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In her relatively young mixed martial arts career, Kristina Williams has quite a bit of experience with first defeats. In her professional debut, she was brought in by Bellator MMA as a showcase opponent for crossover superstar Heather Hardy, who was then 1-0. Williams derailed the Hardy train, outstriking the boxing champion on the way to a second-round TKO win and announcing herself as a new presence in the Bellator flyweight division. Two fights later, she lost a hard-fought decision to veteran Valerie Letourneau. It was Williams’ first defeat in any combat sport, having competed in boxing and kickboxing before her MMA career.
Williams righted the ship with a decisive three-round win over Bruna Ellen at Bellator 210 last November, and with her first career loss fading in the rearview, the now 3-1 “Warhorse” will attempt to hang the first “L” on another undefeated fighter in the form of 8-0 Juliana Velasquez. Ahead of her fight at Bellator 224 this Friday, the 29-year-old Oklahoma native talked with Sherdog.com about her preparation for Velasquez and her continued improvement as a mixed martial artist. Williams was generally happy with her performance in the Ellen clash, and believed she showed that she has become a more complete fighter.
“I took away a lot from that fight, both positives and things that could have been better,” Williams said. “I felt like I showed my takedown defense has gotten better, where I could keep it standing against someone who really wanted to take me down. At the same time, I wish I had thrown more volume, and if I had, maybe I could have gotten the finish.”
Williams’ preparation for Velasquez has taken place primarily at her home gym, American Elite MMA, though she still spends a certain amount of time at Genesis Jiu-Jitsu and War Room MMA, both in Ft. Worth. It is a change from training camps earlier in her career, where she split time nearly evenly between the two cities.
“I’m still down there [in Ft. Worth] about once a week, but I’m able to spend most of my time at my home gym” Williams said. “It helps that I’ve got some really great training partners up here now, including Sarah Alpar, who’s fighting on Dana White's Contender Series in August. Sarah and I are like opposites, so it’s great. She wants to wrestle and she’s really strong, and I’m trying to hit you and [not get taken down].”
Looking towards her clash with Velasquez this Friday, Williams has some insight into the mindset of a fighter who has yet to taste defeat, but she doesn’t put too much stock into any ideas of hubris or overconfidence.
“I would never say that it’s a weakness or a flaw,” Williams said. “I mean, I took my first loss and I learned from it, but I don’t think I was overconfident before then or anything. More important to me is that I think [Velasquez] is used to people being a little intimidated, and I look forward to going out there and facing her down.”
Williams welcomes the stylistic matchup with the 32-year-old Team Nogueira export, whose last three victories have come under the Bellator banner. “I think she’s really powerful and really aggressive,” she said, “and I like to fight people who are going to come at me and be aggressive like that.”
Friday’s fight represents a moment of elevated stakes for both women. In a flyweight division starving for challengers for Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s belt -- last year, Alejandra Lara earned a title shot on the strength of a single win in the promotion -- the winner of a fight between women with 3-0 and 3-1 Bellator records could well be a de facto title eliminator. Williams is aware of this, and acknowledges she has had conversations with the promotion about next steps after Bellator 224, but claims that more than anything, she is excited to show her ongoing growth as a fighter. Asked what specific improvements she would be happiest to show, Williams raises the idea that despite being a striker by background, she is growing into a fighter who does not need to stay off the ground to win a fight.
“I think my takedown defense is always getting better, and it’s much better now than it was even in my last fight, but I also think my ground game is getting more aggressive,” Williams said. “Ground-and-pound like we have in MMA took a little while to really click with me, but I think mine has gotten better as my [top] control has gotten better.”
Having said that, of course, there is no doubt that Williams’ first love continues to reign supreme in her heart. Despite a soft-spoken demeanor that has led to her being called “shy and modest” by the media -- a classification she doesn’t necessarily dispute -- Williams is so enamored of the striking arts that she reflexively laughs whenever she talks about punching and kicking other people. She does so consistently, sometimes even mid-sentence.
That laughter gives the impression of pure, unselfconscious joy in violence, the aural equivalent of Pride Fighting Championships-era Wanderlei Silva grinning around his mouthguard while kneeing someone from the Thai clinch. This interviewer first noticed the habit in speaking to Williams last year, but only mentioned it for the first time in this interview. Williams’ response, unsurprisingly, was more laughter.
“I don’t know, I just get so excited thinking about fighting, talking about striking,” she said, still laughing. “I just love it so much.”