(Photos by Esther Lin)
The rumors of Bellator signing Gina Carano may have been premature — or totally invented — but the promotion will indeed begin holding women’s fights again, as part of a brand-new featherweight division. According to a press release distributed today, Marloes Coenen and Julia Budd have signed contracts with Bellator, and will fight on a live Spike TV broadcast later this year.
“We’re incredibly excited to bring in two of the best athletes competing in our sport today,” said Bellator President Scott Coker. “We are making a commitment to bring back the female division to Bellator, and feature some of the world’s best in the Bellator cage.”
Bellator began running women’s matches early in its history, with fighters like Jessica Penne, Leslie Smith, Kerry Vera, and Rosi Sexton featured during the promotion’s first season in 2009. The next year, Bellator hosted a women’s strawweight tournament, which saw Zoila Gurgel outpoint Penne, Jessica Aguilar, and WMMA legend Megumi Fujii. But in light of increasing competition from Invicta FC and the UFC, Bellator formally shut down its women’s divisions in August 2013.
Of course, that was during the Bjorn Rebney era. Now that Scott Coker is runnin’ thangs, Bellator will attempt to re-capture some of the success that Strikeforce previously had in promoting female stars Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg. (By the way, the fact that Coker is pushing a new 145-pound division theoretically makes Bellator a more attractive environment for Carano and Cyborg than the UFC, as they wouldn’t have to squeeze into the bantamweight division to compete.)
But back to Coenen and Budd…
“After fighting professionally for over 15 years, I am honored to be invited into the Bellator cage,” Coenen said in today’s press release. “Fighting for Bellator brings my spirit back for fighting! It is great to be working together with Scott Coker again as we both have the same vision on fighting. My style is fighting with the objective to knock my opponent out or to submit her. That is exactly what I am planning to do the very first second I step into the Bellator cage.”
Coenen (21-6) hasn’t competed since her TKO loss to Cris Cyborg in their rematch at Invicta FC 6, in July 2013. By comparison, Budd (6-2) is a somewhat unseasoned competitor, but she’s coming off a 4-0 run in Invicta in 2012-2013.
“I’m ecstatic about the opportunity that Bellator is giving the 145 female division and I’m especially excited to be one of the first females to fight for Scott Coker under the Bellator banner,” Budd added in the press release. “This gives me the opportunity to showcase my skills as one of the best fighters in the world on one of the biggest stages in the world.”
More to come…