Ilara Joanne scored an upset victory over Bec Rawlings in her Bellator debut in October, and now she’s thrilled to be making her return two months later against unbeaten Japanese talent Kana Watanabe at Bellator 237 in Saitama.
Even better, she thanks coach Eric Albarracin for changing her career with two words: Arya Stark.
Joanne, who trains with the Pitbull brothers Patricio Freire and Patricky Freire in Natal, wasn’t a well-known fighter in her native Brazil when Bellator offered her a fight with Rawlings. Joanne doesn’t believe she was brought in to lose to the popular UFC veteran, but knows she was up against a fairly more recognizable face.
The 25-year-old said she “noticed all the attention was on Bec” going into the event in Uncasville, Conn., and she made the best of the platform given to her by tapping Rawlings with a kneebar in the second round. That’s when Albarracin showed up with a “kill list,” targeting Valerie Loureda, Valerie Letourneau and “Queen” Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, Bellator’s flyweight champ.
“We know that Bellator has many fighters under contract that don’t fight that frequently, so this ‘game” Captain (Albarracin) came up with is very clever,” Joanne told MMA Fighting. “People in the United States love Game of Thrones – Brazilians love it too, so we managed to get their attention and Bellator’s attention.
“(My life) changed completely, bringing me this fight in Japan and a lot more. More followers, more messages from fans. Bellator is looking at me with different eyes now.”
Joanne credits the Game of Thrones play as the reason why she was offered a fight at the stacked card in Japan on Dec. 28, which features a number of Bellator vs. RIZIN match-ups under the Fedor Emelianenko vs. Quinton Jackson main event.
“Two days after I came back home they sent me the name of the Japanese [opponent],” Joanne said of Watanabe. “I wasn’t expecting that. I expected to fight again next year, but I was thrilled with the offer. I’ve been on this road for 10 years, and everything changed for me this year.”
Now riding a three-fight winning streak with a 9-4 professional record, Joanne is confident that her plan with Albarracin will lead to a shot at the Bellator flyweight championship next year.
“I have three more fights in my contract, and I believe I’ll have something nice after two more wins,” Joanne said. “I know the belt will be mine in 2020. I’ll continue the legacy of the ‘Pitbull’ brothers. We’ll dominate Bellator.”
Patricio “Pitbull” currently holds a pair of titles in Bellator, reigning over the featherweight and lightweight divisions. Patricky “Pitbull” will attempt to win the RIZIN lightweight grand prix on Dec. 31 too. Bethe Correia was a member of the crew when she challenged for Ronda Rousey’s belt at UFC 190, but came up short in the opening round. Joanne wants to become the Pitbull Brothers’ first female champion inside the Bellator cage.
“I know I’m on the right place,” she said. “We have a great group of people here, awesome coaches, and that inspires me to become a better fighter and work harder.”