Valerie Letourneau was one of the most vocal fighters on the UFC’s books when it came to campaigning for the addition of a women’s flyweight division.
Now, in the same month that the UFC crowned its first female flyweight champion, the former strawweight title challenger will make her Bellator debut in a flyweight contest against TUF alum, Kate Jackson, in Newcastle on Friday night.
Although traveling to the UK to compete at Bellator 191 has forced some added caution in terms of her weight ahead of her promotional debut, it’s not nearly as bad as the stress Letourneau encountered when she had to hit the strawweight mark.
“What people don’t understand is, we’re already martial artists, and for me it’s so hard to balance your training because you have to focus on so many different aspects of the game,” Letourneau told MMAFighting.com.
“Boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, conditioning — it’s very easy to over-train. Then, on top of that, you have to worry about losing weight, but a lot of these training sessions make you put muscle on whether you like it or not.
“It’s not like I’m lifting weights, it’s just that training sessions force you to gain muscle. Some of my friends sometimes say to me, ‘You have to stop lifting weights,’ and I’m telling them, ‘I’m not lifting weights!’
“I feel like for a long time all I was thinking about was staying light, so now at flyweight I think I can get back to normal so I can focus on my performance and being strong and healthy.”
Letourneau highlighted differences between weight-cutting for men and women, citing examples from her career over the years. According to the Bellator debutante, female MMA fighters need to work with nutritionists that understand the subtleties of weight cutting for women specifically.
“On a few occasions, I can remember being in a sauna with a male teammate, cutting weight for fights. After twenty minutes, he would have already lost three pounds and I would be stuck 0.8 of a pound or something. I’m doing exactly the same thing as the guy next to me!” she remembered.
“We don’t lose water as easily and we have to prepare our bodies beforehand for losing all of that water.
“I can remember one time I got some help from my friend David Loiseau during a weight cut and he was so desperate. He couldn’t believe how much time I had to spend in the sauna to get on weight. I was in there for hours and hours and I was barely sweating.
“All of the guys had come and gone and got themselves on weight. I had started my cut before them and I was still there after, it was taking forever.
“Weight cutting for women is a different game and you’ve got to work with somebody who knows about that to make sure you can do it the healthiest way possible.”
Letourneau successfully made weight at Thursday’s Bellator 191 weigh-ins, tipping the scales at 125.8 pounds.
Although she has been inundated with messages suggesting that she should be in the flyweight mix with the UFC, and that the new additions to the roster aren’t on her level, Letourneau is very confident that the UFC’s women’s flyweight division will gain more solid footing as time progresses.
“I’ve had so many messages since the (TUF 26) series has been aired. People have been saying that the level of skill hasn’t been impressive, but I think it takes a while for every division to get up and running,” she said.
“Look at 115. I can remember when they opened that division, I told the UFC and everyone that the division was going to move so much. I knew there were so many talented fighters out there that nobody had ever heard of, so I knew it was always going to take off. I think the same thing will happen with the flyweight division.”
Letourneau carries over 10 years of experience into her debut against Jackson, but admitted that she is quite nervous about her first outing with Bellator.
“We always get nervous. Personally, I always get more nervous when people are expecting big things from me. I guess it more pressure because I know Bellator are expecting a lot from me,” she said.
“I haven’t fought in a year and Kate Jackson is a really great opponent, but I still want to do absolutely amazing when I get in there.”