeling like January 23 would arrive, but January 22 never, you know what I mean?" he asked. "We want that everything happens soon, but all is as God wants it, not like we want. The fight is finally approaching, and I'll have success in my debut."
Is it just the anxiety of a newcomer? You can say that looking at his age and speech, but Freire has much more experience on his back than many lightweights who debut in the UFC. Taking a trip to Europe in 2006, he competed in Muay Thai, submission and MMA events throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Add in his fights in Japan and Brazil, and it’s clear that he’s not your average debutant.
"I was pursuing a dream," he says of his time in Europe. "Sometimes I was invited to fight in two different places with a gap of one week, and I took it. Living like a professional fighter is my wish and I don't regret the time in Europe, far from my family and friends."
With the defeat of Charles Oliveira against Jim Miller at UFC 124, Freire (who is sporting an 11 fight winning streak) is the new Brazilian hope to make a statement in the 155-pound division. That is a responsibility many don't want to take, especially when you still haven’t fought for the organization, but in the case of the Nova Uniao lightweight, it’s welcome.
"Once I took a picture with Jose Aldo's belt and people joked about me checking the weight of it to get accustomed to when I get the title (laughs). Okay, that was just a joke, but if people believe in me like I do, I see no problem with realizing a wonderful future for me in UFC." he said. "Every championship I fought for, I won the title. Of course, the UFC is where the sharks are, but if I stay grounded and focused, I can jump high without feeling any pressure to do that."
However, every success story has to begin somewhere, and while Freire is committed to climbing up the ladder, he first has a stiff challenge in Lowe, a former Division II National Wrestling Champion. Complicating things a bit more for the Brazilian is the fact that he usually studies his opponent, but this time he was unable to watch much of his first UFC foe. Regardless, Freire has confidence in his game.
"I believe in myself and I know it will work," he says. "I fought countless times against guys I didn't have info on, in their homelands and with the pressure of beating the poster boy. So I’ll fight with my heart. I don't think he has more than I do, and I never think about the possibility of losing; with faith in God I'll get there."
"Chiquerim" is Brazil's Lightweight Hope
"When the UFC confirmed my bout against Lowe, time stopped. I didn't get to think about anything but the fight."