On the Luas to Abbey Street with Pedro Carvalho as Bellator 291 approaches 11 months ago

On the Luas to Abbey Street with Pedro Carvalho as Bellator 291 approaches

"I'm buzzin', man. Absolutely buzzin'."

It is media day ahead of Bellator 291 at Dublin's 3 Arena and Pedro Carvalho draws us all in with his sense of enthusiasm and fun, with that glint in his eye when he talks about his opponent.

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Jeremy Kennedy may have carried the nickname JBC (Junior Bacon Cheeseburger) around with him since his early days as a fighter but he is nothing to be sniffed at. Carvalho, from Guimarães in Portugal but fighting out of Ireland, will need to dig deep to grill this Canadian, who it is hard not to also like.

My working title for this piece was 'I went to the Bellator face-offs and everyone was really, really nice'. Instead, I opted for that Luas ride to Abbey Street and the confirmation that those not in that top UFC and Bellator stratosphere can pass among us unnoticed.

Such is the pulsing, bellicose nature of big fight nights in Ireland that Bellator appear to be happy out making twice yearly trips here. Schedule in a couple of decent main card fights, stack the support fights with Irish and local-based fighters, sit back and watch the crowd go wild. It has been working well so far.

Peter Queally had the main event honour, last time out - going on after Yoel 'Soldier of God' Romero, no less - but he lost to Benson Henderson. On Saturday, he goes after Ciaran Clarke and Sinead Kavanagh but before Pedro Carvalho. 'The Game' is well known among Irish fight fans and trains out of John Kavanagh's Straight Blast Gym but could do with a convincing win over No.5 ranked Bellator featherweight, Kennedy to get some notice outside these shores.

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Pedro Carvalho Pedro Carvalho celebrates after defeating Daniel Weichel in their featherweight bout at Bellator 270, in November 2021. (Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)

Pedro Carvalho worked as a porter at Tallaght Hospital

Many stories in the fight game involve sacrifice, hard graft, taking on side jobs to get by, sacrifice, moments of doubt and more sacrifice. Pedro Carvalho has been there and, to be honest, he's not exactly on the rosey side of it yet.

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"When I got to Ireland I didn't have anyone," he recalled, back in 2020,

"I knew nobody and I got my job at Tallaght Hospital. I would train in the mornings, then clean toilets in the afternoon and go back in the evening to complete my day of training... I would have dinner at half past midnight."

That same year, after coming in on a six-fight winning streak, Carvalho lost to Patricío 'Pitbull' Freire in the first round and has been trying to find that momentum ever since. He lost two of his next three bouts but pulled it out of the fire with a unanimous win over Mads Burnell at Bellator 285.

That victory, and the high ranking of Jeremy 'JBC' Kennedy mean he gets to be the last 'hometown' fighter out to tussle at the 3 Arena. Whoever wins is in line for a title crack at that man again, Patricío Pitbull.

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Asked what his goal is, this weekend, the 27-year-old, practically dancing on his feet, states it full and clear - "Winning. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

"Just go out there, show that I’m the real number one and show that I’m going to be the champion and make a statement with no doubts. This is the number one contender fight. I know after Kennedy I’ll be fighting for the belt.

"The main thing I see in him is that he’s not flashy. He’s a consistent fighter. You never see him fighting bad, he always fights consistent. His style of fighting is pretty much the same that happened in my last fight against Mads Burnell. He likes to put you against the fence and eventually try to get a takedown and be happy to stay on top and work the ground and pound.

"I’ve been there so many times, so I think stylistically it’s a great match-up for me and an opportunity for me to go out there and leave no doubt and make a statement."

Carvalho speaks with nothing but respect about his opponent. It is a common thread throughout the afternoon. The closest we come to smack-talk or cutting promos is one fighter saying he is 'going to dust' his opponent while Wexford's Brian Moore tees up his fight against Luca Iovine by proclaiming, "The goal is to destroy this guy, on Saturday night."

Kennedy (18-3) and Carvalho (13-6), who will be taking lumps off each other in just over 48 hours, actually bump into each other as one leaves the interview room and the other enters. They shake hands and share a couple of friendly words.

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Pedro Carvalho Pedro Carvalho and Jeremy Kennedy face off at Bellator 291. (Credit: Lucas Noonan/Bellator MMA)

'It doesn’t matter once we’re in the cage'

On Saturday, Kennedy will be the subject of the cat-calls and ire from the home support, but he is an easy guy to be drawn to. He is staying out in Rathmines, he says, and reckons it is a fancy enough spot. He has already got a favourite supermarket picked out, there, but wants nothing better than to nip into a pub to try out the local sips. After Saturday might, he has promised himself to make good and hit up a couple.

"I’m excited, I’m finally here," he hums. "I've been here for a week and I’m focused and can’t wait for the fight. The talking is done, the work’s done, it’s a matter of getting in there now. I was hunting for that fight because he wanted nothing to do with it and then he had nowhere to run. If he wanted a path to the title, he had to go through me and I had to go through him, so it set itself up.

"I’m definitely expecting the energy, I’ve watched these events from home and I’m like, ‘I can’t wait to be there’. The boos and cheers, it could be for me, it could be for him, but it doesn’t matter once we’re in the cage, it’s just all noise. I’ve fought around the world, so it’s just another experience and energy to take in, but I’ve prepared mentally.

"The grappling difference is going to be huge regardless with anybody I fight, I don’t care who you are. For Pedro I think it’s a big gap for him to fill. I’m better than all these guys at what I do, so that’s what they have to worry about. This fight, I’m looking to make a statement, and you’re going to see other tools."

Carvalho and Kennedy are the second and third fighters in but there are still seven more to go. As we wait for Peter Queally to make his entrance, I look around for the teas, coffees and sandwiches [I am far too used to the spreads laid on for the rugby matches] but am told there has been water provided.

Almost two hours later and the interviews, face-offs and photos are taken. I leave the Gibson Hotel, passing Bellator president Scott Coker and darts supremo Michael van Gerwen in the café/bar as I go.

There is a Centra next door so I grab a coffee and flaky croissant for the Luas ride back into town. Just before the doors close, five lads nip on and are in top form, laughing, shoving and joking. There, among them, is Pedro Carvalho. From flexing, posing and setting his agenda, minutes ago, he is transformed again. Just another lad on his way into town with his mates.

They ride the Luas the five stops up to Abbey Street and embark en-masse before being swallowed up by the crowds merging into O'Connell Street.

One more fight, one more win, from a shot at the title.

"I don't care about names. I just care about the belt. I'll claim what is mine."

That is what Saturday, and beyond, could hold. For a few hours on Thursday, though, he is the tour guide.

*Tune in to Virgin Media Sport to see Pedro Carvalho face Jeremy Kennedy, from 9pm (main card) on Saturday, February 25th. 

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