Drowned out by the noise of New Zealand’s historic day at UFC 243 in Melbourne a month ago was yet another quick night at the office for Kiwi lightweight prodigy Jay-Jay Wilson at Bellator San Diego.
The 22-year-old barely broke a sweat in dispatching Jorge Juarez with a rear-naked choke – a move that’s fast nearing signature status – to remain undefeated at 4-0 in North America’s second-largest fight promotion.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist has now recorded three straight wins with three straight submissions, all in less than two minutes. His finish of Juarez was the longest he’s spent in a Bellator cage yet – a total of 1m 43s.
After the win, Wilson returned backstage to find a text message from chief executive Scott Coker, who was so impressed that he instantly had an exclusive, five-fight contract tabled, that Wilson was only too happy to accept.
The life of an aspiring fighter can be notoriously fickle and the chance to lock down long-term financial stability for Wilson is what he describes as a “life-changing” stepping stone.
“I went all the way to 22 years old without having a ‘real’ job,” Wilson told Newshub. “So I got used to not having security.
“Knowing that I have five fights lined up and regular cheques is amazing. Now I can actually start to put my life together and can make sure that all the years I sacrificed will be worth it.
“This is life-changing.”
And he’s already locked in his next opponent – veteran Mario Navarro, who he’ll take on at Bellator LA on January 25. The event will be headlined by women’s great Cris Cyborg, who’ll make her highly anticipated promotional debut against Julia Budd.
Since his relocation to the US, Wilson has been operating on a ‘per-fight’ basis, bouncing between Bellator, regional promotions and competing at Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitions – the original motivation for his move stateside.
Training under decorated black belt Johnny Faria at Alliance MMA, Wilson has taken his jiu-jitsu to new heights, stamping his mark on arguably the strongest regional scene on the planet.
A slew of top-10 finishes and a statement win over former world champion Jonnatas Gracie with a knee bar in the dying seconds at the Pan-American Championships have announced Wilson as a talent on the rise.
“That guy is one of the most legit grapplers in the world… so that was a huge achievement. I upset the whole bracket and shook up the BJJ world a little bit.