The yelling on I-95 North through Philadelphia is usually reserved for those who cut you off, don’t signal, or just generally belong anywhere but a highway. But when Wilson Reis got the call he had been waiting for earlier this summer, that he was now a UFC fighter, those were yells of joy, not anger.
“Me and my manager (Eduardo Alonso) were hoping that we were close to receiving the call, but you just never know when you’re gonna get it,” said Reis. “I was so happy and thankful for the opportunity; I was driving on 95 North in Philly when I got the call and was very happy. I started screaming and I was very emotional because is a dream come true for me.”
It was a dream that began in Reis’ native Brazil, where the Januaria product took up jiu-jitsu and then became a black belt in the gentle art. But his MMA journey would start up in the United States, where he relocated to teach and compete in jiu-jitsu. By 2007, Reis adopted Philadelphia as his second home and began fighting, building a stellar reputation and record, one that included wins over future UFC competitors Bryan Caraway and Henry Martinez.
At the time, the UFC didn’t even have a bantamweight or featherweight division though, and with Reis under contract to the Elite XC and then Bellator promotions, when the premier brand in the sport did announce the arrival of both weight classes in late-2010, the Brazilian was left on the outside looking in.
“That bothered me because the UFC was always a dream, and when they added the divisions I was under contract (elsewhere),” he said. “But I believe everything happens for a reason and that happened for me to become a better fighter and to mature so I get into the UFC at the right time and it is now.”
That’s not to say there weren’t growing pains, as consecutive 2011 losses to Patricio Freire and Eduardo Dantas put his record at 12-4 and left him in need of some wins and momentum. He got both, running off four straight victories, three by submission, that led to the UFC contacting him for a September bout against countryman Hugo “Wolverine” Viana.
“What changed was that I took the mistakes that got me the losses to the gym, I trained harder, fixed them, and prepared my body and mind for my future fights while becoming even more professional about my career,” said Reis.
There would be one more wrench thrown into the works though, as an injury scratched Viana from the bout just days before the opening bell. The dream? Delayed.
“When I first heard, I was disappointed that Hugo got hurt and the fight got cancelled, but they told me to stay ready because they were working to book me right away. And three days later I got the call to fight Ivan and I couldn't ask for a better fight and opportunity for my first fight in the UFC.”
“Ivan” is Ivan Menjivar, one of the lighter weight classes’ pioneers and a man who has faced a Who’s Who of the sport over the course of his career. Yet while Reis respects “The Pride of El Salvador,” he’s not intimidated at all by the task ahead.
“I think highly of him,” he said. “He's a very experienced fighter and fought great competition throughout his career. He’s been fighting in the UFC for a while, but I consider myself a better fighter all around. He does not present difficulties to me.”
A win over Menjivar would do wonders for the newcomer’s profile in the UFC, especially in the talent-rich bantamweight division.
“The bantamweight division in the UFC is the best, and it’s a competitive division with so many great fighters and styles, but I see myself fitting right in with the top guys there and I am ready to go toe to toe with them.”
Apparently, the 28-year-old has arrived at the perfect time.
“I know I came to the UFC at the right time, but I don't think I’m in my prime yet,” said Reis. “I will get there in the UFC, and I am very confident and ready to begin this road. This is a very special moment. I am very happy and motivated, and all I am thinking now is how hard I worked and everything I went through to get this chance, and I am not gonna waste it.”
So what should fans who haven’t seen him in action yet expect this weekend?
“A very motivated and aggressive fighter looking to finish the fight the whole time,” he said. “My style is fast-paced and I’m always looking to strike or get takedowns, and I use aggressive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and ground and pound to push a high pace from beginning to the end.”
Wilson Reis: New Blood at 135
"I know I came to the UFC at the right time, but I don't think I’m in my prime yet. I will get there in the UFC, and I am very confident and ready to begin this road." - Wilson Reis