Nine men have tried, and every single one has failed. Wilson Reis now has the chance to end UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson's attempt to tie Anderson Silva’s all-time record in the Octagon, and he explains why he’s the right man for the job.
Winner of five of his six fights since cutting down to 125 pounds, Reis earned a shot at the UFC gold after a win over Dustin Ortiz in 2016, but an injury forced Johnson out of UFC 201. Reis added a couple more victories to his record after that, and feels in the end, the delay was positive for his career.
"I believe everything happens for a reason,” Reis told MMA Fighting. "The fight didn’t happen last year, it was canceled three weeks before, when I was super well-prepared, but I used this extra time really well. I fought twice, did two more training camps, and evolved a lot. I was ready then, and I believe I’m even better this time.”
Headlining a UFC event for the first time in his career, meeting Johnson at UFC on FOX 24 in Kansas City on April 15, Reis doesn’t feel any extra pressure ahead of his shot at the gold.
"This is the biggest fight or my career, for sure,” Reis said. "It’s the UFC belt. But that doesn’t change anything in the way I prepare for the fight. It’s still a training camp for a fight, so that doesn’t change much, no."
When “Mighty Mouse” pulled out of UFC 201, the promotion changed plans and put the flyweight king to defend his gold against the winner of a Ultimate Fighter season. Tim Elliott earned the chance against Johnson, and almost pulled a huge upset with a scary submission early in the bout, but the champion survived to win a decision.
“What I saw in that fight is what I already knew,” Reis said. "The same openings I saw on the ground, he was exposed. That’s something I can work on. If you look at his game, what you can really work on in his jiu-jitsu. He’s good standing, his muay thai, and his wrestling is great, too, but the ground is the weakest aspect of his game. I wasn’t impressed. It actually confirmed what I already knew."
Reis also has a not-so-secret weapon for his bout with Johnson. The Brazilian enters UFC on FOX 24 after training for seven years with Dominick Cruz, the only man to ever beat “Mighty Mouse” inside the Octagon.
"It helps a lot because Dominick Cruz talked to me about openings in his game, things that happened,” Reis said. "He shares that with me, and it helps a lot. He fought (Johnson) for five rounds and he knows a lot about his strength and cardio. But the good thing about it is that Dominick gives us so much confidence. Training with him every day is such an advantage for us.”
Almost 10 years after making his professional MMA debut, Reis looks back at everything he has experienced in the cages as he enters the biggest fight of his life.
"I never imagined it would be the way it was,” said Reis, who competed as a featherweight and bantamweight in the past. "I’m glad I got to this point. I want to win this belt and defend it many times. I want to do the same thing Demetrious Johnson did. Win the belt and defend it many times."
Aside from “Mighty Mouse" (nine) and strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk (four), no other current UFC champion has more than two title defenses. As he plans on stopping Johnson’s title run, Reis makes bold predictions for his own future.
"I’m focused, confident and prepared,” Reis said. "I’ll win this fight and definitely rematch him right after. That’s how it will start. I want to dominate this division. After I defeat him, he deserves a rematch more than anyone for the multiple times he defended the belt."
And how does one beat Johnson, who has looked unstoppable as a flyweight?
"I’ve envisioned this a thousand times,” Reis said. "I imagine this for two or three years already. Lights down, I walk to the Octagon. It’s always a beautiful moment, and I’m always confident in the victory.
"In my mind, it ends with a submission,” he continued. "That’s how I see it. A fight with a dominant submission. I’m ready for a war, but I don’t think it will be a war. I’ll put him in situations he never experienced before, and I will get this victory."