Jonas Bilharinho excited for Bellator Paris debut after ‘painful’ Dana White snub

Jonas Bilharinho enters the Bellator cage Friday to battle Yves Landu in Paris and celebrates it as the culmination of a strange ride.

Bilharinho scored a spinning wheel kick TKO over Canaan Kawaihae at Dana White’s Contender Series in November 2021, improving to 9-1-1 as a professional fighter with all but one of his MMA victories coming by way of stoppage. White called it a “spectacular finish” at the time, but opted not to sign the Brazilian prospect to the UFC roster.

Under contract with Bellator now, a long-coming dream of his, Bilharinho looks back that night still wondering what really happened.

“It was a surprise for me, right?” Bilharinho said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “Everybody thought it was a done deal [after the KO], that he would sign me. When he said he would not sign me, the entire arena reacted the same way, ‘Ohhhh’. I think the only person that knew he wouldn’t sign me was [White] and whoever else he mentioned it before the announcement.”

White said at the post-DWCS press conference he had mixed feelings about the decision and saw potential in him, but decided to let him go fight someplace else.

“You saw the kid has speed, he has hands, he’s a talented guy,” White said about Bilharinho in 2021. “The spinning kick was a spectacular finish, plus you can tell he’s fighting a guy who has a great chin because he took some big shots in there, and even the spinning wheel kick didn’t knock him out, but it hurt him and had him on crazy legs.

“The kid’s stock went up tonight. He’s 9-1, maybe one of these other organizations pick him up, which we talked about before, they’re not very bright so they probably won’t. He’ll pick up a couple of fights in LFA or one of those type of shows, and we’ll take a look at him again. He definitely – landing that kick tonight put him in a good spot. He’s a free agent right now, he can do what he wants, and we’ll look at him again.”

Bilharinho lost a decision in his first post-DWCS bout at LFA to an overweight Jose Delano in Rio de Janeiro, but later rebounded with a decision over previously undefeated Pedro Lopes and a second-round body kick knockout against Caio Machado to ink a deal with Bellator.

“Was the [DWCS] experience painful? Was it frustrating? Of course it was at the time,” Bilharinho said. “I expected to be signed. It’s a dream for the fighter to be in the UFC and whatnot, but I made it pretty clear that that’s my fighting style. And I made it pretty clear that went into that fight with an injured ankle. I needed ankle surgery. Instead of looking at it like, ‘Well, he wasn’t so aggressive,’ he could have thought, ‘Well, he’s the type of guy that shows up and delivers.’ I showed up with an injured ankle that required surgery and still knocked him out with a spinning kick.

“I think that should have been enough, but I’ll tell you this, there’s no hard feelings or grudges towards Dana White. I’m still a fan. He’s a beast and he’s building an empire. No one knows what’s like to be on his shoes. Maybe he saw something in me that only he did and he’s taking that to his grave. We don’t know. I hear many theories, but I wouldn’t bet on any of them.”

More experienced a decade after becoming two-division champion in Jungle Fight, the 33-year-old thanks his managers Ed Soares, Jorge Guimarães and Rafael Cavalcante for securing him a “great” three-fight deal in Bellator. The doors are open to jump to PFL in the future, he said, but being inside the Bellator cage means the world to him.

“UFC and Bellator were at the top since I started this and now I’m part of one of them, I’ll have those gloves in my collection here,” Bilharinho said. “What a joy it is to be part of the history of a promotion I’ve always been a fan of, and I can’t wait to write my name there. And of course, if the opportunity presents itself to enter the [PFL] tournament, I would totally do it, no problem.”

Landu, his opponent at the Accor Arena in Paris, is 20-9 as a professional MMA fighter with 10 finishes to his credit. The French featherweight was victorious in his past four under the company’s banner, and Bilharinho sees similarities between their styles.

“My teammates even joked that it’s like when you choose the same characters to fight each other on Mortal Kombat and they only change the clothes,” Bilharinho laughed. “He has dangerous knockouts, high kicks and flying knees. I know I have to keep my eyes open. He seems to be very powerful and precise with his strikes. I don’t want to give him much space, and I’m going there to finish him.

“I have 11 wins and nine stoppages and I’m fighting a French in France. We like to believe that won’t be a factor in a decision but why risk it? [laughs]. I can put on a beating but when they clap for the final 10 seconds of the third round, I think it’s more likely that I do something like Max Holloway and Justin Gaethje then think it’s cool, that I will win a decision. I want to show I’m here to stay. I fight smart, but I’m always looking for the knockout. I want my fight to end in a highlight.”

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