Julia Budd believes in being ready for whatever happens and focusing on the things she can control. The only women’s featherweight champion in Bellator MMA history exudes a poised confidence born of preparation and experience, whether she is discussing an individual fight or the overall arc of her career.
Budd’s upcoming bout with Talita Nogueira in the Bellator 202 main event on Friday is a good example of both. In 2015, “The Jewel” represented a major signing for Bellator after going 4-0 with three finishes in Invicta Fighting Championships. Her debut opponent was to have been fellow prized free agent Nogueira, known then as Talita Treta. However, the Brazilian grappler was forced to withdraw with a knee injury less than two weeks before the fight. Though no fighter enjoys the uncertainty of matchup changes, Budd expected the preparation for Nogueira would not go to waste.
“Because she had to pull out so close to the fight, I had already had most of a training camp’s worth of preparing for her,” Budd told Sherdog.com. “It’s always tough when you have a late replacement like that, but I always had the idea in my head that [Nogueira and I] might fight eventually.”
After a nearly three-and-a-half-year deferment, that fight is finally about to happen. Budd recognizes that both she and Nogueira, the 2011 Mundials champion, have progressed as fighters in the intervening time. Nogueira has fought only once since their cancelled engagement, defeating Amanda Bell by first-round rear-naked choke at Bellator 182. Budd was in attendance that night and witnessed Nogueira’s dominant performance from cageside. While “Treta” won in exactly the manner expected of a world champion grappler, Budd maintains that she is preparing for a more well-rounded opponent than she would have faced in 2015.
“Of course, she’ll always have her jiu-jitsu,” Budd said, “but I expect her to have improved her skills and gotten better everywhere. It only makes sense for me to prepare for her being a better striker, a better wrestler [than she was before].”
While the champion’s training for Nogueira is informed by a drive to prepare for the unknown, she is unequivocal in speaking about her own progression. Budd came into mixed martial arts as an accomplished kickboxer -- she remains the only woman to defeat Gina Carano in a kickboxing match -- but prides herself on being a complete martial artist and continues to hone that skill set.
“I can’t wait to get in there and show the progress I’ve made, my progression as a mixed martial artist,” Budd said. “I’ve made great strides with my wrestling, and I think that this fight will only go to the mat if I want it to.”
Beyond the highly anticipated and long-delayed tilt with Nogueira, Budd is well aware of her status as one half of another dream matchup. After all, she is an accomplished mixed martial artist who comes from a striking background and, at a rangy and powerful 5-foot-8, one of the few “true featherweights” fighting at such a high level. As such, fans and media alike have heralded the 35-year-old Canadian for years as the best candidate to defeat Cristiane Justino, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and former Invicta featherweight queen. “Cyborg’s” reign of terror over the division, while extremely impressive, has featured many bantamweight contenders moving up to fight her, as well as natural 145-pounders who might not have been on her level. Budd represents a potential opponent who might not be undersized or underskilled.
True to form, Budd is open about her own place in the division, as well as her desire to test herself against “Cyborg” and her 13-year undefeated streak, all while claiming she is content with her own career whether or not that fight ever comes to pass.
“I think I’m the number two woman in the world [at 145 pounds],” Budd said. “If people want to say I’m Top 3, that’s fine, too. Whatever. Of course, I’d love to fight ‘Cyborg.’ There was talk before that she might come to Bellator. When I say I’m number two, I mean that’s what I’ve proved. If the opportunity ever came up, I would love the chance to prove I’m number one.”