Just days before her return, Zoila Gurgel has ignited a bit of a firestorm. The Bellator women's world champion hasn't had to say or do much to start the movement, either. Instead, it's her supporters that have rallied by her side.
Their cause is Gurgel's placement on the upcoming Bellator 78 card, set for this Friday in Dayton, Ohio.
Customarily, champions fight in a show's main event or maybe one slot below if there is some special attraction, but Gurgel isn't featured in either slot. In fact, she's not scheduled for the televised portion of the event that will air on MTV2. Instead, her non-title feature fight against Casey Noland is slotted on the preliminary card, below the two welterweight tournament semifinal bouts and two other bouts featuring native Ohioans Brian Rogers and Daniel Straus.
That's caused a bit of an uproar from her backers, including popular former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Miesha Tate, who has made the cause a bit of a personal crusade. Over the last few days, she's repeatedly expressed her disappointment to her over 60,000 followers on Twitter, and many of them have followed her lead by pressuring Bellator through social media channels.
Gurgel hasn't had much to say about the situation. Aside from doing one interview, Gurgel has tweeted occasionally about the decision and while she clearly harbors some disappointment over it, she's chosen to remain publicly positive, recently writing, "[I] don't need main event status to shine on Friday."
In an email to MMA Fighting, Rebney explained the promotion's decision-making on the matter.
"Zoila’s been plagued by injury after injury over the last 19 months, having not fought since March, 2011," he wrote. "We felt that the best road back for her did not include rushing her into a major fight against one of the top-ranked women in the world. This is not a world title fight as it’s made significantly north of the 115 weight limit where she holds our title. Depending on how Zoila feels and performs on Friday, we can then determine the next appropriate step back."
According to Bellator officials, her match with Noland will be contested at 125 pounds.
Bellator's male champions have had several non-title bouts during the organization's existence, and nearly all have been featured as the night's main event. However, on at least two occasions (Zach Makovsky vs. Ryan Roberts at Bellator 54 and Christian M'Pumbu vs. Travis Wiuff at Bellator 55), the champ has fought as the co-main event or less. Each time, however, the fight has been televised.
Gurgel's fight will be available to watch only online at Spike.com, though there is a chance that if she finishes quickly and spectacularly, the bout could air on tape delay.
She originally captured the belt in October 2010 in a close split decision win over Megumi Fujii. Since then, she has only competed once, defeating Karina Hallinan in another non-title fight until her career was stalled by injury. About one year ago, Gurgel suffered a torn ACL in her right knee, and she's finally ready to return to action. But it won't be for the title, it won't be on live television, and it won't be without a bit of controversy.