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Bellator signs Marloes Coenen, Julia Budd to open women's 145-pound division

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James Law, MMA Fighting

Marloes Coenen, a former Strikeforce champion, and Julia Budd, who also fought in Scott Coker's original promotion, were the first two fighters announced Thursday morning as part of Bellator's plans of bringing women's fighting back with a 145-pound weight class division.

Bellator, now run by Coker, announced that Coenen and Budd are scheduled to square off later this year in a fight on Spike TV.

Coenen and Budd had both been fighting for Invicta. Invicta President Shannon Knapp said that Coenen's contract expired a few months ago, and Budd had been working on a single fight deal.

"We're incredibly excited top to bring in two of the best athletes competing in our sport today," said Coker.  "We are making a commitment to bring back the female division to Bellator, and feature some of the world's best in the Bellator cage."

Bellator had discontinued using women fights in 2013.

It is notable Bellator is opening up its first division at 145 pounds, a weight class the UFC doesn't feature.  Coenen had fought at 135 at times during her career, but when the UFC opened up the division in 2013, she cited she no longer wanted to cut that much weight, and ended up with Invicta. 

The 145-pound division was the key for Strikeforce, in particular the 2009 Gina Carano vs. Cris Cyborg fight that was the second-highest rated individual MMA fight ever on Showtime.  There has been both smoke and fire in recent days about Bellator being interested in both women to anchor the division, but each woman has their biggest potential career fight against Ronda Rousey at 135 pounds in the UFC, a weight based on past history, that both would struggle to make.

Carano is currently a free agent and her representatives are believed to have talked to both promotions. Cyborg is still under contract to Invicta, and it is believed her goal would be to do one fight at 135 pounds by the end of this year to prove she can make the weight, and then push to get into UFC for a fight with Rousey in 2015. Either fight, or both, would be expected to be the biggest womens's fights as far as box office potential goes in combat sports history.

Coenen (21-6), from Holland and a member of the Golden Glory camp, is a pioneer of the sport. On Dec. 5, 2000, she won three fights in one night at Budokan Hall in Tokyo, to win the ReMix World Cup, the biggest tournament in women's MMA up to that point in time. She was considered the best woman's fighter in the early days of the sport in Japan, before MMA started fading in popularity in that country and established itself in the U.S.

She debuted in Strikeforce in 2009, and in her second fight, lost via third-round stoppage to Cyborg for the women's featherweight title. She then dropped to 135 and defeated Sarah Kaufman to win the bantamweight title on Oct. 9, 2010, in San Jose, Calif. She dropped the title to Miesha Tate on July 30, 2011, in Hoffman Estates, Ill. After Strikeforce merged into the UFC, she went back to featherweight in Invicta, losing in a title match again to Cyborg on July 13, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo.

"After fighting professionally for over 15 years, I am honored to be invited into the Bellator cage," Coenen said in a statement. "Fighting for Bellator brings my spirit back for fighting. It's great to be working together with Scott Coker again as we both have the same vision of fighting. My style is fighting with the objective to knock my opponent out or to submit her. That is exactly what I am planning to do the very first second I step into the Bellator cage."

Knapp noted that it was going to be difficult to keep Coenen, since she had a high price tag compared to most of her other fighters, and said the company's new goal is to concentrate on developing new fighters. She noted Coenen's Bellator offer was strong, and it would be difficult to matchmake for the 33-year-old Coenen, who has 27 fights and 14 years experience, against fighters who may have a 4-0 record.

Budd (6-2) was a kickboxer by trade. She handed Carano her only loss in that sport. Coker, who started as a kickboxing promoter, gave Budd her first MMA fight in late 2010. Before Rousey became Strikeforce champion, and was still fighting at 145, Budd was one of her string of armbar victims, on Nov. 18, 2011, in Las Vegas, in just 39 seconds. She has since gone 4-0 in Invicta competition.

"I'm ecstatic about the opportunity that Bellator is giving the 145 pound female division and I'm especially excited to be one of the first females to fight for Scott Coker under the Bellator banner," Budd said in a statement. "This gives me the opportunity to showcase my skills as one of the best fighters in the world on one of the biggest stages in the world."