Thanks to Holly Holm’s massive upset of Ronda Rousey at UFC 193, women’s bantamweight is the most talked about division in mixed martial arts right now.
The strawweights aren’t far behind, with charismatic Polish champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk emerging as a breakout star in 2015. So what’s the next big thing in female MMA? If it’s up to Julia Budd, the 145-pound weight class will be making waves very soon.
“I think we still need to prove that we belong on the big cards and that we’re going to pull in the viewership,” Budd told Sherdog.com. “We just need to keep proving that we’re exciting and we’re top athletes and that our division belongs on those big cards... I think they’re building on us. It’s been a bit slow, but I think that it’s coming together.
Budd will square off against Roberta Paim Rovel in a preliminary featherweight contest at Bellator 146 on Friday at Winstar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla. The preliminary draw streams on Spike.com beginning at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT. The evening’s main card airs on Spike at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT and is headlined by a middleweight tilt between Hisaki Kato and Melvin Manhoef.
According to Bellator.com, there are currently 10 female featherweights under contract with the promotion. The most prominent name on the roster is Marloes Coenen, a 29-fight veteran and former Strikeforce bantamweight queen who is 2-0 thus far under the Bellator banner. With a win against Rovel, Budd thinks she would slot in nicely opposite Coenen in a hypothetical 145-pound title bout.
The promotion has yet to create a championship for the new weight class, but a Bellator official recently told Sherdog.com that a bout for a vacant title will come “soon.”
“That’s kind of what we’re all gunning for in the 145 division. I think Marloes, she’s had two wins, that her next fight will be for a title fight,” Budd said. “I feel like this is the opportunity for me to show that I deserve that title shot when I beat Roberta.
“That’s my goal. This whole time that we signed with Bellator, it was kind of me and her [Coenen] that signed first. I think that’s definitely the next step for the division. I know this Friday is my chance to show that I deserve [it].”
An Invicta Fighting Championships veteran, Budd enters Bellator 146 on a five-fight winning streak. Her only two losses have come against former UFC and Strikeforce champion Rousey and current top UFC bantamweight contender Amanda Nunes. “The Jewel” cruised in her promotional debut, taking a lopsided unanimous verdict against Gabrielle Holloway at Bellator 133 that saw the cageside judges issue 30-26, 30-25 and 30-24 scorecards in favor of the 32-year-old Canadian.
Nonetheless, Budd saw plenty of room for improvement in her first bout following more than a year on the sidelines.
“I wasn’t happy with the fight. I was happy to get the win, but I really, really wanted a finish. I’m looking to do that in this fight,” Budd said. “I feel like I didn’t get to send the message that I wanted to send.”
If Budd does indeed deliver a message against Rovel, it can only further the long-term goal of putting her weight class on the map. While Budd hints that Bellator could do a little better job of putting women’s featherweights in the spotlight, she recognizes that burden ultimately falls on the athletes themselves. Friday night will be a good opportunity to get the ball rolling in that regard; in addition to Budd-Rovel, Arlene Blencowe will meet Holloway in an additional 145-pound tilt.
“We need to have those exciting fights and exciting finishes. And the promotion as well. I feel like that’s a big thing that Bellator could do is promote us more and have us out there and work on that better,” Budd said. “I think us keeping exciting fights and putting us on the card more often, that’ll do it. If we chip away at it, then they’re gonna want to put the promoting to us.”