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Why Coenen vs. Nogueira Brings Intrigue to Bellator 163

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For Bellator, developing a women’s featherweight division has been a slow process. Since its creation was announced in 2014, signings and fight bookings have represented baby steps along a road that leads to Bellator gold. On Friday night, Marloes Coenen and Talita Nogueira meet at Bellator 163 with the crowning of Bellator’s first ever 145 pound female champion edging closer.

Coenen and Julia Budd were the first women’s featherweights signed by Bellator when the division was formed. It was always expected that they would fight for the title whenever it was introduced. That bout has still not come to fruition, and Coenen’s bout with Nogueira on Friday night is another intriguing hurdle to overcome.

The former Strikeforce bantamweight champion has long been considered the clear number two at featherweight behind Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Becoming number one is as close to an impossible task as you will find in MMA, not only because Coenen has already been defeated by Cyborg twice, but because the Brazilian is currently fighting under the UFC’s promotional banner.

It puts Coenen in a thankless position and leaves her status within the sport often under-appreciated. A true pioneer, “Rumina” is more than the number two today. At worst a top fifteen fighter on the all-time women’s pound for pound list, Coenen is arguably the second best featherweight of all-time.

Being the best of the rest rarely cuts it with MMA’s unforgiving fanbase. Winning Bellator gold would do something to change that perception, but not everything. Without Cyborg legitimising the division as the best featherweight in the world, Bellator’s title will always be viewed as a secondary accomplishment.

Coenen is not the first fighter to find herself in this position. From 2003 to 2008 Jon Fitch won 16 straight fights before losing to Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title. He won another five straight after the loss to St-Pierre. Fitch was widely considered to be the second best welterweight on the planet, but his prime coinciding with that of one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever seen, meant he never became UFC champion and his legacy is forever diminished.

And what of Daniel Cormier. If we are talking pure ability, the reigning UFC light-heavyweight champion might be the second best 205 pound fighter the sport has ever seen. Without a win over Jon Jones, how many fans will really buy into the notion that Cormier is worthy of a spot on any all-time list?

That is the pressure that Coenen faces every time she enters the cage. Despite a standout 16 year career that has seen many more highs than it has lows, every fight at this point is an opportunity to slip from the near top.

In her Bellator debut Coenen was well on her way to a defeat against top ten featherweight Annalisa Bucci, before finding a submission in the third round. Last time out after training for a title fight with Julia Budd, injury forced Alexis Dufresne into the mix on short notice. After Dufresne failed to make weight, she submitted Coenen in the first round.

At 35-years-old, opportunities to hold onto her spot are only becoming more difficult. The mitigating circumstances that applied to the loss against Dufresne, will not be in play when Coenen steps into the cage against Nogueira.

Talita Nogueira is a 2011 world jiu-jitsu champion who has cruised through her MMA career so far. The level of competition Nogueira has faced in her native Brazil is questionable, but she has done what top prospects are supposed to do against weak opposition. A perfect 6-0 record has been compiled, with all of her wins coming in the first two rounds. The Brazilian is not here to play the opponent and ease Coenen back into the win column.

A win over Nogueira on Friday night should be enough to earn Coenen the chance to become Bellator’s inaugural women’s featherweight champion. Defeat would alter that path and tell a very different story. Coenen has never lost back to back fights before. It’s a first she will be desperate to avoid on Friday night.

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Watch: Bellator 185 Prelims

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Gegard Mousasi takes on Alexander Slemenko live this Friday night October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville CT. This is the first appearance for Mousasi in the Bellator cage as he looks to secure a title shot with a win over the very tough former Bellator champion Slemenko. Joining these men of the main card will be a pair of welterweights as Neiman Gracie from the famous Gracie BJJ family takes on Zak Bucia in the co-main event.

Complete Bellator 185: Mousasi vs. Shlemenko Fight Card:

Middleweight Main Event: Gegard Mousasi (42-6-2) vs. Alexander Shlemenko (56-9, 1 NC)

Welterweight Feature Bout: Neiman Gracie (6-0) vs. Zak Bucia (18-8)

Women’s Flyweight Feature Bout: Heather Hardy (1-0) vs. Kristina Williams (Debut)

Lightweight Feature Bout: Ryan Quinn (13-7) vs. Marcus Surin (4-0)

Women’s Flyweight Feature Bout: Ana Julaton (2-2) vs. Lisa Blaine (1-0)

Preliminary Card:

Catchweight Preliminary Bout: Jordan Young (6-0) vs. Alec Hooben (5-3)

Middleweight Preliminary Bout: Costello van Steenis (8-1) vs. Steve Skrzat (8-9)

Welterweight Preliminary Bout: Vinicius de Jesus (5-1) vs. Joaquin Buckley (7-1)

Lightweight Preliminary Bout: John Beneduce (2-1) vs. Dean Hancock (2-1)

Featherweight Preliminary Bout: Timothy Wheeler (1-4) vs. Pete Rogers (2-4)

150 lb. Catchweight Preliminary Bout: Don Shainis (3-1) vs. Matthew Denning (5-6)

150 lb. Catchweight Preliminary Bout: Frank Sforza (6-0) vs. Vovka Clay (3-2)

Lightweight Preliminary Bout: Kevin Carrier (Pro Debut) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (Pro Debut)

Flyweight Preliminary Bout: John Lopez

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*Watch* Bellator 185 Weigh in: Live Stream, Results

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Watch the live weigh-ins for Bellator 185 here.

Gegard Mousasi takes on Alexander Slemenko live this Friday night October 20th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville CT. This is the first appearance for Mousasi in the Bellator cage as he looks to secure a title shot with a win over the very tough former Bellator champion Slemenko. Joining these men of the main card will be a pair of welterweights as Neiman Gracie from the famous Gracie BJJ family takes on Zak Bucia in the co-main event.

Full Weigh-in Results: (Updated in real time)

Main Card:

Gegard Mousasi (185) vs. Alexander Shlemenko (186)
Neiman Gracie (170.5) vs. Zak Bucia (170)
Heather Hardy (126) vs. Kristina Williams (126)
Ryan Quinn (155.5) vs. Marcus Surin (155)
Ana Julaton (125.5) vs. Lisa Blaine (122)

Preliminary Card:

Jordan Young (200) vs. Alec Hooben (194)
Costello van Steenis (185) vs. Steve Skrzat (186)
Vinicius de Jesus (170) vs. Joaquin Buckley (171)
John Beneduce (154.5) vs. Dean Hancock (155)
Timothy Wheeler (144) vs. Pete Rogers (144)
Don Shainis (150) vs. Matthew Denning (149)
Frank Sforza (149) vs. Vovka Clay (150)
Kevin Carrier (156) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (153)
John Lopez (126) vs. Billy Giovanella (125)

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Bellator 185 Fight to Watch: Heather Hardy vs. Kristina Williams

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Heather Hardy will compete in MMA for the second time at Bellator 185 on Friday night, as she faces Kristina Williams in a strawweight contest. The fight takes place on the main card at the Mohican Sun Arena in Connecticut.

Potentially, what Bellator have in Heather ‘The Heat’ Hardy is a major draw that they can build their 125 pound division around. While relatively new to the organisation she is fast becoming one of the more popular names on the roster. Her career is in the early stages, but many have already started to draw comparisons with former boxer turned MMA star, Holly Holm. Holm’s UFC success partly inspired the native New Yorker to make the switch from boxing.

Hardy is already an established world champion in the land of the ‘sweet science’, holding a 21 fight undefeated professional record. She made her MMA debut in June this year with a victory over Alice Yauger, at Bellator 180. At 35, Hardy is a late starter in the sport, but proved at Madison Square Garden against the credible Yauger that she has a bright future.

Hardy’s first outing in the cage was disciplined and composed. Despite a slow start in round one, Hardy grew in confidence as the fight progressed and her cardio never faltered. She mixed in plenty of kicks that complimented her boxing and looked at ease in the clinch, even defending a couple of takedown attempts in the process.

Despite looking on course for a decision win, Hardy forced the TKO stoppage with just thirteen seconds remaining in round three. Even a large cut that required seven stitches from an accidental head clash could not deny her victory.

Hardy was fighting an experienced professional, competing for the tenth time in MMA, which makes the win over Yauger more impressive. However, her upcoming opponent Kristina Williams will be making her professional debut.

There is little known about Williams except that she is 3-0 at amateur level. One of those wins came by way of submission so there may well be a threat to Hardy if the fight goes to the ground. More importantly for Williams is how she copes on the big stage against a popular opponent, who is more familiar competing in high pressure combat situations. If Williams can produce an upset it will be a huge boost in her young career.

But in all honesty, this fight is about Hardy. It’s about getting the win and gaining valuable experience. The boxing career is on hold while MMA takes centre stage. Beating Williams will mean she likely continues fighting inside a cage rather than a boxing ring.

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