LAS VEGAS — Valerie Letourneau was present at the Ultimate Fighter 26 tryouts, but was not there to take her spot in a women’s flyweight division she has been pleading with the UFC to add for years.
Just weeks after Letourneau, the poster girl for hard weight cuts to 115 pounds, signed with Bellator, the UFC announced it would be adding a women’s 125-pound division and crowning its first champion via TUF 26. She has every right to be bitter about it, but she’s not, she told MMA Fighting.
“I can’t be mad at the UFC for doing the right thing,” said Letourneau, who was at tryouts to support American Top Team training partner Trisha Cicero. “This is what they had to do. I’m looking forward for these girls to fight healthy in their weight class. I just like to see my sport grow and see women’s MMA grow. So it’s always been very motivating for me. I like to open doors in everything.”
With that said, “Trouble” acknowledges that if the UFC had made this move earlier it certainly would have benefited her. Letourneau, 34, missed weight at UFC 206 back in December and ended up falling to Viviane Pereira. It was her third straight loss, but one was a hard-fought, five-round decision defeat against strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The other a 125-pound catchweight bout against Joanne Calderwood.
Letourneau (8-6) is now content with her future in Bellator, which is committed to a 125-pound women’s division and recently signed seven ladies for the weight class.
“Yes, it’s sad for me,” Letourneau said of the timing of the UFC’s addition. “I would like that to happen a year ago, but for me I’m super motivated with Bellator. I got a good contract with them. So I think my position is better with Bellator right now.”
Even if the UFC announced The Ultimate Fighter for flyweight women earlier, it’s unlikely Letourneau would have tried out for the show. She’s been there, done that, making TUF 18 before falling in an elimination bout and not making it into the house. The season will air in the fall and went culminate until December. Letourneau also wouldn’t want to wait that long to fight at 125 pounds.
“They would have had to keep me busy,” Letourneau said. “I wouldn’t wait a year without fighting and I don’t want to make it to the house. … I don’t have 10 years in front of me. Those years are very important. I’m trying to stay busy. I know Bellator is going to keep me busy.”
Letourneau faces Emily Ducote at Bellator 181 on July 14 at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. She plans to fight at least one more time after that this year. Bellator has promised the addition of a women’s flyweight title in 2017, as well.
At flyweight, Letourneau said she can fight much more often. The weight cuts to strawweight were too brutal. It was hard to bounce back and jump into another training camp and weight cut quickly, she said.
“It takes time for your body to recover,” Letourneau said. “When I saw [Cris] Cyborg refusing a championship fight, I completely understand, because I know how it feels after cutting so much weight. Your body just doesn’t work.”
In the end, Letourneau did what she had to and signed with Bellator, where she’s free to to pursue her goals in a healthier way at 125 pounds. And the UFC came to its senses and added that much-needed division, too. It’s a win-win in the Canadian’s eyes.
“It’s the right thing,” Letourneau said. “That’s all that matters. This is what they had to do.”