One weekend, two events. It’s a tall task, but it’s an undertaking that Bellator has opted for this coming weekend. On Saturday, the promotion heads to Rome, Italy, for Bellator 203. However, it’s Friday’s Bellator 202 event that features the better MMA lineup, including a women’s featherweight championship tilt between titleholder Julia Budd and challenger Talita Nogueira.

The Canadian Budd has reigned supreme over Bellator MMA’s 145-pound women since capturing the belt in early 2017. After reeling off wins in her first three Bellator outings, Budd stopped Marloes Coenen with strikes to claim gold. The champ has since added a successful, albeit close, defense against Arlene Blencowe.

Budd’s opponent is a Brazilian fighter who has only made one previous appearance with the organization. The 32-year-old Nogueira brought an early end to her Bellator 182 fight when she submitted Amanda Bell in the first round. All of Nogueira’s previous appearances came on the Brazilian regional circuit.

The Bellator 202 lineup is further bolstered by a co-headliner between former Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas and key free-agent acquisition Michael McDonald, who used to compete for the UFC. Dantas was dethroned as the champion in October when he dropped a decision to Darrion Caldwell. McDonald is undefeated through one Bellator appearance.

The four-fight main card also includes middleweights Chris Honeycutt and Leo Leite, as well as heavyweights Valentin Moldavsky and Ernest James.

Bellator’s 202nd event, which takes place at WinStar World Casino and resort in Thackerville, Okla., kicks off with the preliminary card on Bellator.com at 7 p.m. ET before shifting to the Paramount Network for the main card at 9 p.m. ET.

Talita Nogueira is undefeated through seven pro outings, but she has only won once since 2013. Is she a serious threat to Julia Budd in the headlining women’s featherweight championship contest?

Nogueira’s had both a long and a short road to this title fight. On one hand, she was signed by Bellator in 2014 and didn’t even get to fight until 2017. On the other hand, she converted that one fight, a win over Amanda Bell, into a title berth. Nogueira has justifiable reasons for her absence: she spent a year on the mend from a torn ACL and meniscus and then came in heavy for her next scheduled fight after dealing with the loss of her mother just before accepting the bout.

“Treta” is an excellent grappler who trains out of Demian Maia’s Vila da Luta camp. She used her submission skills to easily dispatch of the aforementioned Bell, and she already had four prior submission victories (plus two knockouts). If nothing else, we can expect Nogueira to go for the finish early and often.

This isn’t an uphill battle because of Nogueira’s time off, necessarily. It has more to do with the level of competition she’ll see in Budd. The 35-year-old champ has been grinding her way through the competition for years now. The Muay Thai fighter hasn’t lost a fight since early career stumbles to future UFC stars Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey under the Strikeforce banner. Budd, who had also defeated former MMA star Gina Carano in kickboxing competition, also picked up a victory over future UFCer Germaine de Randamie in this stretch. After the loss to Rousey, Budd streaked through four Invicta Fighting Championships opponents, including Charmaine Tweet, and then joined Bellator and added on another five victories, including two razor-thin decisions over Arlene Blencowe, the title win over Marloes Coenen and decision nods over the highly regarded Gabrielle Holloway and Roberta Paim Rovel.

Budd is one of the strongest and most dominant members of a shallow women’s featherweight class. Blencowe seems to be the one fighter who has almost figured out the champ, but even she came up short. Nogueira might be able to finish what Blencowe started, but it’s doubtful. Budd will smother her Brazilian counterpart and stuff any submission attempts Nogueira offers. This one should go the distance, but Budd will come out on top.

Michael McDonald is now 1-0 since joining Bellator, but Eduardo Dantas marks a huge step up from McDonald’s last opponent, Peter Ligier. Will McDonald emerge with another win?

Other than a loss to Cole Escovedo in 2009, McDonald has truly only struggled with the best of the best. He failed in a UFC bantamweight title challenge against Renan Barão, who still looked elite at the time of their encounter. Later in 2013, he was submitted by Urijah Faber, a legend of the sport and a perennial title challenger at the time. Following a long struggle with injuries, McDonald returned in 2016 and won one fight before falling via knockout against John Lineker, who has made a habit of putting people to sleep in the Octagon.

The 29-year-old Dantas is no pushover, though. The Brazilian has enjoyed several stints at the top of the Bellator mountain, and he holds victories over the likes of Hiromasa Ogikubo, Wilson Reis, Zach Makovsky, Marcos Galvão (twice), Joe Warren and Leandro Higo. However, he’s also lost at inopportune moments against Tyson Nam, the aforementioned Warren and Darrion Caldwell.

This is a key fight in the UFC vs. Bellator war. McDonald may have seen his value plummet after his injury-plagued stretch in the UFC, but he was still a top bantamweight at the time of his departure from the company. Meanwhile, Dantas has won a Bellator tournament and two title belts, and he’s made four successful defenses across those two reigns. He’s among the best 135-pounders on the Bellator roster.

McDonald is part of a wave of incoming UFC free agents who can take Bellator to the next level. He never quite lived up to his potential inside the Octagon, but he’s poised to get back on track with Bellator. He will have a hard time finding a finish against Dantas, but he should edge “Dudu” on the scorecards.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

He’s only 24 years old, but Yaroslav Amosov already has 19 victories in his professional career. The Tech-Krep FC fighter is set to make his Bellator debut in Oklahoma against UFC veteran Gerald Harris. This fight might not be a surefire bet to bring fireworks, but it will tell us a lot about the prospects of an undefeated young fighter.

The Ukrainian Amosov has seen very little world-class competition in his time in the sport. He’s also never fought outside of Russia and Ukraine, outside of one trip to Moldova. This trip halfway around the world could have a big impact on Amosov’s performance, but it could also mark him as a great find for Bellator if he scores the win. The youngster already has nine submissions and eight knockouts on his resume. He’s only gone the distance twice and scored 12 of his finishes in the first frame.

Harris had been in retirement before accepting a late-notice fight at a 188-pound catchweight at Bellator 198. Rafael Lovato Jr. was able to submit Harris in just 71 seconds, adding to a resume that already included losses to Josh Burkman, James Head, Maiquel Falcão, Benji Radach and Fabio Leopoldo, plus an exhibition loss to Amir Sadollah. On a positive note, though, The Ultimate Fighter 7 alum did manage a 3-1 run inside the UFC that included a win over future two-division World Series of Fighting champion David Branch. He’s also registered wins over John Salter and Mario Miranda inside the UFC, as well as Mike Bronzoulis and Jorge Santiago outside of the UFC.

Harris is a game opponent for Amosov. He has suffered a few stoppage losses, but tends to be a hard out. The 38-year-old has also recorded 11 knockouts and six submissions, so he can finish fights. Harris has the benefit of fighting near home, which could give him all the edge he needs.

It’ll be an intriguing fight that only helps to make this one of the more must-watch prelim offerings that Bellator has delivered. The lineup also features potential barnburners at heavyweight, where Rudy Schaffroth should have an opportunity to tee off on Jon Hill, and welterweight, where Fernando Gonzalez and Tyler Ingram could provide an entertaining scrap.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (Paramount Network, 9 p.m. ET)
Women’s FW Championship: Julia Budd vs. Talita Nogueira Budd
BW: Eduardo Dantas vs. Michael McDonald McDonald
MW: Chris Honeycutt vs. Leo Leite Leite
HW: Valentin Moldavsky vs. Ernest James Moldavsky
Preliminary Card (Bellator.com, 7 p.m. ET)
HW: Jon Hill vs. Rudy Schaffroth Schaffroth
WW: Fernando Gonzalez vs. Tyler Ingram Gonzalez
LW: Steve Kozola vs. Ryan Walker Kozola
WW: Yaroslav Amosov vs. Gerald Harris Amosov
Women’s FlyW: Emily Ducote vs. Veta Arteaga Ducote
LW: Will Morris vs. Charles Williams Morris
LW: Nation Gibrick vs. Luis Erives Gibrick
FW: Aaron Webb vs. Daniel Carey Webb
Women’s FlyW: Stephanie Geltmacher vs. Deborah Kouzmin Kouzmin

About The Author

Bryan Henderson
Editor-in-Chief

Bryan Henderson became a fan of MMA in the late '90s when he happened upon the early UFC events on VHS at a local video rental store. He started writing about the sport on his Sporting News member blog in 2007 before becoming an official staff writer for Sporting News' "The Rumble" MMA/boxing blog. He went on to become a staff writer and the Features Manager for MMA DieHards before moving on to The MMA Corner, where he assumed the role of Editor-in-Chief. Bryan left The MMA Corner in 2014 and founded Combat Press along with two of his colleagues. In addition to covering mixed martial arts, Bryan also operated the Modified Mind body modification e-zine website for more than a decade.

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