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With legacy secure, Bellator's Marloes Coenen won't hate on others' success

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It would be easy for Marloes Coenen to view others' success with bitterness.

After all, during this age in which women's mixed martial arts has reached unimaginable levels of visibility, others reap the biggest rewards off the foundation Coenen helped build.

But Coenen, is in the 15th year of her professional fighting journey, and she doesn't want to waste her remaining time in the sport tearing anyone else down.

"I love every minute of this," Coenen told "I'm happy for everyone. I'm not going to begrudge anybody of their success, or their stardom. I'm living my own life and doing my own thing, why would I want to waste my energy with stuff like that?"

Coenen (22-6), who returns to action for Bellator on Friday in Temecula, Calif., when she meets Arlene Blencowe (6-4) in a featherweight bout, got her start as a 19-year-old back in 2000, when there was little money and even less attention paid to the few women who gave the fledgling sport a go in the early days.

"I just did it because I was a martial artist and I enjoyed the chance to see the world and compete," said Coenen, a native of the Netherlands. "I didn't think of it as something that would be a career, I thought by age 30 I'd be married and working an office job somewhere."

A funny thing happened, though. It turned out Coenen was really good at fighting. Coenen became a standout performer in Japan, winning 13 of her first 14 bouts. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Coenen became one of the first women to make a worldwide impact on the sport.

"There was no one moment where I was like, ‘a-ha, I'm good at this," Coenen said. "Everything just kind of happened in a blur, one win after another. It all happened really fast."

Maybe Coenen never had an "a-ha" moment, but American fans certainly did when they saw her live for the first time. That came on Nov. 7, 2009 in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Coenen carried a big rep among hardcore fans into her Strikeforce debut, and she showed why on the undercard of the Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brett Rogers bout. Coenen used a nasty armbar to make short work of Roxanne Modafferi in a rematch.

"It just seemed like a new adventure to me," said Coenen, who has scored 16 of her career wins via submission. "Strikeforce had already shown they were committed to women's fighting, so it seemed like the time was right to come over to America and show what I could do."

Though they didn't know it at the time, the women competing in the bantamweight division in Strikeforce were building a belt whose lineage became one of the strongest in the sport, regardless of gender. Coenen submitted Sarah Kaufman in Nov. 2010 to win the title. She successfully defended the belt against Liz Carmouche, before dropping the title in 2011 to Miesha Tate, who in turn lost the belt to Ronda Rousey, who carries the legacy of the Strikeforce belt in the UFC.

"It's funny because at the time, you're not thinking, ‘we're making history,'" Coenen said. "But when you look back at it, you can appreciate what you built. Yes, its true that the people who are just tuning in to watch Ronda now, maybe they don't know what went into building the sport. But some of them will learn, and some of them will understand, and it's nice to know that you were a part of that looking back."

Eyebrows were raised when Coenen signed with Bellator last year. Sure, it made sense in one respect, given that Coenen reunited with former Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker. But Coenen was leaving the established Invicta promotion in favor of a company which had recently divested itself of all it's women's talent and needed to rebuild from the ground up.

A year into her Bellator stint, there still aren't any hints that Bellator is looking to crown women's champions. The way Coenen sees it, with her legacy among the sport's pioneers secure, while it would be great to win another championship, it's not longer the be-all, end-all of her MMA existence.

"No one's told me either way on whether there's going to be a title," Coenen said. "If they make one, that would be great. I would love to earn another world championship before I call it a career. But if they don't, that's okay, too. I love what I do. I love competing today as much as I did 15 years ago. I'm going to do this as long as I'm able to go there and still be good at this."