Could the winner of Kristina Williams vs. Juliana Velasquez at Bellator 224 be looking at a title shot?
While it might come as a surprise to some, Kristina Williams‘ scrap against Juliana Velasquez at Bellator 224 this Friday could very well be a title eliminator. While nothing is set in stone, Williams feels it. Champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is looking at it that way.
Suddenly, the idea of an immediate rematch for Veta Arteaga, who gave flyweight champion Macfarlane a tough test, has been put to the side.
“If I win this fight, I feel like this should be a [number one] contenders fight,” Williams told Cageside Press ahead of Bellator 224. “It depends on what they intend to do with Ilima-Lei and Veta.” If a title shot doesn’t come with a win, then “my eyes are fixed on as high up as I can get for the rest of the year.”
Williams will be fighting in her own back yard Friday, as Thackerville, Oklahoma is right down the road from Edmond, where Williams has lived for years. Fighting at home is a plus, for the most past, Williams told us. “I enjoy people being able to come see me, and I enjoy having all my friends there. I does add a little more pressure, but I also have a ton of support, so I think it kind of evens it out. So I enjoy it.”
Speaking of pressure, Williams has dealt with it her entire career. She made her debut by bloodying and finishing the much ballyhooed Heather Hardy at Bellator 185 in 2017. Immediately after the fight, with a brand new 1-0 record, Williams was asked if she was ready for a title fight. How’s that for pressure?
These days, Williams, now 3-1 as a pro, is able to take things in stride. “It’s definitely a little easier now. That was fairly overwhelming, coming off that being my first pro fight and everything. But I’m a lot better with it now.”
It helps, no doubt, that she has been battle tested. While there are no easy fights in MMA, there are really no easy fights for Williams, who has fought Valerie Letourneau (her only loss), and fellow prospect Bruna Ellen recently. Next up, the undefeated Velasquez (8-0).
“I really like the challenge of people like Velasquez and Letourneau, who are going to challenge me and push me. It think it gives me a lot more motivation in the gym and to grow,” Williams said in regards to the stiff competition she has been facing. “It’s something that doesn’t deter me at all, I like it that way.”
As for Velasuez in particular, there’s a few areas where Williams feels she can stand out. “I definitely think that I offer a lot more volume,” Williams said, while noting that Velasquez is a great striker in her own right. “And my clinch game. I don’t think she’s used to a super active clinch.”
“I definitely think she’s going to be a huge challenge,” Williams recognized, “but those are just a couple areas.”
Ahead of the fight, Williams has worked a little with Jinh Yu Fry and Montana De La Rosa, but the good news, is, she now has ample training partners in Oklahoma. “I’ve been training with Julia Avila [who made her UFC debut at UFC 239], and Sarah Alpar, who’s got a Contenders Series fight, and Stephanie Geltmacher who’s fighting in Invicta, and they’re all really great training partners, so I’ve been pushed a lot this camp,” she said.
It’s taken a while to assemble the sort of group that can really push her. “It was not there when I started. When I started, I was pretty much the only girl in the gym who fought for a long time.”
Now, there’s a solid group, who “get along really well. It’s amazing how we push each other, and not have any problems at all. It’s made a huge difference.”
Which will come as a huge plus as the Bellator women’s flyweight division continues to mature. “I definitely think it’s been growing and maturing,” Williams observed of the weight class. “Everybody has got a lot better since I started. I remember watching Veta [Arteaga], in her fight with Bruna [Ellen], and I think they’re way better now. I’m excited to see what happens, and how everybody else is going to come up.”
Arteaga, of course, was the most recent title challenger, in a fight Williams noted “was pretty close for a while.” Giving her take on that fight, Williams said that “I know Ilima-Lei is really good, she sometimes will go slow the first couple rounds and she can adapt really well. I’m not sure what would have happened if she’d gone five rounds, but that elbow was really vicious.” The elbow in question opened up a nasty cut on Arteaga, which led to the fight being stopped.
Williams has actually trained with champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane in the past. Asked if she ever thought of facing off with the champ back when they were training, Wiliams told us that “we’ve trained, but we’ve just been like, some kickboxing and stuff. Nothing like where we’ve gone after each other. But I’m sure we both kind of think that way.”
Kristina Williams isn’t about to look past her own fight with Velasquez, however. One that she expects “is going to be a pretty fun war. I think there’s going to be a lot of striking, and I’m hoping for a finish.”
Bellator 224 goes down Friday, July 12 at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, OK. The card airs live on Paramount Network and DAZN.