Adil Benjilany says as a kid in Morocco, he dreamed every night of fighting on the big stages of MMA one day.
“I knew one day I’m gonna leave, one day I’m gonna be doing great things and make my family and my country proud,” Benjilany said Wednesday, May 8, 2019, at a Bellator 221 media event held in Chicago, IL, USA.
He wasn’t wrong about that.
Benjilany meets Chris Lencioni Saturday night at Allstate Arena in Chicago in his third Bellator fight. Benjilany, 28, signed with the promotion in 2018 and has won two in a row.
Benjilany left his native Morocco in 2013 for the United States to train in MMA and try to make a career out of the sport. He first moved to Iowa and was a striking coach at Hard Drive Performance Center in Cedar Rapids.
After two amateur fights, he made his pro MMA debut in 2015 but lost a decision. After the fight, Benjilany said he went to his opponent’s coach and told him he wanted to train with his team.
He packed his bags moved to Chicago to train at Midwest Training Center, where he is currently teammates with the only man who has beaten him in MMA, Damian Norris. Benjilany has won five straight and hasn’t looked back since.
“I love Chicago, it’s like my house,” Benjilany said. “I’ve spent three years in Chicago, and I feel like I belong here.”
Benjilany said he sometimes misses Morocco, but that having his family — who also moved to the US — close by helps.
“Growing up in Morocco is really simple,” Benjilany said. “It’s a third-world country. People are so generous. Really simple people. People are so kind. Everyone is a hard worker over there. People are looking for opportunities. I’m just one of my kind.”
Benjilany added that he went to school in Morocco and had a job on the side, but ultimately chose to move across the world to focus on his true passion: MMA.
Benjilany said his family — his parents and brothers — is “one of the keys to my success.”
“They support me the whole time,” he said. “Morocco is not bad, but I grew up where there was drugs and bad company that can affect you and turn you into a bad person. But my parents gave everything to me. They’re like, ‘Hey, you want to go train? Here are your gloves, your shin guards, go train. Don’t party, don’t drink. Don’t do this.’”
Benjilany said there isn’t much of an MMA scene just yet in Morocco, but that it seems to be growing. He is still rather new to the sport, but he hopes to help bring a major show — perhaps a Bellator card — to the country sooner than later.
There aren’t many Moroccans who have made it in MMA. Abu Azaitar is the only Moroccan in the UFC, and Benjilany is the only in Bellator. Benjilany said kickboxing is more popular there and that jiu-jitsu has recently picked up momentum.
The biggest issue, Benjilany said, is the lack of opportunity. Most people can’t leave Morocco to pursue a passion like Benjilany did.
“There is plenty of talent back home,” Benjilany said. “Just give them an opportunity and you will see what they can give you.
“I want to impress Bellator, because I want to bring that show to Morocco. A lot of the kids over there, they cannot leave because it’s hard — it’s a third-world country. I want to bring that show over there to them so they can have the feeling of walking into the Bellator cage.”
Benjilany said he hopes to return to Morocco one day — but only once he has a reason to go back.
“I want to go back,” he said. “But I want to go back as an influence on other athletes. I don’t just want to go back as nobody.”
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