• Stephen Rivers

Ranking the Division - Bellator Women's Featherweight

When people discuss the UFC’s failed attempts to introduce a women’s featherweight division, they often point to the progress rival promotion Bellator have made with the weight class as a point of comparison.

While the UFC has no real division to speak of, Bellator does at least have a handful of 145 pound fighters under full contract, and a few more who fill in where appropriate on the preliminary portion of their events.

Bellator’s effort has manifested better than the UFC’s, that is unquestionable, but comparing the output of both companies within the women’s featherweight space isn’t exactly like comparing apples and oranges either. More like cabbage and cauliflower. Closely-related, one a little better than the other, but both still not all that tasty or appealing.

Even the biggest Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino fan would have a hard time pretending that women’s 145 pounds was their favourite UFC weight class. Bellator’s is fleshed out a little more, but still remains unloved by most.

As far as promotional divisions go in mixed martial arts, this is real bottom end stuff. There are talented fighters competing at featherweight, but they do not exist in the sort of volume necessary to support thriving divisions in more than one major promotion.

The UFC does at least have a featherweight champion, who also happens to be the greatest fighter of all time -- Amanda Nunes. They also list official featherweight rankings on their website. The list of one does not go beyond the champ-champ, but it exists.

Unlike the UFC, Bellator do -- barely -- have enough fighters competing under their promotional banner to create a legitimate ranking system at 145 pounds. So on their behalf, unofficially and without approval, one has been created for them.

The criteria for inclusion and positioning are straightforward. A fighter must have at least one Bellator win at 145 pounds on their resume to be included, and they must have fought for the promotion within the past 18 months.

Fighters are ranked based on their win/loss records, with a heavy focus on the level of competition faced. Who they have beaten rather than who they could beat. Wins inside the Bellator cage also count for more than those achieved elsewhere.

Rankings so often seem unimportant, largely because most of them are compiled so poorly by people with no real understanding of how they work, or by those who don’t care enough to keep them true. See the UFC’s made-for-television top 15s, compiled by cretins with clear bias and illogical submission, for a point of reference.

Yet rankings are an important part of any sport, even one that clings onto that term as loosely as MMA does. Rankings provide the landscape for competition. They give clarity on where competitors stand, and what they have to do to achieve the next progression towards their goals.

So without further ado, here is the rundown of Bellator’s top 10 featherweights. A shallow division mapped out for all to see.

Bellator's reigning featherweight champion, Julia Budd

1 - Julia Budd - Bellator Featherweight Champion (13-2 Career, 7-0 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Gabby Holloway, Roberta Paim, Arlene Blencowe x 2, Marloes Coenen, Talita Nogueira, Olga Rubin

Bellator losses - None

The jewel in Bellator’s featherweight crown, Julia Budd is a world class fighter. Arguably she is the only one on Bellator’s 145 pound roster who can call herself that. The 36-year-old is riding an 11-fight win streak that dates back to 2012 and has beaten everyone Bellator has to offer.

The Canadian is the only women’s featherweight champion Bellator have known. Crowned with a win over women’s MMA original Marloes Coenen, Budd has made three successful defences of her title and become a powerful attraction in Thackerville, Oklahoma.

The problem for Budd, and Bellator, is that all of the most interesting future opponents are fighting for other promotions. Cyborg would be the dream f0e, but if Bellator are unable to sign the most significant free agent in the sport at this time, they will remain in desperate need of an influx of new talent. Finding it will not be easy.

2. Arlene Blencowe (12-7 Career, 5-3 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Adrienna Jenkins, Gabby Holloway, Sinead Kavanagh, Amber Leibrock, Amanda Bell

Bellator losses - Julia Budd x 2, Marloes Coenen

The only fighter to really push Julia Budd competitively inside the Bellator cage, Arlene Blencowe has set herself apart as the promotion’s number two featherweight.

The Australian has gone 10-3 since 2013 and her only defeats have come against elite talent. Majority and split decision losses to Budd came with no shame attached, and Blencowe holds wins over four of the other fighters on this list.

3. Olga Rubin (6-1 Career, 4-1 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Laurita Likker-Cibirite, Joana Filipa, Cindy Dandois, Iony Razafiarison

Bellator losses - Julia Budd

Rubin came up well short in her recent title tilt against Julia Budd, losing via TKO in little more than two minutes. That was the Russian fighter’s first career defeat.

Making her professional debut with Bellator in 2016, the level of competition Rubin has faced is what you would expect for such an inexperienced fighter. She did defeat tough to beat Belgian, Cindy Dandois in 2018 though.

4. Talita Nogueira (7-1 Career, 1-1 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Amanda Bell

Bellator losses - Julia Budd

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ace Talita Nogueira signed with Bellator in 2014, but did not make her debut with the promotion until 2017. Bouts with Julia Budd and Marloes Coenen were both cancelled, the latter because Nogueira failed to make weight.

By the time the decorated grappler finally made her debut against Amanda Bell, hopes were high that Nogueira could become a force at 145. An impressive first round submission win stoked the fire of expectation, before Julia Budd all but extinguished it in a one-sided title defence last year.

5. Janay Harding (5-3 career, 2-1 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Sinead Kavanagh, Marina Mokhnatkina

Bellator losses - Amber Leibrock

Janay Harding has been fighting against notable opposition for the majority of her still-young MMA career. That is reflected numerically in her 5-3 record, which includes early defeats against Jessy Jess and Arlene Blencowe before Harding signed with Bellator.

More recently, the 5’10 Australian rebounded impressively from a defeat to Amber Leibrock in 2018, with back to back wins against Sinead Kavanagh and Marina Mokhnatkina. Harding remains a work in progress, but one with worthy potential.

6. Leslie Smith (11-7-1 Career, 1-1 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Sinead Kavanagh

Bellator losses - Kerry Vera

The “Peacemaker” actually made her first appearance inside the Bellator cage back in 2009, losing by decision to Kerry Vera at bantamweight in only her second pro fight.

Following a thrilling run of exciting wars inside the UFC’s octagon, ending with an absurd, abhorrent cut from the roster, Smith eventually wound up back in Bellator in 2019. The passionate advocate for fighter unionisation did enough to defeat Sinead Kavanagh by majority decision.

Admittedly Smith’s positioning on this list is as much a product of her strong run and level of competition prior to signing with Bellator, as it is that win over Kavanagh, but she remains a likely challenger for Budd’s title down the road. Partly because she is one of the bigger names under Bellator contract, but also because the reigning champion has already beaten everyone else.

7. Amanda Bell (6-6 Career, 2-2 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Brittney Elkin, Amber Leibrock

Bellator losses - Talita Nogueira, Arlene Blencowe

Ever underrated as a featherweight force, Amanda Bell has a number of strong wins on her resume. The problem has been putting a run together, with just as many defeats providing balance to an entertaining body of work.

In July Bell was put away in only 22 seconds by former title challenger Arlene Blencowe. Bellator wins over Brittney Elkin and Amber Leibrock showed what the “Lady Killer” is capable of when it all comes together.

8. Amber Leibrock (3-3 Career, 1-2 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Janay Harding

Bellator losses - Arlene Blencowe, Amanda Bell

After winning her professional debut against faux-Horsewoman Marina Shafir in 2015, Amber Leibrock emerged as one of the brightest prospects in the featherweight division.

Yet like many of Bellator’s featherweights, Leibrock has found it hard to put a run together in her still-young MMA career. The reality at 145 pounds is that away from the top three or four fighters, the respective gaps in talent between each of the chasing pack are slim. Wins and losses are traded regularly.

Leibrock made a winning start to her Bellator career, defeating Janay Harding last year. While Harding has gone on to secure back-to-back wins against Sinead Kavanagh and Marina Mokhnatkina since that fight, Leibrock has floundered with losses to Arlene Blencowe and Amanda Bell.

9. Iony Razafiarison (6-3 Career, 1-2 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Sinead Kavanagh

Bellator losses - Bryanna Fissori, Olga Rubin

Iony Razafiarison is not a natural featherweight, but has competed at the weight in two of her three Bellator outings. In 2017 Razafiarison handed Sinead Kavanagh -- then considered a solid European prospect -- her first professional defeat.

That kickstarted a four-fight win streak across Europe, before the 34-year-old returned to the Bellator cage in February. There she lost to Olga Rubin via unanimous decision.

10. Sinead Kavanagh (5-4 Career, 2-4 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Elina Kallionidou, Maria Casanova

Bellator losses - Iony Razafiarison, Arlene Blencowe, Janay Harding, Leslie Smith

Irish SBG product Sinead Kavanagh started her professional career promisingly with four straight wins and a spot on the Bellator roster.

Times have changed, with a significant step up in competition producing understandably poorer results. Kavanagh has now lost four of her past five, but remains a game and competitive opponent for most 145ers below the division’s elite, as she proved in her recent defeat to Leslie Smith.

Honorable Mention - Leah McCourt (2-1 Career, 1-0 Bellator)

Bellator wins - Hatice Ozyurt

Bellator losses - none

The only other fighter with a Bellator featherweight win to their name, who has competed for the promotion with the past 18 months, McCourt is an IMMAF World and European amateur champion.

Still in the formative stages of her professional career, McCourt is scheduled to fight Kerry Hughes at Bellator 227.


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