GROCKE’S TAKE: Bellator continues to impress with new commitment to Women’s Flyweight Division

By Michael Grocke, MMATorch contributor

Bellator MMA made news by signing six fighters to its Women’s Flyweight Division with plans to have its first-ever champion by year’s end. This was a bold move for the promotion and one that I commend them for making. Not only does it show that they are committed to the division, but it also shows they are looking for and paying for quality talent. The 125 pound weight class is a much needed division and the fact that the UFC just announced their plans for one backs up that notion. I continue to be impressed with Scott Coker and Bellator’s aggressiveness in the free agent market and I hope to see it continue.

“2017 has been a big year for us in terms of bringing in marquee free agents who can have an immediate impact on their division,” said Bellator President Scott Coker. “This group of flyweight signings demonstrates that we’re committed to that throughout our roster, as we’re adding even more depth to an already-competitive weight class. We’re adding a proven title contender, along with a group of prospects from all around the globe, and we look forward to putting on great fights and displaying the talent this division has to offer.”

The six new signees join an already solid group of women including: Emily Ducote (5-3), Lena Ovchynnikova (12-4, 1 NC), Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (6-0), Anastasia Yankova (5-0) – if she ever make weight – and Keri Taylor-Melendez (1-0).

It will be interesting to see how Scott Coker books the division in the short term. Valerie Letourneau joins the division with the most name recognition having fought for the strawweight title while under the UFC banner. It would have made sense to give her an immediate title shot. Instead she’ll take on Emily Ducote at Bellator 181. I’d prefer to have seen Letourneau against Ilima-Lei Macfarlane for the inaugural title. Perhaps Macfarlane will take another fight soon, and if they both win we’ll still get that fight towards the end of the year.

Let’s take a closer look at the six women joining Bellator’s Flyweight Division.

Valerie Letourneau (8-6)

The 34 year old Letourneau’s first fight for the UFC came against Elizabeth Phillips at UFC 174 back in June, 2014. She won her debut over Phillips via split decision and went on to win her next two fights. She beat Jessica Rakoczy at UFC 186 and Maryna Moroz at UFC Fight Night 74, both wins by unanimous decision. After going 3-0 she was given a fight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship. The fight was the co-main event at UFC 193 which was headlined by Rousey vs. Holm. Letourneau lost a one-sided affair by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 50-45).

That loss started what turned out to be a three fight skid. She was finished by Joanne Calderwood in the third round at UFC Fight Night 89 and dropped a split decision to Viviane Pereira at UFC 206. Letourneau announced her departure from the UFC in February of this year.

Signing with Bellator makes sense for the American Top Team fighter. She will now fight in weight class better suited for her and she comes in as one of the favorites to win the new title.

Alejandra Lara (6-1)

The 22 year old Colombian fights out of Team Lobo and boasts five finishes in her six professional wins. After starting out 4-0 Lara suffered her first loss when she dropped a decision to Sabina Mazo at SFC 18. She bounced back with two consecutive wins and hopes to ride that momentum into Bellator. Fighting primarily in her native country, Lara will be making both her U.S. and Bellator debuts.

Kristie Lopez (2-0)

Lopez finished her amateur career with a 4-1 record with three of the four wins going the distance. She is 2-0 as a professional with both fights taking place in 2014. Lopez’s last fight came at the Ultimate Fighter 23 where she was beaten soundly by JJ Aldrich. Lopez will be making only her third professional appearance when she debuts for Bellator.

Juliana Velasquez (5-0)

Brazilian born Velasquez is undefeated in her professional MMA career fighting solely in Brazil. Of her five wins, two are by KO/TKO along with three that went to the judges. Her most recent victory was a decision over Taynna Taygma in November of last year. Like Alejandra Lara, Velasquez will be making both her U.S. and Bellator debuts. She continues to train in Brazil under the Nogueira brothers.

Sabriye Sengul (0-0)

The 28 year old is 6-1 as a kickboxer fighting out of her native country of Turkey. She has won three Turkish championships in both boxing and kickboxing and is a K1 World Cup Champion. She also won the WKU World Championship in Istanbul by beating longtime rival Vanessa De Waelle of Belgium. Having achieved championship levels of success in boxing and kickboxing, Sengul hopes to bring those skills to the world of mixed martial arts and Bellator.

Na Liang (6-0)

The Chinese submission artist is undefeated winning all six of her professional fights inside the distance. Of her six wins only one made it into the second round. Her most recent fight was a 38 second demolition of Hara Dimitroula. Liang started her career as a bantamweight but her last three fights were at 125 lbs. where she plans on staying. Like many of the other latest signees, Liang has yet to fight outside of her native country.

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS EDITORIAL: GROCKE’S TAKE: Why the Professional Fighters League Deserves Your Support

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