Bellator’s flyweight division can be the best

There are many questions that continue to perplex mankind. Who really shot JFK? Was the moon landing real, or staged? Why did those stupid, spoiled rich millennials ever think the Fyre Festival was going to actually be a thing? But most importantly, when the hell is Bellator MMA going to crown its first long-promised flyweight champion?

It’s been more than a year since Bellator CEO Scott Coker said his organization would introduce a flyweight champion. Bellator has no shortage of worthy contenders to be the first flyweight champion, including Ilima Lei-Macfarlane, Emily Ducote, Lena Ovchynnikova and – assuming she is able to actually make the 125-pound weight limit to compete at flyweight – Anastasia Yankova.

But that isn’t all. The flyweight division in Bellator recently received a huge boost when it signed several fighters, including Valerie Letourneau, formerly of the UFC. Letourneau is perhaps best known for facing UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 193 in 2015, which was the same card that had the massive upset of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey by Holly Holm.

Joining Letourneau in Bellator is Alejandra Lara (6-1), Sabriye Sengul (0-0), Kristi Lopez (2-0), Na Liang (6-0) and Juliana Velasquez (5-0). Among the group’s 25 total victories, 14 of those came way of knockout or submission. Moving to Bellator will result in the biggest stage for just about all of these fighters, even though Velasquez trains with the Nogueira brothers, Sengul went 6-1 as a kickboxer and Liang competed in China.

There appears to be a void in women’s MMA at the moment with the apparent retirement of Rousey. A vacuum exists for someone to step in and be the next big star in the sport. UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes has all the tools to be a star, but for some reason the UFC is still hesitant to market her as such. It may have something to do with her 48-second knockout of UFC President Dana White’s favorite fighter (Rousey, for those not paying attention), or it could have to do with something more sinister.

Jedrzejczyk also has the tools to be one of the faces of the UFC and if you follow her Twitter feed, you can see why. But the UFC also seems hesitant to get behind her, while pushing to the moon other strawweights like Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson. But VanZant and Waterson came up short in fights against likely-no. 1-strawweight contender Rose Namajunas that would have propelled them to the next level. So, the UFC finds themselves in a conundrum with its female fighters, it seems. Don’t even get me started on its farce of a women’s featherweight division.

But we’re not talking about the UFC; we’re talking about Bellator. The organization has a real opportunity to showcase the newfound depth and talent in its flyweight division, which I think might be the deepest currently in MMA – the UFC included. Ducote will welcome Letourneau to Bellator in July, and Macfarlane has been campaigning to compete in the first Bellator flyweight title fight.

I think Macfarlane should be one of the participants in that fight, and she should either have a rematch of her very good bout late last year with Ducote or face Ovchynnikova, who’s won two of three in Bellator and is coming off a knockout win last month. The wild card in Bellator’s flyweight division, however, is Yankova.

Although she’s undefeated in her Bellator and overall pro MMA career, Yankova has been unable to make the 125-pound weight limit to officially compete in flyweight bouts. This has been a bone of contention among her fellow Bellator female fighters, and it’s no secret that Bellator wants to make her one of the faces of the organization. Which I can’t really blame it for:

If Yankova can make 125 pounds for her next fight and win, I think she should be placed in the cage opposite Macfarlane or someone else to fight for the first Bellator flyweight title – if that ever actually happens.

Other female fighters like Bec Rawlings and Joanne Calderwood have expressed a desire to fight at flyweight, and Calderwood actually did so, against Letourneau no less, for the UFC last year. Although both Rawlings and Calderwood are still under contract to the UFC, Rawlings has expressed a desire to compete at flyweight as well. Could Bellator be in both of these ladies’ future?

Adding a proven name to Letourneau and bringing in new faces to pair with its current group of talent gives Bellator’s flyweight division a big shot in the arm. If it could persuade more fighters like Rawlings or Calderwood to jump ship, Bellator might have the best women’s division in all of mixed martial arts.

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Chris Huntemann
Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also opines on all things UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting and any other MMA topics he cares to bloviate about. You should check out his blog, or his Twitter. Or both. When he's not watching MMA, he's an avid fan of other sports, such as football, baseball and college basketball. He may or may not do other, non-sports-related things as well.

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