It's been nearly two years since Zoila Gurgel won the Bellator 115-pound championship. She's yet to defend the title, and prior to Friday night's Bellator 78 event, she had only fought once since then, spending most of the last year on the shelf rehabilitating a serious knee injury.
With her health addressed, Gurgel returned on Friday, and overcame a rough start to defeat Casey Noland in a fight that went that distance.
Gurgel won by 29-28 scores from all three judges.
She fought on the last bout of the event's prelims, a spot that was controversial given her standing as an organizational champion. In response, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said he would assess Gurgel afterward.
She gave him plenty to think about as her performance was a bit uneven early though she rebounded to close the fight strong.
Noland challenged Gurgel in the opening round, using a footlock to transition to the top, where she held the position for an extended period of time. Though Noland never hurt her, it was enough to win the round.
Gurgel turned up her aggression in the final two rounds, surprisingly turning to her wrestling and ground game to out-grapple her opponent. In the second, she appeared close to earning a submission win with a kimura, but Noland was able to work free. In the third, she bloodied Noland with a series of hard standing elbows, and controlled the rest of the round en route to the win.
Gurgel improved to 12-2 with the win, while Noland dropped to 4-3.