Over the past 12 months, the women’s flyweight division has become one of Bellator’s most exciting. The promotion’s mix of fast-developing prospects and established veterans has hit the mark and earned the 125 pounders a great deal of airtime.
On Monday Bellator completed their most notable flyweight signing to date, former UFC title challenger Valerie Letourneau.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Emily Ducote have become recognised names through their performances inside the Bellator cage but were not well known prior to signing. Colleen Schneider is a well-respected veteran of the sport but has never had that UFC shine attached to her career.
Meanwhile, previously unknown Anastasia Yankova has struggled to display a level of ability that justifies her strong promotional push, and Lena Ovchynnikova had gained no real notoriety in the United States from a career spent fighting in Europe and India prior to signing with Bellator.
The addition of Letourneau has increased the legitimacy of Bellator’s 125-pound division. The Canadian was the first fighter in the UFC to take strawweight Queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk to a five round decision.
Life in the UFC has been tough since that November 2015 defeat, but fighting outside of her natural weight class has been a part of Letourneau’s problem. A defeat to Viviane Pereira at UFC 206 in December 2016 came after the American Top Team fighter failed to make weight and looked, not for the first time like she was barely cognizant as she stepped onto the scales to weigh-in.
With Bellator breathing a new lease of life into Letourneau’s 33-year-old body, fans can gain interest in a number of exciting matchmaking possibilities. A late Summer debut has been reported, with an opponent yet to be determined. Here are five options the promotion should be considering for Letourneau’s debut.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (6-0)
The signing of Letourneau lends more weight to requests that fighters and fans have been vocalising for some time. The addition of a Bellator title at 125 pounds. While Bellator President Scott Coker has poured cold water on the idea previously, if the promotion is to continue putting stock in their stable of exciting flyweights, it is inevitable that a belt will be added at some point.
If Letourneau is thrown right in at the deep end with a championship bout in 2017, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is the obvious choice of opponent. The Hawaiian is a perfect 5-0 inside the Bellator cage and has already defeated Bellator’s best flyweight Emily Ducote. Macfarlane vs. Letourneau over five rounds could be the making of a new star, or the reaffirming of Letourneau’s status as one of the best in the world, or both.
Emily Ducote (5-2)
It is also possible that Bellator is eyeing Letourneau for a title fight, but not right off the bat. If that is the case then a title eliminator with Oklahoma standout Emily Ducote would make a whole lot of sense. If Ducote is able to get onto Bellator’s card in Oklahoma on July 14 and secure another win, a quick turnaround is not out of the question.
Ducote has looked outstanding in all three of her Bellator victories, and along with the aforementioned Macfarlane has performed head and shoulders above the rest of Bellator’s flyweights to date. A win for Letourneau would satisfy the hardcore fans who believe title shots must be earned, while a win for Ducote would set up a rematch of her thrilling bout with Macfarlane in December last year.
Rebecca Ruth (6-2)
If Bellator is looking to hold off on adding another title belt, more moderate opposition might be considered. Matching the newcomer up with the absolute top of the division may come later, but pitting Letourneau against inexperienced cannon fodder would not sit well either. Rebecca Ruth is far from that and sits right around the upper mid-card spot in the division.
Ruth shut down Lena Ovchynnikova’s hype train before its engines had been fired up, before being submitted by Ilima-Lei Macfarlane in June 2016. On top of that, Ruth was scheduled as the debut opponent for Colleen Schneider back in January before pulling out injured. Bellator could easily put Ruth in a similar position once again.
Colleen Schneider (11-7)
The most experienced member of Bellator’s flyweight roster, Colleen Schneider is also one of their most talented. In the best form of her career, Schneider has won five of her past six since being submitted by Irene Aldana in 2015. Schneider’s only defeat since then was a decision loss against world-class bantamweight Tonya Evinger for the Invicta FC title in May 2016.
I can arrange a welcoming party. 🤗 https://t.co/1iC5b1Y5O3
— Colleen Schneider (@ColleenFights) April 24, 2017
Schneider, like Letourneau, is one of the division’s most proven commodities despite her continued improvement from fight to fight. For Letourneau, it is a fight that would offer the opportunity to make a major statement in her debut. For Schneider, a chance to secure arguably the biggest win of her career to date.
Lena Ovchynnikova (12-4)
Another experienced veteran of the division, Lena Ovchynnikova was given a reasonable promotional push ahead of her Bellator debut against Rebecca Ruth. It was a fight that Ovchynnikova lost as expectations were tempered, but the Ukrainian remains a dangerous flyweight.
Ovchynnikova has since won both of her subsequent Bellator fights, and unlike heavily promoted Russian Anastasia Yankova, has been both impressive, and booked without protection. A bout with Letourneau would be an easy sell on a Spike TV main card and give the victor a tonne of momentum going forward.
Bellator: Selecting the Four Alternates for the Heavyweight Grand Prix.
With an 8-man tournament bracket full of legends and former champions, join us as we chose four alternates for the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Main Tournament Participants:
- Fedor Emelianenko
- Frank Mir
- Chael Sonnen
- Quinton Jackson
- Roy Nelson
- Matt Mitrione
- Ryan Bader
- King Mo Lawal
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) November 28, 2017
The alternate tournament bracket will consist of: two opening round fights (semi-final), and then two victorious fighters competing against one another at the finale (final). This will determine a worthy contender to step into the main tournament bracket, in case any of the main bracket fighters are injured in their semi-final bouts.
If a pull-out or injury occurs before the opening bouts, I believe Bellator have to select the most decorated fighter, and a natural heavyweight fighter. So in case of a pull-out occurring before the opening round, I would select my #1 alternate, and so on for any more opening pull-outs.
This structure covers all bases, and keeps the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament intense and prestigious.
So with the structure laid out, here is our selected alternate fighters.
- #1: Vitaly Minakov
- #2: Linton Vassell
- #3: Attilah Vegh
- #4: Emanuel Newton
Alternate Opening Round [Semi-Final]:
- Bout 1: #1 Vs. #3
- Bout 2: #2 Vs. #4
- Victor of Bout #1/#3 Vs. Victor of Bout #2 Vs. #4
Linton Vassell vs. Emanuel Newton would be a trilogy that needs to be completed. Linton dominated on the ground for the most part of their first bout, but felt he gave up positions he felt he could have held longer, and took needless transitions and risks; allowing for a very sneaky Emanuel Newton to escape the clutches of ‘The Swarm’, and when the gas tank begins to empty – a scrambling Emanuel Newton is not what you want!
Vitaly Minakov: A former Bellator tournament winner, and former Bellator heavyweight champion. A Judo black belt, and multi time Sambo world champion, there’s no denying this man’s resume as one of the best put forth out of these 4 fighters.
Linton Vassell: A man who really lives up to the moniker – ‘The Swarm’, Linton Vassell has dominated and dispatched various opponents Bellator have put across from him. Having fallen short in two title fights, and a close decision loss to King Mo, Linton has shown that he’s there with the best Bellator has to offer, maybe the Heavyweight Grand Prix might see the dark-horse finally come into the lime-light! Currently contracted to Bellator with a 7-3 record for the promotion.
If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:
@BellatorMMA @ScottCoker I want in on this World Grand Prix, anyone gets hurt or injured I want in, I want to be that alternant. Plus I got some unfinished business to attend to. #cantstopwontstop pic.twitter.com/zHtpMzHcya
— Linton Vassell (@LDV_TheSwarm) November 19, 2017
Emanuel Newton: Already holding two victories over King Mo, who’s allocated in this Heavyweight main tournament bracket – that alone is just cause to enter Emanuel. An exciting and unpredictable entry this would be. Bellator parted ways with Emanuel in 2016. Currently, Newton is not on the best of runs, but this tournament needs a ‘wild-card’, and Emanuel owns that title.
Attilah Vegh: A former Bellator LHW champion. Not currently signed to Bellator. Was strangely released in 2014 after having a record of 5-1 with the promotion, and some victories over some very reputable names. Currently on a 2 fight win-streak outside of Bellator MMA.
If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:
Bellator 192 at The Forum – Jan. 20, 2018: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (37-12) vs. Chael Sonnen (30-15-1)
Bellator 194 at Mohegan Sun Arena – Feb. 16, 2018: Matt Mitrione (12-5) vs. Roy Nelson (23-14)
Bellator at Allstate Arena – April, 2018: Fedor Emelianenko (36-5, 1 NC) vs. Frank Mir (18-11)
Bellator at SAP Center – May, 2018: Ryan Bader (24-5) vs. “King Mo” Lawal (21-6, 1 NC)
Exclusive: Hisaki Kato: “My priorities are in MMA”
French-Japanese middleweight Hasaki Kato returns to the Bellator cage Friday as he takes on former welterweight Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani. Ahead of the high-level striking match-up, Kato took the time out of his busy schedule to speak with MMA Latest.
Rangy striker Njokuani makes his middleweight debut Friday as he looks to erase his loss to Andrey Koreshkov from recent memory. It isn’t lost on Kato just how tall and lanky the 6’3 striker truly is. “Well he’s very tall,” Kato tells MMA Latest. “He was a welterweight but even for a middleweight he’s really tall he’s like 6’2, 6’3 taller than me, longer reach than me. Obviously, I was watching his fights, he’s fighting with range and using his reach to fight so that’s his number one weapon.”
In Njokuani’s last fight, Koreshkov, the former welterweight champion, held Njokuani down and elbowed him until the ref stepped in. So what exactly went wrong in the fight? “Well, first I think Koreshkov is really, really strong,” Kato explains. “Chidi Njokuani normally escapes the ground part or at least he’s on top of his opponent. But Koreshkov has good pressure and good grappling and he could take the top position. Obviously, Njokuani is not comfortable when he is on the bottom. So yeah, I think he couldn’t play his game during the last fight because Koreshkov was putting too much pressure on him.”
Former UFC fighter, Gegard Mousasi, recently made his debut against Alexander Shlemenko back in October. The Dutchman had a tough debut that resulted in a controversial decision win, Kato weighed in on whether or not he’s eyeing a fight with him and what he thought of his Bellator debut. “If I have an offer I will fight him,” he says without any particular enthusiasm. “I will fight everybody in the division. Yeah, for the last fight, well, I think luckily for him it was a three-round fight. I think if it was a five round fight the victory would have gone to Shlemenko. I don’t know maybe he had a bad camp, I don’t know but he was doing terrible.”
Kato also believes a title shot isn’t far away. “I believe I’m really close to that (a title shot),” he says. “After the win, after the Gracie fight, even if it was a decision win, the Gracie is a big family name so I was expecting a title fight. I didn’t have it so I guess if I win this time I have a good chance to have it.”
Whatever you do, don’t expect to see Kato back in a kickboxing ring anytime soon. Does it interest him to return? “Not really,” Kato replies after giving the question some thought. “If the offer is good then why not, for now, I feel more comfortable in MMA so my focus, my priorities, are in MMA.”
Many fans were very disappointed with the way his last fight turned out. Paired up against jiu-jitsu fighter, Ralek Gracie, Kato ended up going to the judges for the first time in his career. “Yeah the fight itself was really frustrating,” Kato admits. “I couldn’t do what I wanted and after two rounds, I knew I had done enough to win, and I knew he would push more. So I decided ‘yeah ok then it’s going to a decision’ but at the very least I had to win that fight. That’s why I didn’t take too many risks in the third round. During the first and the second, I really wanted to end that fight like I always try but I couldn’t do it.”
So why hasn’t Kato fought since January? “I had an offer in September,” he says. “But I got injured during the training and had to go into surgery, and after the surgery, the process is really long to recover so that’s why.”
So what does Kato predict for the fight? “Obviously his nickname is ‘Bang’ you know, he likes to fight and that’s all I like doing too,” Kato laughs. “I’m really thinking about having a big knockout with my hands.”
Exclusive: Fernando Gonzalez talks Paul Daley and Michael Page fights
Long-time Bellator welterweight contender, Fernando Gonzalez, has made a career out of fighting the best fighters his promotion had to offer. The always tough Californian has displayed this willingness to fight the best when he took on Paul Daley in a kickboxing match and when he took on Michael ‘Venom’ Page, in what was supposed to be Page’s coming out fight.
The kickboxing match with Daley happened back in 2015 at “Bellator MMA and Glory: Dynamite 1” in an event that featured both Glory kickboxing as well as its fair share of intriguing Bellator MMA fights. Gonzalez would go on to lose the fight in what many fans called a ‘lackluster’ contest. Speaking to MMA Latest, Gonzalez was asked if he had any interest in returning to the kickboxing ring and why he participated in Glory kickboxing.
“No. Honestly, that kickboxing match was more just to get Daley; because they kept trying to give him to me on short notice and one was on an injury,” Gonzalez told MMA Latest. “So I was like, ‘no I don’t want to give him an easy win’, but the only thing they came up with was that kickboxing match in that time. So ever since that fight, I was like ‘listen dude lets do this MMA’. I’m an MMA guy, I know how to kickbox and I’m good with it but I prefer MMA. I love doing MMA. I don’t like to have too many rules put on me. I like being able to go out there and flow freely. Honestly, I want Daley in an MMA fight so he gets the real fight.”
Gonzalez’ fight with Michael Page was booked as the veteran getting fed to the younger up and coming contender. The fight was Page’s opportunity to add another highlight reel knockout to his collection. Obviously, someone forgot to tell Gonzalez. Gonzalez went out and made sure he never gave Page any openings, unfortunately, he would go on to lose the fight by split decision. Fernando explains what went wrong in his only Bellator loss.
“Honestly the only thing that went wrong in the fight is how people viewed the fight”, Gonzalez explains. “If you really look at the fight he really didn’t land anything. The whole first round they’re talking him up, how he’s dancing and how it’s putting me into a lullaby and this and that. I was never in danger. He was not throwing a single punch. This is MMA, you cant just take on the fight with one style, you have to fight different styles for different people. If it was just boxing, you would fight a boxer just one way realistically, but Michael Page has the karate style. So you have to come up with a different formula if you’re going to fight somebody like that.”
“So my style with him, I knew that he’s used to everybody rushing him and trying to take him down. I’m a striker so I don’t mind striking. If I’m not in danger then I’m going to keep it striking. So what I did was I circled, I kept him at arm’s length, so he constantly had to throw long arms where he’s having to reach out and grab you. He’s throwing those arms out, that makes him have to basically hold his arms out a lot longer than he’s used to. He’s used to guys rushing in on him. So with me playing that outside game, obviously my legs are a lot longer than my arms, so I had to throw a lot more kicks, there was a lot of head kicks to take away his power-punch where he leaps in. By doing that, that made him work a lot longer in the second and third round where he’s normally finishing guys. By that third round, he was completely exhausted and couldn’t throw. He said his timing was off and this and that, but he was just exhausted. I had already gassed him out and he had just enough to stay away from me.”
“Really it’s just how you see the fight. They automatically assumed I had to take him down to win and that’s not necessarily true. If I’m not in danger, and I’m landing kicks, and I’m landing good shots, and he’s hitting my arms. Realistically most of the shots he landed were on my arms and that really doesn’t count. So it’s really just how you see it and that’s why one judge had it 30-27. It’s just how you’re seeing the fight. If you’re a striker you would know what you’re looking at, but if you’re a ground guy, of course, you’re going to say ‘oh I got to get it to the ground’ which is what the commentators were; two ground guys talking about what I should’ve done.”
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