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New Bellator signee Ana Julaton, a champion boxer, hoping to land fight with Heather Hardy

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With so many top MMA fighters — from Conor McGregor to Cris Cyborg to Stipe Miocic — entering the world of boxing or exploring the idea, that potential transition has become a major fad. Perhaps even one of the stories of 2017 in mixed martial arts.

Ana Julaton, on the other hand, is going the other way. And she has been for the last three years. Julaton is a two-time boxing champion who also competes in MMA, fighting four times for ONE Championship since 2014. Earlier this month, she signed a deal with Bellator MMA.

Julaton, 37, a former protege of Freddie Roach, trains her wrestling and grappling in Las Vegas with the likes of Frank Mir. She is hoping to continue to brandish the skills she has picked up in MMA stateside with Bellator after departing from ONE.

“I think mainly for the interest of trying to figure out the sport,” Julaton said. “And with that, it’s like a really good avenue for me to understand myself, too, as a person and as a fighter. I dedicated my life to a couple of years of just being in the f*cking wrestling room. It’s a different atmosphere, so foreign. Today, you don’t see a lot of world champion-level boxers going into the wrestling room and actually learning the fundamentals and starting from scratch.

“I’m 37 — I turned 37 this year — and my body feels really good. I freakin’ think, I spent all that time in the dredged wrestling room, it’s like I might as well put it into good use. I went through this whole journey of going back and forth between wrestling and boxing and stepping back into the martial arts, learning more jiu-jitsu from Frank [Mir] and just trying to combine everything. I had this big old pot of martial arts in my life. It’s nice to kind of just know where my place is with all that.”

In Bellator, Julaton has one particular fight in mind: fellow boxer Heather Hardy. Both women are splitting time between the two combat sports and Julaton believes the matchup makes sense for multiple reasons — none more so than the entertainment factor.

“I think it’s something where we’re both recognizable for combat sports fans,” Julaton said. “With Bellator having a platform for American fighters, I mean c’mon. Let’s go and do something. Let’s promote, let’s get paid. Let’s make this a trilogy. This business is unforgiving. Your successes and your demise, a lot of it also depends on what kind of division you’re in. Things are alive right now, there’s an opening for 125, especially with Bellator having that title fight.”

Julaton (2-2 in MMA, 14-4 in boxing) watched Hardy’s MMA debut against Alice Yauger at Bellator 180 in June. She came away with impressed by how crazy and bloody the fight was, if not for Hardy’s technical ability.

“I thought it was entertaining, I thought it was great,” Julaton said. “It’s nice to see people getting excited about it. It was a back-and-forth battle. She got cut up, the other girl got cut up. It ended up in a stoppage. But I’m like, OK, cool. For someone who has two international titles, you got touched up pretty good from a girl who has no boxing experience. But different strokes for different folks. Her style is different from my style. I’m not trying to take away with what she’s done. But all I’ve gotta say is damn.”

Julaton believes she would match up very well with Hardy if the two were to meet in the cage. And she thinks they’d put on a show for the fans, a stand up war.

“For sure, 100 percent,” Julaton said. “She got some titles in boxing, I’ve won some world titles in boxing and I think a lot of people would like to see some knockouts, so you put us in the cage.

“At the end of it, I feel like I’ll get there first. We won’t know until the fight actually happens. We need to get this going.”

Julaton tried out for The Ultimate Fighter 26 in the spring, but didn’t make it. But she’s determined to continue her MMA career. The San Francisco native estimates she has about three years left of combat sports competition.

With Bellator recently putting together its first women’s flyweight title fight, between Ilima-Lei MacFarlane and Emily Ducote at Bellator 186 on Nov. 3, Julaton has a tangible goal to go after in the promotion. It’s not something she thought about until very recently.

“I feel like I’m open to anything,” she said. “If you would have asked me that question a year ago, or even a couple of months ago, I would have said, ‘I just want to do it, see where my body takes me and have fun with it.’ For whatever reason, I get more pumped up, I get more amped. Now that there’s this title they’re finally setting up, I want to shoot for that. It’s kind of weird, the sport just ends up taking you in the direction you need to go in.”

Before that comes to fruition, though, Julaton will likely have a debut fight sometime before the end of the year, if it all works out. Then she’s gunning for Hardy, who fights Kristina Williams at Bellator 185 on Oct. 20 at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

“Let’s get this shit rocking,” Julaton said. “Let’s go make some money, because that’s what it is at the end of the day. We get paid to do what we’re passionately in love to do. I’m down for it.”