Leandro Higo had a chance to tell a fairy-tale story in his Bellator debut, but it didn’t go as he planned.
Just three weeks after signing with the promotion, the Brazilian bantamweight was offered a chance to replace injured Darrion Caldwell against 135-pound champion Eduardo Dantas on a month’s notice. Higo jumped on the opportunity, but his trip to Budapest was a disaster.
Six months after missing weight and losing a split decision against Dantas in the main event of Bellator 177, Higo returns Friday night against Joe Taimanglo in an attempt to restart his quest towards the Bellator gold.
“That opportunity came and sometimes an opportunity goes away and never comes back,” Higo told MMA Fighting. “I had to accept it, I couldn’t turn it down. To make your debut in a title fight is hard, but it’s part of the job. Everything that happened motivated me to train harder and make sure those mistakes are in the past.”
“Pitbull” says he has changed a few things in his diet, losing muscle to stay lighter and not cut so much weight for his fights, and also worked on his wrestling in the United States. As for the split decision call, Higo won’t complain anymore.
“I believe I won in some aspects,” he said of his fight with Dantas. “I think the judges were impressed with the leg kicks, but that didn’t hurt me. I feel like I could’ve been more aggressive, too, didn’t wait too much to attack. I made a few mistakes in the fight, but it won’t happen again.
“They gave him the win so there’s nothing else to say. I’m working hard and doing everything right since that fight. I stayed in the United States to train wrestling and then went back to Brazil to train, and I feel ready now. I took that fight on short notice and fought a close fight with the champion, so I can fight anyone.”
Dantas will also compete at Friday’s Bellator 184 card in Thackerville, putting his title on the line against Caldwell, and Higo believes that the stars could align and put him right back in the title picture once again.
“It depends on what happens,” the Brazilian said. “We’re fighting on the same card, so it depends on who wins the belt and how my fight goes. Joe is a tough fighter, he submitted Caldwell — and they gave him an immediate rematch, which I think it wasn’t right. I’m motivated to put on a good fight. If I get a title shot next, great. I won’t stop until I get this belt.”
Taimanglo, who went 1-1 against Caldwell during his 6-3 run in Bellator, is not someone to be overlooked, Higo says.
“Joe has an unorthodox style, moves a lot, has a heavy hand and is hard to be taken down because he has good chokes, a deadly guillotine that can put anyone in trouble, but I’m feeling great,” he said. “I’ll be strategical but also aggressive. If I get the finish that’s the consequence of the fight. I believe I can beat him standing and on the ground.”