They’d been on a collision course for the last couple of years. At Bellator 278, Juliana Velasquez and Liz Carmouche finally collided.
Undefeated at 12-0, Velasquez had defeated Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, a former training partner of Carmouche, for the Bellator women’s flyweight title 500 days prior. Since that fight, the Brazilian had defended the belt once, in a close fight with kickboxer Denise Kielholtz.
Carmouche, for her part, had been on a tear since joining Bellator MMA, winning all three of her fights and finding the finish in two of them.
“The Girl-Rilla” went right after it on Friday in Honolulu, putting the pressure on early. She moved forward, backing the champ up. It was Velasquez landing a left hand, however; Carmouche continued walking forward, firing a couple of low kicks. After a brief exchange, Carmouche would again attack the lead leg of Velasquez.
Carmouche then closed the distance, landing a left hand to the chin on the way in. She connected with another calf kick. Through the opening three minutes, Carmouche led the dance and executed her game plan, although Velasquez found a home for her left hand, and jabbed the body.
As the round wound down, a similar scene unfolded. Carmouche would catch a kick towards the end of the round then clinch up, but she ran out of time.
In the second, Velasquez took control. The champ dropped Carmouche early with a left hand to the chin, which resulted in Carmouche falling back on her wrestling. She dropped levels and powered her way into a takedown, planting the champ against the fence. Carmouche still had the champ down by the midway point of the round, and moved to side control. Velasquez would finally post up, get back to her feet, and look to peel the challenger off of her. Carmouche fired a few knees to the thigh, then broke out some foot stomps.
Velasquez would reverse at long last, with just over a minute remaining. Carmouche would turn her back around. For a round that started out so promising for the champ thanks to the early knockdown, it ended with a whimper.
Carmouche would stick to the game plan in round three, continuing to attack the lead leg of Velasquez. The champ landed her left hand again, and began pressing forward, forcing Carmouche to backpedal. The left hand landed for Velasquez again. After constant pressure through two rounds, Carmouche circled and backpedaled until the final minute — but that forced her to change levels and score a key takedown, leaving Velasquez a mile out from the fence. Velasquez fired elbows from her back, closing her guard. Carmouche covered up, and was unable to take advantage of what should have been a dominant position.
An early clinch in the fourth round found Velasquez defending a takedown, then reversing. Carmouche reversed again, but Velasquez turned her back once again. Velasquez then attempted a judo throw; Carmouche showed some impressive balance, going to a knee just briefly. They’d head back to the open, with Velasquez showing she could hang with Carmouche in the grappling department.
At center, Velasquez was back in her wheelhouse, however. She ripped the body, then fired a 1-2. Carmouche stormed forward, throwing; Velasquez circled out. An exchange led to a clinch; the pair battled for position along the fence some more. Carmouche added a few knees, but couldn’t land a trip. More knees followed; Velasquez reversed, but Carmouche finally secured a takedown, with less than 45 seconds left in the round.
Pinning the arm of the champ with her left leg, Carmouche began unloading elbows. With Velasquez unable to defend, stuck in a crucifix, the challenger began to unload with strikes! The ref took a look, and waved it off, with Velasquez in disbelief, as time was winding down and only a handful of shots made it through.
— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) April 23, 2022
The end result was a major title for Liz Carmouche, at age 38. Though with the stoppage in question, a rematch down the line would not at all be surprising.
Official Result: Liz Carmouche def. Juliana Velasquez by TKO, Round 4, 4:47