Wilson Reis won’t say it. He’s too humble for such things. But the general consensus when Tim Elliott locked in a D’arce choke on UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson last December was that if Reis got “Mighty Mouse” in a similar predicament, a new champion would have been crowned.
But Reis won’t say that.
Instead, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will say that it was just one of those things that kept Elliott from the belt, while admitting that this Saturday, when he faces Johnson in the main event of UFC on FOX in Kansas City, he will have all his tools ready to pull off the upset.
“Not taking anything away from Elliott, he’s a great fighter who has great grappling as well, but I don’t know, maybe in the heat of the moment he didn’t adjust it well,” Reis said of Elliott’s near finish of the champ. “I felt that he had it at one point, but anything can happen in a fight.
“But for me (in this fight), I’m not just talking about the grappling, but the striking too,” he continues. “I know I have enough to finish on the feet or finish on the ground. Especially on the ground, this is something I’ve been doing for almost 20 years, so if I’m on the ground with him, he’s gonna have a hard time breathing.”
This weekend, the focus is rightfully on Johnson, who can tie Anderson Silva’s UFC record for most successful title defenses with a win over Reis, but that doesn’t mean the challenger shouldn’t be ignored as he looks to keep his opponent from a win in his 10th defense. The 32-year-old has worked too hard to get here, and what makes his story even better is that this is a fight he almost lost before it happened.
Yet after Johnson was injured and forced to pull out of the originally scheduled fight with Reis at UFC 201 last July, the Minas Gerais native wasn’t rattled. In his heart, he knew he would eventually get his shot at the champ.
“I was always confident,” Reis said. “I knew that the fight was coming to me. When he got hurt, I had to fight again, but I knew I was one fight away. But then I fought the fight and they offered another one, and for me, this was okay. It was a fight to stay busy and I’m very confident now that whoever I fight I’m going to beat. It doesn’t matter who I fight.”
It’s why he didn’t ask to wait for a fight with Johnson. The night he was supposed to fight for the belt, he submitted Hector Sandoval in less than two minutes. Seven months later, he defeated Ulka Sasaki. Two fights, two wins, two paychecks. Seems simple enough, but it was a risky proposition because a loss, even a fluke one, would have sent him to the back of the title challengers line. He didn’t care about such pressure.
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“I never put pressure on myself,” Reis said. “I’m always very confident in training and I was very confident for both fights. At the end of the day, I’m in the sport to make a living for myself and that means if I don’t get fight, I don’t get paid. I can’t just wait. Because of that, it doesn’t matter who I fight as long as I stay busy. I train at the best camp for a reason, and they get me very confident for my fights. This is the biggest fight of my life, but at the same time it’s just another fight.”
“Another fight” that can change his life and make all the sacrifices he’s made over the last decade worth it. And yeah, he didn’t know he would still be competing at this level when he made his pro MMA debut in 2007, but when he won the Elite XC bantamweight title by defeating Abel Cullum in his sixth fight, he had an idea that he might just be something special in this sport.
“I’m not the type of guy who thinks about the future too much,” Reis admits. “I live day by day. But I love what I do and I knew I was going to do it for a while. I’m happy to be in this position ten years later and have such a big fight. Within 15 months of fighting MMA, I got a big title fight for EliteXC, and after that a lot of things happened in my career that helped me grow as a fighter and as an athlete. I’m very happy and blessed, and right now I feel like I’m ready for this fight mentally and physically. It came at a great time.”
And though it took a long time to get here, through the starts, stops and delays, Wilson Reis has arrived. Now it’s time to deliver on that promise.
“In life, I’ve had to work for everything I have, and that’s just how it is,” he said. “So I’m proud of myself. Sometimes we don’t realize how far we’ve come, and I’ve come this far but I don’t want to stop here. I don’t want to be just another guy getting a huge opportunity and losing the fight. I really want to make a statement for myself, for my family, for my brand, and for my name.”