Bellator MMA was one of the first major North American promotions to invest in Women’s MMA.
The organization began hosting contests in the women’s divisions back in 2010 where it held a 115-pound tournament to crown its first women’s champion in season three of their offering. The series housed notable names on the women’s scene, such as Jessica Aguilar, Lisa, Ward-Ellis, Carla Esparza, Megumi Fujii and eventual tournament champion, Zoila Frausto Gurgel. After the tournament Bellator soon ditched the weight-class to focus on the women’s 125-pound category.
Under Bjorn Rebney, the flyweight division never got off of the ground. While BFC promoted several bouts at 125 a champion was never crowned and the division soon faded away. Years later under new promotion head, Scott Coker, Bellator tried once again to carve out a place for the category, this time with much success. The California based company crowned its first flyweight champion late last year and began picking up quality talent to fill out the roster. Earlier in the same year Bellator MMA made history by crowning its first women’s featherweight champion. Even with two female athletes holding titles for the promotion, much needs to be done to prove a dedication to the women’s scene.
First, Bellator needs to begin making moves for the top talent unsigned by the UFC. KSW Flyweight Champion Ariane Lipski has one fight left on her contract and has recently made comments alluding to offering her services to the highest bidder. LFA talent Sabina Mazo has also made similar remarks. Because the UFC’s 125-pound weight-class is so new, Bellator could make a claim to having the top flyweight in the world if it plays its cards right.
It is not all about the names you know, often it is about the names you don’t know. The UFC found this out with virtual unknowns Nicco Montano and Sijara Eubanks emerging as the finalists of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, outworking veterans and former champions on their way to the finals.
Some additional names they should consider: unbeaten Brazilian prospect Sarah Frota, Jungle Fight Flyweight Queen Simone Duarte, Fight Nights Global tournament semi-finalist Liliya Shakirova, and regional standouts Mabelly Lima, and Carolina Jimenez. This is not to say that Bellator doesn’t already have quality prospects in Alejandra Lara and Juliana Velasquez, however, if it hopes to compete with the UFC it has to attack the free agent market.
Second, they should consider adding one more weight-class. I know, some of you may feel that it may not promote the divisions it already has, but hear me out.
The atomweight division is one of the lesser known on the women’s scene, but it is easily one of the more promising. The division already boasts quality athletes, notable names and stars ready to be born.
South Korean atomweight, Road FC Champion, and former UFC strawweight Seo Hee Ham, as well as former Invicta FC Atomweight Queen Ayaka Hamasaki are the class at 105. Both have already been exposed to North American fans so their names would not be as foreign as other top 105-pound fighters.
There are plenty of marketable fighters both already fighting at the weight and fighters competing in higher categories who able to make a move to the division.
Continuing, Invicta’s 105-pound weight-class is the only category that the UFC has not touched and has no interest in at the moment. Bellator could easily snatch up most of the top fighters in Invicta FC due to there not being much competition for atomweights in the U.S. The move would instantly fill out the category while the promotion works on building its own stars at the weight.
Third, Bellator should build partnerships with organizations worldwide. Historically, Bellator MMA has been more open to talent sharing and co-promoting than the industry-leading UFC. This could give a needed boost to its women’s divisions. Partnering with KSW, Cage Warriors, Fight Nights Global or even One FC could send quality fighters to the Bellator cage, adding instant depth to its roster. If it were to add atomweight it makes the most sense to build relationships with RIZIN, DEEP Jewels, Combate Americas and other outfits already promoting the category.
What do you think WMMA fans? Should Bellator invest more in the women’s divisions?