Mansour Barnaoui chose to sign with Bellator for the same reasons he chose to fight in Asia for much of his career.
“I had a lot of power and energy inside the cage (when competing in Asia),” Barnaoui recently told MMA Junkie through an interpreter. “I loved the respect they had for their fighters. I felt a lot of power and respect. This was also the reason why I chose Bellator, because there is respect for the fighters.”
Geographically, Barnaoui’s life journey is all over the map. Born in Tunisia, he moved to France at two weeks old. A neighbor introduced him to MMA and before long he entered professional competition. He competed in France, before he entered the United Kingdom scene for Cage Warriors.
Stops in Canada, Russia, and Poland followed before Barnaoui settled into a more permanent scene in South Korea, where he went 6-0 and won the Road FC lightweight championship.
In June, Bellator announced Barnaoui (19-4 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) signed an exclusive multifight deal. He will make his promotional debut Saturday when he headlines Bellator 287 vs. Adam Piccolotti (13-4 MMA, 9-4 BMMA) in Milan, Italy.
“I’m very happy to fight with Bellator. I chose Bellator because Bellator cares about the fighters,” Barnaoui said. “I’m sure it was a good choice because my first fight is a main event. I can’t ask more from Bellator. I made the right choice.”
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Barnaoui, 30, enters his Bellator debut on a seven-fight winning streak. Piccolotti is 4-2 in his most recent six and comes off a win over Georgi Karakhanyan from February.
The Bellator lightweight division is at the end of a rebuild phase with champion Patricky Freire and emerging contenders like Usman Nurmagomedov, Tofiq Musayev, and Alexander Shabliy.
It’s yet to be seen where he fits, but Barnaoui is focused on the title.
“Fans will be very surprised because I will win by KO or submissions every time,” Barnaoui said. “They will be very surprised. … I don’t care (where I fit in now). I just want to be a champion. I want to win at Bellator 287 and I want to win the lightweight grand prix. I’m here for that, the championship and the tournament.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Bellator 287.