Bellator Matchmaker: Who’s Next for Bellator 224 Main Card Fighters?

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Following what very well could have been Julia Budd’s finest performance yet, we take a look at what she could be facing next in addition to everyone else on the Bellator 224 main card.

Bellator MMA held their 224th flagship event on Friday night, live inside the Winstar World Casino Resort from Thackerville, Oklahoma. And when Bellator returns to the WinStar resort, one thing is almost inevitable, and that is Julia Budd as one half of the main event. I’m not exactly sure what it is that causes one who lives, trains, and hails from British Columbia, to become Lake Texhoma’s cage fighter of choice. Regardless, Budd sensationally stopped the oncoming force that is Olga Rubin en route to the third defense of her featherweight title. While the nature in which Budd’s callout of Gabi Garcia was likely to fall upon deaf ears, there’s a matchup for her that makes more than enough sense going forward. That matchup, along with several others Bellator should ponder going forward, are what I bring to you today on this week’s edition of our Cageside Press Bellator Matchmaker.

Julia Budd vs. Leslie Smith for Featherweight Title

Following Julia Budd’s rather quick nature in which she successfully defended her title, it can be understandable why one would immediately arrive to the following hypothetical question:

Who could possibly next for her?

Sure, the Cris Cyborg matchup certainly sounds ideal. It’s been widely believed for some time, before the oncoming wrath of Amanda Nunes, that Budd and Cyborg were far and away the best 145-pound female fighters in the world. Cyborg echoed the sentiment on twitter herself that Bellator’s women’s featherweight division is indeed, the best in the world.

With the one fight left on Cyborg’s contract set to take place next weekend in Toronto, could this be an example of foreshadowing? It’s difficult to know for sure. Without the potential move to Bellator for Cyborg, it realistically leaves former perennial UFC bantamweight contender Leslie Smith as the only one standing in line. Leslie Smith also featured on the Bellator 224 card during its preliminary portion, scoring a majority decision victory in her debut over Sinead Kavanagh.

Olga Rubin vs. Arlene Blencowe

It wasn’t the performance that Bellator’s top Israeli female prospect was hoping for, however, despite turning 30-years-old just over a month ago, Olga Rubin is still extremely young in her fight career. Rubin’s title challenge was only her seventh professional appearance, one which she came into without a loss.

However, it wasn’t Rubin’s night last Friday in Oklahoma, and the Israeli-born fighter training out of England will go back to the proverbial drawing board as a result. Rubin has yet to face any of Bellator’s female featherweight mainstays, and having just failed to capture the title, it would make sense for her to face someone that has been in her shoes before. That fighter could very well be Australia’s Arlene Blencowe, who is the only fighter to take Julia Budd the distance in the champion’s previous five outings, having done it in both of their encounters. Blencowe also fought on Friday’s card, stopping Amanda Bell in just 22 seconds.

Rafael Carvalho vs. John Salter

Former middleweight titleholder Rafael Carvalho bounced himself out of the loss column on Friday, as he narrowly edged out a hard-fought unanimous decision in which the Brazilian took two of three rounds on all judges scorecards. Carvalho, while leaving himself exposed on the feet at times during the fight, was affective in nearly every area of his game over the duration of the 15-minute encounter with Njokuani.

The former champion now puts himself in position to climb his way back up to a title shot, and a quick way to get there would be to earn a victory over top contender John salter. Salter is also coming off a win over Njokuani, submitting him inside of one round at Bellator 210 last November.

Chidi Njokuani vs. Chris Honeycutt

It’s amazing what can happen to one’s stock in only two fights. By that, I’m regarding the way in which Chidi Njokuani could have pegged himself a middleweight contender with a win over John Salter last November in the main event slot at Bellator 210.

Unfortunately for Njokuani, he not only fell short in that contest but in his latest one as well on Friday opposite former champion Rafael Carvalho.

Njokuani has now lost three of his last four and is hypothetically starting to slip in this division. Chris Honeycutt also fell short in his last fight last November in Thackerville, being edged out on the scorecards by Dutch standout Costello Van Steenis.

Juliana Velasquez vs. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane for Flyweight Title

If we’re being honest here, the fact that Velasquez has not already been granted a title shot at 125 pounds is somewhat of an absurdity. The Brazilian continued to show why that is exactly the case on Friday, stopping an incredibly tough and gritty fighter in Kristina Williams, and only needed a little bit under two rounds to make it happen.

Velasquez is now 9-0 as a pro, and has really put her skills on the feet together as of late stopping two of her last three opponents by way of knockout. Unless Bellator is clamoring for a Veta Arteaga rematch for Ilima-Lei, I think there’s no question who deserves the next shot.

Kristina Williams vs. Veta Arteaga

Coming into her fight Juliana Velasquez, Williams had some good voodoo whilst fighting in her home state of Oklahoma posting a perfect 2-0 record on WinStar property.

Unfortunately, that short-lived streak came to an abrupt end on Friday as Williams was peppered on the feet and wobbled on more than one occasion until she finally succumbed to strikes in the latter part of round number two. Williams is still very green, and only five fights into her tenure as a professional. With the division as thin as it is, and Velasquez (hopefully) on her way to a title shot next, why not pit Williams up with a woman that creates a fresh matchup, and is on a somewhat similar trajectory?

That fighter could very well be Veta Arteaga, who was defeated due to a doctor stoppage in her own shot at the belt back in April.

Ed Ruth vs. Erick Silva

Blue-chip prospect Ed Ruth returned to the realm of familiarity known as the winner’s circle on Friday night, landing a picture-perfect knee before following up with strikes on the ground to defeat former RIZIN competitor Kiichi Kunimoto in the second round.

Kunimoto was a step down in competition for Ruth, albeit having been fresh off a tough fight with Neiman Gracie last December in Hawaii. The promotion will likely need to gauge just where Ruth is at this point in his career, one in which while despite having only seven fights can attest to the plethora of experience in the wrestling department.
The former Penn State wrestling standout could very easily be given a recognizable name in his next fight, and Brazilian Erick Silva is not known to be one that turns opportunities of any magnitude down. Silva just recently fell short in his last outing, dropping a hard-fought decision to Paul Daley

Kiichi Kunimoto vs. Fighter Outside Bellator

Kiichi Kunimoto held his own for the near nine-minute duration of his contest with Ed Ruth. However, not many welterweights on the planet could withstand a knee to the jaw in the fashion Ruth landed on Friday. Kunimoto was making his Bellator debut, and unless he ends up being a part of the rumored Bellator-RIZIN co-promotional event at the end of the year, we might not be seeing him again inside the Bellator cage any time soon.

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