Title Chaser: Memphis’ Jaleel Willis fights for welterweight title at LFA 88

Jaleel Willis of Memphis walks to the cage. Credit: Chris Cook Photography

In Friday’s LFA 88 main event from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, top prospect Jaleel Willis (12-2) will earn his first crack at a promotional title against Brazil’s Vinicius de Jesus (9-2).

Willis, 28, is widely considered to be one of the most promising up-and-coming welterweights emerging from the Southern United States, and his recent three-fight winning streak has granted him his biggest opportunity yet at LFA 88.

“The Realest” is an athletic fighter with a good frame for the division, and he pairs an impressive wrestling and top control game with true power on the feet – two skills further improved by his meticulous preparation for his opponents and laser-like focus.

Speaking to MMAJunkie in March of 2020 as part of the outlet’s ‘On the Doorstep: 5 fighters who could make MMA big leagues with March wins‘ series, Willis described his mindset when preparing for a fight.

“I think the way I get ready for fights (makes me stand out) – my preparation,” Willis told MMAJunkie. “My idea is, if you give me a date to prepare for him, my team and I will have a game plan together. Like Jon Jones and his team, we’ll pick this fighter apart or at least have it to where I’m comfortable enough to implement the game plan and keep it going from there.”

Willis earned his stripes on the local Tennessee regional scene, notching a 4-0 amateur record before rattling off eight straight wins to begin his professional career.

Jaleel Willis left) stares down an opponent. Credit: Geminis Now MMA

Among that undefeated professional start were appearances in Bellator and the World Series of Fighting (WSOF), the precursor to today’s Professional Fighters League (PFL).

In his ninth pro bout, Willis faced eventual UFC signee Kyle Stewart (12-3) in the main event of LFA 33 – an impressive billing for the Memphis native’s promotional debut, which came on the heels of a title win in Tennessee promotion V3 Fights.

Willis would come up short against Stewart but rebounded with a knockout win over Bellator veteran Chel Erwin-Davis (5-3) before facing Harvey Park (12-3) in an ill-fated foray into the lightweight division.

Willis would fall to Park by way of a controversial first-round knockout, the lone stoppage loss on his record. Park, meanwhile, would capture the LFA lightweight title and earn a Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) bout in subsequent fights.

Since the Park loss, Willis has been flawless, scoring three straight unanimous decision victories while competing at weights of 156.6, 162, and 170 pounds.

On the strength of that current streak, Willis will again headline an LFA show, this time for the welterweight title, his first championship opportunity with the promotion.

Jaleel Willis (second from left) celebrates a win with his team. Credit: LFA, Marshall Boyce

Willis will face Vinicius de Jesus, a talented Brazilian finisher aptly nicknamed “The Brazilian Bad Boy.” Like Willis, de Jesus has spent time in Bellator and earned regional titles, most recently defending the CES MMA welterweight title by third-round knockout in his last bout.

In what is sure to be a ‘Fight of the Night’ contender, Willis will look to earn LFA gold and put himself on the radar of the sport’s biggest promotions.