MMA: Kiwi phenom Jay-Jay Wilson to face Pedro Carvalho at Bellator 257

Most of us would prefer to forget the year 2020, but for Kiwi mixed martial arts prodigy Jay-Jay Wilson, it was memorable for all the right reasons.

'The Māori Kid' took the step from prospect to legitimate Bellator featherweight title contender, reeling off three straight wins to seal the No.7 spot in the official divisional rankings with the planet's second-most prominent MMA promotion.

To cap it all off, fans voted him Bellator's Fighter of the Year, putting an unexpected cherry on top of a landmark year.

The stage is now set for the 23-year-old to further legitimise his credentials against wily Portuguese phenom Pedro Carvalho at Bellator 257 in Connecticut on April 17 (NZ time).

"I actually asked for him," Wilson tells Newshub. "I thought it would be a great fight.

"He has a name and he just fought the champ. I think I have all the tools to beat him.

"I think a win would put me one step away from getting a title shot. I want to make a run."

Carvalho is coming in fresh off a devastating first-round knockout loss to Patricio 'Pitbull' Friere in November, which snapped his six-fight win streak.

Meanwhile, Wilson - yet to taste defeat through his seven professional fights - is still riding the high of his 20-second blitzkrieg of Sergio de Bari, a victory that sent an undeniable statement to his rivals.

"It showed that I have knockout power and that I'm a player - I deserve to be ranked," says Wilson. "Everyone thought I was just a grappler, just a jiu-jitsu guy, and then I come out with a big knockout like that… they're going to second-guess me on the feet now."

The 25-year-old Carvalho has buttered his bread with his grappling prowess, but Wilson - a world class, highly decorated jiu-jitsu practitioner - aims to fight fire with fire.

"I feel like my grappling is definitely on a higher level than his," he notes. "He has some tricks there, but I want to go in there and destroy him using my grappling."

Based out of Alliance MMA, Wilson has made some huge strides over the past year, particularly with his wrestling, working with the wealth of talent on offer at the San Diego gym, and believes he's holding his own.

"I've spent a lot of time on my wrestling, because in MMA, you start on your feet," says Wilson. "You can't pull guard - you pull guard and you get your head stomped in.

"I've been working with All-American, division one wrestlers over here - guys who have placed at the Olympics.

"I take them down, they take me down. I'm definitely at that level where I feel I'm a lot more confident in it, that I could take down anyone in my division."

Only a few short years ago, Wilson - a product of West Auckland's Oliver MMA - was sleeping in the very gym that is now moulding him, after landing in the US with nothing but a dream and a very light wallet.

"I didn't expect anything really," he admits. "I didn't have any money.

"I just took opportunities as they came. My dream was to be fighting in one of the biggest MMA organisations in the world and to be a top-10 fighter in the world.

"Even speaking about getting a title shot… it's all manifesting into real life."

As for the fate of his opponent later this month, Wilson foresees another quick night in his caged office.

"Definitely a first-round submission" Wilson emphatically predicts. "Rear-naked choke, most likely."

The event will be headlined by Wilson's stablemate, Phil Davis, who'll challenge Vadim Nemkov for Bellator's light heavyweight world title.