Shortly after Leandro Higo clinched Legacy Fighting Alliance’s inaugural bantamweight crown with a victory over ex-LFC champ Steven Peterson on Jan. 13, he made his plea to receive a call up to the next level.
Only, at the time, Higo was calling for a shot in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, not Bellator MMA. Initially, the UFC was the main object of Higo’s focus, but things changed after meeting with Bellator officials.
“UFC, I’ve been on their radar for a long time. I heard from people from the UFC that I’ll be one of the next Brazilians to get signed. Bellator at the time they didn’t put a lot of investment in the bantamweight division. They started to do it now,” Higo told Sherdog.com. “They signed me, they signed Michael McDonald and I already know they’re bringing some other names. They have big plans for the weight class.
“The division didn’t have much focus back then. But now they do and then they came to talk to us, they made an offer I couldn’t refuse…Bellator to me is as big as any promotion in the world. It was very happy news to know they were interested,” he continued. “When they offered me it was something I couldn’t refuse because I’ve been at this for a long time, and I had yet to fight for a major promotion. Everything aligned. They told me they had big plans. You see I’m fighting for the title in my first fight. I’m here to be the champion. You will see that happen. I’m going to be part of their plans. It’s going to start when I get the belt.”
Indeed, Higo will be fighting for 135-pound gold in his promotional debut when he faces reigning champ Eduardo Dantas in the Bellator 177 headliner on Friday in Budapest. Higo replaced Darrion Caldwell, who withdrew from the contest due to an undisclosed injury. The evening’s main card will be televised on Spike via tape delay at 9 p.m. ET/ 8 p.m. CT.
It will be the third consecutive championship contest for the 28-year-old Brazilian. Before he defeated Peterson at LFA 1, he captured the Resurrection Fighting Alliance 135-pound belt with a first-round submission of Joey Miolla in April 2016. While Higo wasn’t expecting such on opportunity in his Bellator debut, he was prepared.
“I think I’m the first fighter to debut to a title shot not coming from a major organization. It didn’t really catch me by surprise I was already training to fight on the same day as Patricio [Freire at Bellator 178], possibly [against] Joe Warren,” Higo said. “So I just had to adjust for one week of camp. I know Bellator gives me this opponent because they believe in me.”
The previous championship experience should be beneficial against Dantas, the Nova Uniao product who is a two-time titlist at 135 pounds.
“Because I’ve been in title fights before, I know what it is to train for five rounds,” he said. “I know what it is to fight for five rounds and to have to overcome tough spots. Nothing is going to surprise me. My mind will be good because I’ve got a lot of experience along the way. Even before, I was already training for five rounds, because I knew sometime I would be fighting for a title.”
While Higo did mention the former UFC title challenger McDonald as an interesting addition to the Bellator roster, he isn’t sure what the future holds beyond Dantas.
“I don’t pick opponents. I take challenges. Whoever is the biggest challenge for me that Bellator has available, that’s what I’ll be looking for,” Higo said. “If it’s him, that’s fine. If it isn’t, then I’ll be going after someone else.”