Valerie Letourneau’s Bellator MMA debut didn’t come as early as she would have liked, but the delay might have been a blessing in disguise.
The former UFC strawweight title challenger will make her first foray for the California-based promotion on Friday, when she faces Kate Jackson at Bellator 191 in Newcastle, England. The card will air in the United States via tape delay on Spike at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
After signing with Bellator in April, Letourneau was supposed to face Emily Ducote at Bellator 181 on July 14, but she had to withdraw from the bout at the last minute after suffering an injury in sparring.
“I felt like it took forever. First of all, when I finished my last fight with the UFC we knew we had a problem. They didn’t want me to fight at 115 again and I had no interest to fight at 135,” Letourneau told Sherdog.com. “…I got injured the last week before the fight, on my last sparring I blew my eardrum. It was a very frustrating situation.”
The UFC did not add a female 125-pound division until after Letourneau’s departure. The Canadian was successful at 115 pounds in the Octagon, as she earned a title shot against then champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 193, but the weight cut was extremely draining for someone who had competed as high as 135 pounds in the past. Letourneau missed weight for her final UFC appearance, a loss to Viviane Pereira at UFC 206 in December 2016.
With a full year between fights, Letourneau says she had time to regain the strength she had lost making the strawweight cut.
“I’ve always been a strong woman. Even when I was fighting at 135 I was a small 135er, but I felt like my body changed so much. Honestly, it really actually to me like a year to get this weight back, to get my legs back, to get my muscle back and my strength back,” Letourneau said. “It feels good to just finally feel my body like I always felt my whole career. It’s only when I cut down to 115 that I felt so skinny and felt weak. Maybe not weak for 115, but weak for what I was used to.”
Had Letourneau been able to compete against Ducote at Bellator 181 in July, she wouldn’t have been quite 100 percent in that regard.
“It’s not what I wanted, but I like to say that everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Even if I were to fight on July 14, my body has changed a lot since July 14. I think maybe it benefitted me to have that time to gain my strength back.”
Letourneau has noticed the improvement during her most recent camp. Where in the past the entire focus would be on making weight, “Trouble” has been able to emphasize other aspects of her performance this time around.
My fight camp is so much more focused on performing. Get strong and get fast. At 115 everything was about cutting weight,” she said. “Not putting on too much muscle. Even if you don’t lift weights, lifting people up, boxing every day, you put on muscle. The more muscle you put on the harder the cut is going to be. You want to push, but you cannot push too much. It’s not the way it should be for an athlete. You want to be in the best shape of your life. You want to be as strong as possible. Finally, I really feel like I can focus on performing.”
Letourneau already has her sights set Bellator’s flyweight title. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane claimed the inaugural championship with a win over Ducote earlier this year. Letourneau initially had hoped to be part of the promotion’s first 125-pound title bout, but with that no longer a possibility, the championship hardware remains as alluring as ever.
“This is my only goal right now, is to reach this title shot and get that belt. This is the only thing I have in mind. This is my only motivation,” she said. “I want to win this fight; I want to make a statement. One thing at a time, but definitely what I’m looking for is a title shot.”