Kiwi MMA fighter Jay-Jay Wilson keeps promise to sister after her tragic death

Kiwi fighter Jay-Jay Wilson has fulfilled one of the promises he made to his late sister, now he's chasing a second.

Earlier this year, the 21-year-old tragically lost his elder sibling on the eve of his professional MMA debut in the California, but fought through the heartache to claim an emphatic victory under the most unconscionable circumstances.

Sister Jamie was one of the combat prodigy's most ardent supporters, and Wilson had always told her he'd repay her faith and become a world champion.

Two weeks ago, Wilson achieved that goal, claiming the gold medal in the lightweight division at the world Brazilian jiu-jitsu championships in Los Angeles.

"She's still a big source of motivation for me," Wilson told Newshub. "I told her I'd be a world champ and I did it, so now I've got to be a multiple-time world champion."

Pushing through the pain of a debilitating neck injury, Wilson put on a virtuoso display, not troubling the judges once, as he finished all four of his opponents via submission.

"Three days before the tournament, I couldn't even look left or right. I was going to pull out, but then I ended up just going.

"When I finished the guy in the final, I was stoked - I screamed and I jumped up.

"It was really cool to stand on the podium and they played the national anthem."

His world championships triumph has been sweetened by another helping of heartening news - the announcement of his second professional fight with giant American MMA promotion Bellator.

In January, Wilson will take on Tyler Beneken at Bellator 214, on the undercard of the heavyweight Grand Prix final between the legendary Fedor Emelianenko and Ryan Bader in California.

"That's epic. It's crazy to be on a poster with [Emeliananko] and fighting alongside him.

"He's a legend in the sport and it's an honour to fight on the same card as him."

One of the biggest events in the organisation's history will attract a global viewership in the millions. The stage is a lot larger than the one on which he choked David Conte in under a minute in his pro debut back in June, but Wilson welcomes the extra eyeballs.

The fight is an opportunity for him to showcase his fast-developing skillset and secure a long-term fight contract - and all of the financial stability that comes with it.

"I really think it's going to help me a lot with all these people. It'll give me more drive, because you don't want to lose in front of a million people.

"I want to get a secure a multi-fight deal with them - then after that, maybe a year or so, I can start to make some noise, call out the top-10 guys and try to make it to a title shot."

The victory comes as rich reward for Wilson, a reprieve of sorts, after a testing 2018. The trials only continued, after his whirlwind trip back to NZ to farewell his sister from his training base in San Diego.

"Losing my sister and everything, sometimes when stuff goes wrong, it starts to pile up, and everything gets worse and worse, and then you start to get depressed.

"Since I got back here, it's been pretty hard to get back on my feet. Going back to NZ and dealing with all that stuff used basically all my funds.

"When I got back here, I had to basically restart. I moved into a new place.

"It's been kind of hard. My car broke down and everything went wrong, but I'm making it work."

But the 21-year-old's fortunes are now trending upward. He has a world-class team around him at the renowned Alliance MMA gym, which includes wrestling coach Justin Flores - an Olympic gold medallist and former trainer for transcendent MMA superstar-cum-pro wrestler, Ronda Rousey.

And it's the gym where Wilson conducts his own unique brand of therapy sessions.

"When I go there and train hard and almost die, when I leave I feel good. I feel like a new person - it's like therapy for me.

"It's just lucky I have that training, which helps me stay focused and take my mind off thinking like that.

"The time that I have the most fun is when I have the most pressure on me - in training or when I'm competing."

"I'm getting a new car next week too, so stuff is finally clicking back together."

The improvements in his overall game are coming thick and fast, and Wilson is eager to give his evolving stand-up game to the test against Beneken.

"He's definitely a tougher opponent. He's quite well rounded, he's finished a few by submission - so I'm hoping he tries to take me down, because I'll take him right into my world.

"If not, we'll stand and bang - I don’t really mind. When I left NZ, my hands were pretty good, but since I got here, working with my new coach, they’ve become a lot better.

"He's a lot bigger than me, but he's going to be cutting a lot of weight. I expect an early finish."

A set of new wheels on the way and the prospect of a career-launching fight in his sights, Wilson is ready to make his mark.

"I'm just excited to get in there and show them what New Zealand Māori have got."