Jaleel Willis is one of over a dozen recent Bellator signings that have industry watchers excited about the promotion’s future. The LFA welterweight champion makes his debut this Thursday night at Bellator 249, and he’s being thrown right into the fire.
Welcoming Willis (13-2) to the promotion will be Patricky Pitbull. That’s about as tough of a debut as you can get, especially dropping down a weight class.
The Memphis, Tennessee native admits he was more than a little surprised to get that match-up out of the gate.
“When I got the fight, it blew me away, and I knew they see something, the same thing that my coaches see, the same thing that I see,” Willis said during this week’s Bellator 249 media day. “I’m happy that it’s a situation where they trust me, and trust that I’m capable to come out and get the job done.”
“It’s a great feeling to see that your hard work is being noticed,” Willis went on to add.
Giving a frank and honest take on what the first round of his fight with Pitbull might look like, Willis admitted that “I think round one will look like a young dude out there with a veteran.”
Willis imagines he might be a little shaky to start, as he was in his last outing, his title fight against Vinicius de Jesus. “On Bambi legs,” as he put it. He doesn’t expect that to last long, however. “One thing that’s great about me is the way I adapt, with each second to the fight. So the longer I’m in there, the worse it is [for an opponent]. I see that first round being a situation where it’s kind of like a chess match, but if I see that I have my opening, I’m definitely going to take it. If I see him get too excited, I’m going to make sure I capitalize as well.”
This is not Willis’ first stop in Bellator — he made a single appearance four years ago. He returns as a champion, but told Cageside Press ahead of the fight that “the only different feeling is like an “I told you so” moment to myself.”
“When I was on the undercard and I was meeting Kendall Grove and Bobby Lashley and all them folks, I was seeing how they were up there and how they were professionals. And when I was there, I kind of wanted to work off of it,” Willis explained. “Every time I had seen Bellator come down to the South before, I was always kind of like a fly on the wall for behind the scenes stuff. Like Tito [Ortiz] came through the gym, stuff like that, got his workout in. Michael Chandler came through, King Mo. So I was always like a fly on the wall, just kind of knew that I was gonna be here. I guess the difference is, everybody was saying UFC, but me, it was more so “I told you so” — I knew it was going to be Bellator.”
Four years later, it is indeed Bellator. While Willis missed weight Wednesday, the bout moves forward as scheduled.
Watch the full Bellator 249 virtual media day scrum with Jaleel Willis above.