In today's testosterone-fueled MMA scene, we've been left with just two major female mixed martial arts champions -- Strikeforce bantamweight Ronda Rousey and Bellator strawweight Zoila Gurgel. Yet, the marketing approach for both women could not be any more different.
While Rousey rings the NASDAQ bell and travels the New York to push for MMA legalization, Gurgel has seemingly become a forgotten commodity within her own promotion, leading six months of frustration to boil over last weekend when a Bellator 69 bout between Megumi Fujii and Jessica Aguilar was billed as the world's No. 1 vs. No. 2.
There was little mention of the reigning champion, Gurgel, who, by the way, defeated both Fujii and Aguilar in Bellator's season-three tournament. If new fans were watching last weekend's card, they probably wouldn't even know she existed.
"For my own promotion to kind of diss me like that, it's like, wow. It just puts the icing on the cake," an exasperated Gurgel admitted on The MMA Hour.
"I wasn't very happy about it. I kind of knew that they were going to do or say something, whatever they had to do to promote the fight. But to throw me under the bus like that, the way most people have said, it just wasn't very nice, and it wasn't very professional in my eyes."
Of course, this isn't really anything new for Gurgel. The 28-year-old has heard the criticism and snubs from the beginning, when she dropped down from 135 pounds to join Bellator's 2010 strawweight tournament.
Despite her size advantage, Gurgel was never supposed to win against world-class opposition like Fujii and Aguilar. And though she ultimately did, defeating both women via highly contentious split decisions, Gurgel feels like she still hasn't gotten the credit she deserved, from both Bellator and fight fans.
"It's been drama from the beginning," she explained.
"I won. I beat them both. And to not get any sort of recognition, to be pretty much spit on, it was like, wow. I could not believe that.
"But I've overcome so much more than that," Gurgel continued. "I wasn't supposed to be there, let alone be able to go through these entire fights with these girls. I was supposed to be finished in the first round by Megumi and Aguilar. To able to make it through is a win on it's own, on top of being able to land bigger shots and not being taken to the ground by these veterans. People don't see that. All they see is this humongous girl coming out of nowhere, dropping the weight, and barely, barely squeaking by, and they didn't want to accept it."
Compounding her frustration is the fact that Gurgel remains physically unable to prove her doubters wrong, as the champ has been sidelined since suffering a torn ACL in late October.
In many ways, the injury was the spark that ignited the slow disintegration of her relationship with Bellator. According to the fighter, all contact with the promotional brass was cut off from day one, including CEO Bjorn Rebney, leaving Gurgel to drown in $11,000 of medical bills and an uncertain limbo with her bosses.
"It's been a while since I've heard from anybody at Bellator," Gurgel dismally said.
"As soon as I got hurt and tore my ACL, I heard no words from anybody at all. I've heard of Dana White and everybody else and other bigger promotions calling their fighters and making sure they're okay, or checking on them. I didn't get any word from, not Bjorn (Rebney), not anybody in that organization. ... It's just to a point where it's like, okay, I'm going to have to do this on my own, the same way I did it before. It's just kind of frustrating, but what can you do."
Ultimately, what's done is done, and Gurgel hopes she can put all of this behind her. It's been a long road, but her ACL is nearly back to 100-percent, and like any hungry fighter, she has her eyes set squarely on the cage.
Whether Gurgel will be fighting for Bellator when she comes back -- she isn't sure, but she'd certainly be willing to give it another try. Though with each passing slight, it's getting harder and harder to reconcile how botched this relationship has become.
"I don't know, I'm still so confused by it," Gurgel sighed.
"They just keep slapping me in the face, and I'm like, how many more times are you guys going to do this to me. At this point I'm just like, I'm going to fight whoever they're going to have me fight, and hopefully, we'll see if they treat me any better. But I've got a sour taste in my mouth from it and I don't like it at all."
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