Bellator heads to Thackerville, Okla., and the WinStar World Casino on July 12 for Bellator 224, which features a four-fight main card capped by a title fight in the women’s featherweight division.
Current champion Julia Budd puts her title on the line against undefeated 29-year-old Olga Rubin. Budd is on a 10-fight winning streak dating all the way back to 2011. She has been able to easily dispatch most of her opponents in Bellator thanks to her grinding style. Rubin made the move from kickboxing to MMA. She has been on a tear in Bellator, where she won four fights en route to this title shot.
The co-headliner takes us over to the men’s side, where Chidi Njokuani meets former Bellator middleweight champ Rafael Carvalho. Carvalho is on a two-fight skid, but the Brazilian has faced Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi, two of the best UFC veterans to come over to the Bellator ranks, in those losing efforts. Carvalho was on a 15-fight winning streak before his title loss to Mousasi. Njokuani is 3-2 in his last five fights, with his last win coming in December 2017 against Hisaki Kato.
Two additional bouts round out the main card. In a women’s flyweight tilt, Juliana Velasquez clashes with Kristina Williams. At welterweight, Ed Ruth will look to get back in the win column when he takes on UFC veteran Kiichi Kunimoto.
The Bellator 224 preliminary card airs live on Bellator.com at 6:45 p.m. ET. The main card follows on the Paramount Network at 9 p.m. ET.
Kickboxer Olga Rubin has been on a roll in her trek into the MMA world. Will she capture the Bellator women’s featherweight crown, or will champion Julia Budd emerge with a successful title defense?
This is one of those fights where we find out whether the immovable object or the unstoppable force can secure the win. Rubin has, so far, kept an undefeated record in her MMA run and dominated her competition in Bellator. Budd, on the other hand, hasn’t lost a fight since 2011, when she dropped a fight to none other than former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
Rubin’s last two wins have come against some of the better competition in the women’s featherweight division. She topped both Iony Razafiarison and Cindy Dandois by decision. It might not have been the knockouts she is used to getting in kickboxing, but those decision nods are good victories nonetheless. In order to win this fight, though, Rubin is going to need to keep land a knockout. To do so, she has to keep this fight at a distance and control the range. If it goes to the scorecards, then it will most likely favor Budd.
Budd has become extremely good at stalling her opponents over the course of a fight. The reigning champ has won four of her six fights in Bellator via decision. Even when she found a finish, it came later in the fight. She beat Marloes Coenen in the fourth frame and Talita Nogueira in the third, both by knockout.
Budd has ground out some of the best featherweights on the planet, and it will happen again in this fight. She is simply too good at grinding the life out of her opponents and then breaking them in the later rounds. The only thing going against Budd is her age. The 36-year-old might be on the verge of seeing the wheels start to fall off, but it’s likely she has a few more fights before this becomes a factor.
Ed Ruth, in his first appearance since taking his first career loss in December, returns against UFC veteran Kiichi Kunimoto. Will Ruth get back to his winning ways?
This should be Ruth’s ticket back to a successful run. Neiman Gracie might have been too much to throw at Ruth too soon, but now the wrestler carries the experience of competing for a welterweight title in the welterweight tournament.
This is invaluable experience for a fighter only seven fights into his professional career. Ruth was already one of the best wrestlers in the college ranks, but a title fight in the world of professional MMA is an excellent learning experience. This fight, meanwhile, is the perfect bout to allow Ruth to get back on track.
Kunimoto is the right amount of a threat to really add to Ruth’s growth. The Japanese fighter is a UFC veteran, but he is also 38 years old. Kunimoto’s name recognition gives Ruth a veteran to add to his resume, but he also provides the former collegiate wrestling star with a launching pad from which he can mount a march to the top of the welterweight division. Kunimoto is on the decline and won’t give Ruth trouble.
Ruth will be able to get this fight to the ground and out-wrestle his opponent. This runs counter to the Gracie fight, where Ruth simply couldn’t do what he does best. Gracie’s background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu really negated Ruth’s biggest strength and made any trips to the mat very dangerous for Ruth. That won’t happen here. Kunimoto is on a two-fight winning streak, but it has not come against stellar competition. Ruth will be a beast and should earn the win.
While the count of men’s fights might outnumber women’s fights, this event certainly seems to be about the ladies. Juliana Velasquez meets fellow flyweight Kristina Williams, featherweights Arlene Blencowe and Amanda Bell clash, Bruna Ellen meets Elina Kallionidou in another flyweight affair, and Sinead Kavanagh collides with Leslie Smith, who departed the UFC while on a two-fight winning streak. Which women will make the biggest impression on Friday night?
Smith is the big pick here. She is yet another UFC veteran making the jump from the world’s biggest MMA promotion to Bellator while riding a winning streak. Kavanagh, who has been a mixed bag for Bellator, is a good first fight for Smith under the Bellator banner, as she will be more than willing to engage in a brawl and slug it out in the cage. Kavanagh, who is 2-3 with the promotion, made quick work of Maria Casanova with a first round knockout at Bellator 187. This is going to be a flashy end for one of the two ladies, but the money is definitely on Smith.
However, it would be a big statement win for Smith, who has not fought in two years. It’s really the only thing that provides hesitation on picking her as the winner in this fight. Two years is an immense amount of time out of the cage. She might have been training and prepping for fights, but that isn’t nearly the same as actually stepping foot in the cage and battling it out over three rounds with another game opponent.
Velasquez and Williams are conceivably fighting for a chance to face current Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei MacFarlane. Velasquez has kept a clean record, winning her first eight professional fights. She crumbled Rebecca Ruth at Bellator 197 with a devastating kick to the body in the third round and has really put together her bid to go for Bellator gold. A clean record and a win over Williams, especially a quick one, would really sell her to the Bellator brass as the next challenger.
While Williams has just four wins under her belt through five fights, a victory over the likes of Velasquez would put her in a great position to get the next title shot at flyweight. This is a main-card fight, too, which means all eyes will be on these ladies. The edge is in Velasquez’s corner, but an upset would really be an exclamation point for Williams.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Chidi Njokuani and Rafael Carvalho. Yes, it’s the evening’s co-headliner, but it’s also the only fight we have yet to explore in detail here. Carvalho is on a two-fight skid after consecutive defeats at the hands of former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida and recently dethroned Bellator middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi. Carvlaho lost his belt to Mousasi, but he will look to build an argument to get a chance at Mousasi’s successor, Rafael Lovato Jr., to get the crown back.
Njokuani is out for a rebound performance after a loss in his last fight to John Salter. Carvalho will be his first opponent in almost eight months. However, Carvalho is the perfect foil for Njokuani, who prefers to stay on the feet. The Brazilian will use leg kicks to chop away at Njokuani until he has an opportunity to take him out on the ground.
Main Card (Paramount Network, 9 p.m. ET)
Women’s FW Championship: Julia Budd vs. Olga Rubin
MW: Rafael Carvalho vs. Chidi Njokuani
Women’s FlyW: Juliana Velasquez vs. Kristina Williams
WW: Ed Ruth vs. Kiichi Kunimoto
Preliminary Card (Bellator.com, 6:45 p.m. ET)
LHW: Christian Edwards vs. Justin Vargas
LW: A.J. Agazarm vs. Jacob Landin
Catchweight: Will Fleury vs. Antonio Jones
LW: Nainoa Dung vs. Brad Robison
LHW: Jordan Young vs. Joel Bauman
Women’s FW: Leslie Smith vs. Sinead Kavanagh
FW: Gabriel Varga vs. Jamese Taylor
Catchweight: Kiefer Crosbie vs. Mike Jackson
WW: Kona Oliveira vs. Joseph Holmes
Women’s FlyW: Bruna Ellen vs. Elina Kallionidou
Women’s FW: Arlene Blencowe vs. Amana Bell
FW: Lucas Brennan vs. Thomas Lopez
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