5 Things You Might Not Know About Jaleel Willis

Bellator MMA welterweight Jaleel Willis embraces the fight game and takes pride in his authentic self, in and out of the cage. With only two wins in his last five outings, he has struggled to maintain a place of relevance. However, his next assignment could spark the inner fire that reinstates his past glory. Willis will take on Cedric Doumbe in the Bellator Champions Series 2 co-main event on Friday at Accor Arena in Paris. Tension has become palpable and stems from what seems to be genuine disdain between the two participants.

Ahead of his looming showdown with Doumbe at 170 pounds, here are five things you might not know about Willis:

1. He wandered through uncertainty.

Before he considered pursuing mixed martial arts as a full-time career venture, Willis had to piece together a post-high school puzzle with no clarity on what the future held. The directionless drift led to him navigating odd jobs, but many of his avenues hit a brick wall. He started working as a county fair T-shirt seller and soon recognized that he needed to work for financial sustainability.

2. Happenstance brought him closer to the goal.

A chance encounter during his time working at the county fair bridged the gap to Willis’ desired destination. Stationed at his stall minding his business, he was approached by a local fight promoter who was hastily pursuing a fill-in after the card suffered a last-minute fallout. “The fight promoters came up to me needing somebody to fight, seeing as I was selling shirts and I was a little big or something like that,” Willis told MMA Junkie. “They needed somebody to step in against the co-main event. I stepped in on an hour’s notice. They took me to get a mouthpiece. I stepped in there against a guy who was 11-5. He left there 11-6, and, you know, the rest is history.”

3. He displays defiant optimism against all odds.

“The Realest” strung together a formidable 12-2 record that opened the doors for the biggest opportunity of his career to that point. The Legacy Fighting Alliance pitted him against Vinicius de Jesus for the vacant 170-pound strap. The pair went to war, and it was Willis who came out on top by unanimous decision with scores of 49-46, 50-45 and 48-47. Yet, one week after laying hands on the championship gold, Willis was cut from the roster. “I remember being like, ‘What the hell? How could they do me like this, this that and the other?’ They [said they] had their reasons,” Willis said. “I don’t know if it was because of 2020, budget cuts or this, that and the other. I know they basically let me go and let me know, ‘We don’t care about your family. We don’t care about none of that stuff. This is what we care about. We’re a family, and we need to keep rolling.’”

4. Some trials had a silver lining.

Two days after he was cut from the LFA, Bellator MMA made an offer to Willis. The organization was among the many promotions that joined the race to secure his services. “It’s such a blessing to be able to go like, literally, once they fired me, two days later, Bellator gave us the offer. It’s amazing. They blew me away with the deal. They 100% blew me away with the deal. The deal will be able to change my life. That’s more so what I’m here for. I enjoy competing. I enjoy doing what I do, but at the same time, I’m a prizefighter. I want to get compensated for it. Bellator, they made sure that me and my baby girl are going to be all right.”

5. He was naturally drawn to fighting.

Fighting comes naturally to Willis, owing to the primal senses that it stimulates. He believes that people are naturally drawn towards fighting and that the desire to compete runs through his veins. “People love fighting because it’s human nature,” Willis said. “You’re going to always enjoy fights. It’s where you can show how battle-tested you are. It’s me versus you, my will versus your will. How are you going to come out on top? Fighting was so important to me because it was the first legit promise I made to myself. That promise was, if everything in your life fails, at least you know you’ll be a great fighter.”

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