Very few fighters make their professional debut on a stage as big and brightly-lit as Kristina Williams.
Last October, Bellator MMA tapped Williams, a complete unknown on the national level and the owner of a 1-0 amateur record, as the second opponent for star crossover Heather Hardy. The matchup seemed to be in keeping with Bellator’s knack for developing prized prospects sensibly. Hardy, the charismatic, undefeated boxing champion, was getting an opponent of similar experience on paper, but whose striking-oriented style would presumably play in Hardy’s favor.
Except nobody gave Williams a copy of the script, apparently. Under the bright lights of the Bellator 185 main card, Williams took it to Hardy from the opening bell, tuning-up the heralded striker for nearly a round and a half before smashing Hardy’s nose with a high kick, forcing a doctor stoppage. With that startling TKO, one prospect took a step back as a new one stepped onto the stage. Williams maintains that her fearless performance was a case of her native temperament showing.
“Going into the [Hardy] fight, I was such an underdog that I felt I had nothing to lose,” Williams told Sherdog.com. “I just wanted to go and leave it all out there. I’m a naturally calm person, and I didn’t really feel any nerves. I felt calm, but I still went after her because I’m also a naturally aggressive fighter.”
In her next fight, Williams would go on to prove herself no flash in the pan but a genuine prospect in her own right. At Bellator 195, Williams faced a far more experienced fighter in five-time Bellator veteran Emily Ducote. In addition to going three five-minute rounds for the first time, Williams was forced to deal with an opponent who wanted the fight on the floor at times, and emerged with a tough, tightly-contested split-decision victory.
Bellator 201 on Friday sees Williams matched up against another veteran opponent in Valerie Letourneau (9-6), a veteran of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and “The Ultimate Fighter 18.” For this fight, Williams has expanded her training, splitting time between her home gym, American Elite MMA and War Room MMA in Ft. Worth, Texas. Williams, who came up in the Oklahoma regional scene, is enjoying the availability of female training partners.
“I hadn’t had the opportunity before to train with high-level women fighters like Montana De La Rosa, or be exposed to this kind of MMA grappling,” Williams said. “It’s really helped a lot. I just don’t have this kind of high-level women at my home gym so I train with guys, and they’re really big, and it’s just different.”
The same calm confidence that allowed Williams to upset Hardy in her debut appears to carry over to perspective on her budding career. Bellator 201 features four women’s flyweight fights, meaning that Williams is likely sharing the stage with one or more of her future opponents. Most notably, the headline fight features Alejandra Lara, in only her second fight for Bellator, attempting to relieve flyweight champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane of her belt. Despite Bellator’s demonstrated willingness to fast-track hot prospects to a title shot, Williams claims to be in no rush.
“I feel like this fight’s going to tell me a lot about where I am,” Williams said. “I feel like Valerie’s a huge step. If I win this fight, then I’ll know a lot more about where my place is in the division. So I’m waiting to see where I go from there. If I win this fight, if Bellator wants to give me another fight and let me get more experience under my belt, that would be awesome.”
As for the challenge in front of her right now, the fight with Letourneau, Williams is ready for whatever happens. The only difference, she says, is the level of fun.
“I definitely hope it ends up mostly standing up, because I have a lot more fun there,” Williams said. “[Striking] is my favorite thing to do. But if it goes to the ground, I have a purple belt in jiu-jitsu and I’ve been training for six years, so I definitely think I’m ready for that. But if we stand and strike… that’s what I love to do.”