The 34-year-old lightweight, as well as his brother Patricio Freire and both of their parents, have dealt with the disease in the past, an infection that causes inflammation of the inner ear or the nerves that connect the inner ear to the brain, affecting hearing and balance.
Freire isn’t sure what triggers the crisis in his case, but he was already dealing with it since before traveling to the United States to face former LFA titleholder Jaleel Willis in Uncasville, Conn.
“The last time I had this crisis was before the second Derek Campos fight (in 2018),” Freire said in an interview with MMA Fighting on Friday. “I remember I almost canceled that fight because it was too strong. I do physical therapy every time I have this, and the doctor did some of those exercises yesterday. I had a strong crisis this time during the camp, but only my wife knew about it.”
Freire kept experiencing light symptoms of labyrinthitis after arriving in Uncasville for fight week, but kept it a secret. The situation got worse after the weigh-ins, and again he chose not to disclose it to his team nor the athletic commission. His brother was the one that noticed something was off moments before leaving for the arena.
“He asked me what was wrong and I said I was feeling a bit dizzy, with a labyrinthitis crisis,” Freire said. “He said, ‘Brother, if you’re feeling that way tonight I’ll cancel the fight, you can’t take risks.’ I said I could fight.”
Freire and his team arrived at the arena for the event, but “Pitbull” still felt dizzy, so the doctors came in to check on him and puled the plug on the fight. Freire says he’s paid a flat fee in Bellator, and received 100 percent of the money despite not entering the cage to compete that night.
“I cried a lot after (the cancellation),” Freire said. “I don’t know if I was crying in despair or shame because that’s out of my control but I still wanted to fight. The truth is, I just can’t… No athlete should risk their health fighting like that.”
Freire, victorious in his last seven Bellator appearances, doesn’t know when he’ll be able to resume training, but plans on starting physical therapy and conditioning training next week. Freire won’t get hit in the head until he’s 100 percent cleared by the doctors, he said.
Freire said Bellator officials reached out this morning wishing him a good recovery and asking when he’ll be able to fight again, “but I don’t like to say dates because that’s out of my control.” As for an opponent, Freire thanks Willis for checking on him after the bout was cancelled, but doesn’t think re-booking this match “would make much sense because he’s moving up to welterweight.”