Bellator MMA will kick of their year and their decade this Saturday night for the third year in a row at the Forum in Inglewood, California, and as has often been the case with Bellator, they do not waste time.
The main event will feature Bellator’s latest big name acquisition-former Strikeforce, Invicta, and UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, trying to make some massive history against the best opponent the promotion can offer, current Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd, the only titleholder in the promotion’s history who will be defending her title for the fourth time.
The matchup was formally announced back at Bellator 228, in the cage itself and signaled to everyone that Bellator would not be playing when around when it comes to showcasing the star power of Cris Cyborg. She represents a rare commodity to Bellator, an acquisition who has proven she can actually move the needle when it comes to ratings and pay per view buys, someone who has headlined and sold tickets for three different promotions.
Yet Bellator has something to offer Cyborg that she has long craved-a legitimate featherweight division. Whereas the UFC has done next to nothing to bolster their 145 pound weight class, Bellator has worked to go out, look for, and sign fighters for their 145 pound weight class, one of the two women’s weight classes that are fully active in the promotion. Until Cyborg signed with the promotion-that has been to find opponents for Julia Budd.
For many MMA fans, the enduring image of Julia Budd comes from over eight years ago, when she was in short order, taken down, mounted, and arm-barred by some chick named Ronda Rousey. Budd was submitted in November 2011 by Rousey, her elbow trashed in just thirty-nine seconds. The image of Budd’s dislocated elbow just hanging from its socket is not something you forget easily.
Since then, however, Budd has completely transformed herself into a 5’8 145 pound female tank, a ripped kickboxing machine who hasn’t lost a fight since being submitted by Rousey all those years ago. She has won eleven fights in a row since then, beating some big names, including retiring women’s MMA pioneer Marloes Coenen to become Bellator’s first featherweight champion in March 2017.
Budd has defended her title three times and is coming her most impressive win yet, stopping Olga Rubin with a body kick in the first round last July. With her size, confidence, and kickboxing skills, she represents a legitimate challenge to Cyborg-hopefully one of many the women’s MMA legend faces in the promotion.
Of course, the Cyborg that Budd is facing is not the invincible Cyborg who tore through the women’s divisions for ten years. This is a Cyborg who has had the hell knocked out of her in one round by Amanda Nunes in December 2018, one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Then Cyborg had a much more difficult fight than expected with the much less experienced Felicia Spencer last July in Winnipeg at UFC 240. Spencer, a very good grappler, managed to win a lot of exchanges with Cyborg and give her a lot of trouble for the first two rounds, before Cyborg’s class began to show in the third.
It feels that if there was ever a time for Julia Budd to fight Cris Cyborg, this would be the time. Cyborg is still formidable, but not the invincible killer who had most women beaten before the caged door was even locked. Amanda Nunes proved that she was human, that you can go right at her, and it would be smart for Julia Budd to come forward, back Cyborg up and try to put real hurt on her. Cyborg has looked to develop real boxing skills in recent years, and it would be smart for her to use those skills, box, and look to set up her grappling, one place she should have a huge advantage.
That’s how it should go. But the biggest question may be how does Julia Budd handle the spotlight, which will be on her more than it ever has before, in front a big crowd at the Forum, on the biggest stage of her career. Cyborg has been there many times before. Even if Budd can have a good round or two, when it gets into the championship rounds, with the bright lights on, can Julia Budd deliver? Its question that will determine how long Cyborg’s invasion of Bellator goes from here…
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