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Bellator champ Julia Budd wants to be best at 145, knows Cris Cyborg shadow looms

Julia Budd defends her featherweight title against Talita Nogueira at Bellator 202 on Friday in Thackerville, Okla.
Bellator MMA

For one night at least, Julia Budd’s name stood alongside UFC featherweight star Cris Cyborg.

The two were nominated in the category of “Female Fighter of the Year” at the most recent World MMA Awards, and while UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas would take the trophy home, it had to be considered an achievement for Budd to be on the same ballot as Cyborg, given that the indomitable Brazilian is considered to be in a class of her own at 145 pounds.

This was no sympathy nod. Budd has quietly staked her own claim to the crown of world’s best featherweight, winning her last nine fights including a vacant 145-pound title bout against highly respected veteran Marloes Coenen and a successful defense against Arlene Blencowe at Bellator 189 last December. She hasn’t lost since November 2011, where she was submitted by a blue chip prospect named Ronda Rousey.

Budd (11-2) spoke to MMA Fighting about where she thinks she stands in the overall featherweight standings and whether she needs to cross paths with Cyborg before she can stake a claim to the top spot.

“I think that’s going to take us fighting,” said Budd. “I believe she’s the best 145-er in the world and I’m No. 2. That’s what I believe. I’m the Bellator world champion, she’s the UFC world champion, but we’re the best in our division and I believe I’m the most well-rounded and because we never fought, I can’t really say how that would go or how that looks.

“I know she’s had some great fights in the UFC and Invicta and we’ve been following each other for our whole careers and I think it’s bound to happen, but my sight is on Talita Nogueira. I’m 100 percent focused on defending the belt Friday night and from there we’ll see what happens.”

Budd fights the unbeaten Nogueira (7-0) in the main event of Bellator 202 this Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. It will be the second straight Bellator event headlined by a women’s title fight, following Bellator 201, which saw Ilima-Lei Macfarlane defend her flyweight title against Alejandra Lara.

That scheduling is a far cry from the days when top female fighters like Budd, Rousey, Amanda Nunes, and Germaine de Randamie were struggling to get noticed on Strikeforce Challengers cards back in 2010. Budd’s pro career has been spent with only three promotions, Strikeforce, Invicta FC, and Bellator, meaning she has always been in a hotbed of women’s MMA.

While she’s proud of the part she’s played in in bringing more attention to female fighters, right now she’s only worried about Nogueira.

“We’ve studied enough at this point,” said Budd. “We know what she does and you always have to be aware of everything in a fight. If I focus too much on just her ground game then I’m not gonna see the punches coming. I learned that early on in my career and you’ve got to be able to adapt to everything when you’re in there and be prepared for anything.

“That being said, I’ve watched enough on her to know, and I’m very confident in what I bring to the table and what our team’s been working on and it’s been an amazing camp and I look forward to showcasing all my skills Friday.”

Julia Budd throws a high kick at Arlene Blencowe at Bellator 189 on Dec. 1, 2017 in Thackerville, Okla.
Bellator MMA

Growing up, Budd had athletic goals, but she envisioned herself blazing down a track, not being locked in a cage and having to run headfirst into an adversary looking to do her bodily harm.

“That was my dream,” said Budd. “As young as I can remember, my dream was to be a track star. My goal was to be a hundred-meter track star and that was everything to me, but growing up on the Sunshine Coast, you don’t have the coaching, I was preparing for that by myself in my backyard pretty much. So it didn’t go too far and then when I got into high school, I kind of stopped playing team sports.

“Team sports weren’t for me anymore, but I was always athletic, and so I think that finding kickboxing and that individual sport, it kind of came at the perfect time for my life because I was going to start doing drugs and not doing so hot, or do that and it totally shifted the way that my life was going. I couldn’t say enough amazing things about the sport.”

Budd, 35, hails from the Canadian city of Roberts Creek in British Columbia, which she describes as “a small, hippie town” that’s a short boat ride from Vancouver. Over on the Sunshine Coast, she’s become a role model for the community, something she wouldn’t have imagined when she made the transition from track and field to combat sports.

At 15, Budd began doing Muay Thai with a coach from Calgary, Alberta, before moving on to Gibson MMA in Port Moody, where she would learn under the tutelage of future husband Lance Gibson, Sr. After testing herself in kickboxing, where she picked up a win over Gina Carano, Budd made the transition to full-time MMA fighter and hasn’t looked back.

With a win on Friday, Budd will have the most consecutive title defenses (2) in the current Bellator championship landscape that has experienced a lot of turmoil over the last year. She’s finally established herself among the elite, but isn’t close to being satisfied.

“I wasn’t happy that I didn’t get a finish my last fight, so I feel very, very hungry for this fight,” said Budd. “That training and that drive, I feel hungrier for this fight than I have for as long as I remember. I’m so excited and I know that I’m bringing my best game to this fight. That motivates me. Having an opponent that is right ahead of me and I get to face off with, I don’t need extra motivation.

“This is where I get to prove that I’m worthy of being the champion, is when I get to go out there and I get to test myself and fight the best in the world and show the world why I am the best at 145.”

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