Julia Budd may be the Bellator women’s featherweight champion, but she will be an underdog in her latest title defense.
On Saturday, Budd faces former UFC champion Cris Cyborg in her first appearance inside the Bellator cage after signing a multi-fight deal with the Viacom-owned promotion.
For most of her career, Cyborg has been the gold standard at 145 pounds with an unbeaten streak that lasted from her second professional fight in 2015 to 2018, when she finally suffered a loss to reigning UFC two-division world champion Amanda Nunes.
Ever since signing Cyborg to the promotion, Bellator president Scott Coker has touted her as the greatest women’s fighter of all time. Of course, there’s no definitive way to prove that distinction, and Budd doesn’t begrudge Coker’s opinion, even if she doesn’t agree with him.
“Scott’s allowed to have his opinion,” Budd told MMA Fighting. “They’ve got a special relationship with their history together. That’s fine that he thinks that. I don’t think that.
“I’m fighting a woman with two arms and two legs, and she’s a very dominant fighter. But that’s just another woman standing in the cage across from me.”
In a lot of ways, Budd feels like the unbeatable aura that’s surrounded Cyborg for so much of her career has led many of her opponents to be defeated before facing her. She certainly respects the dangers Cyborg brings to the table, but she refuses to treat her as anything different than the next opponent trying to take her title away.
“I think a lot of the girls are broken before they step in the cage with her, and she’s done a very good job with that,” Budd said. “There’s a whole feeling around her that not all fighters have with her knockouts and her finishes.
“I have to stand my ground and show that I’m the real 145-pound champion. It’s not about strength versus strength. It’s about skill. It’s about everything in there. I plan on using it all and just bringing it all to the table and just believing in myself. I’m just so committed to this fight. I put everything into this.”
Some of the luster that surrounded Cyborg may have been knocked off after she fell to Nunes in just 51 seconds back at UFC 232. But even before that, Budd always knew the Brazilian had her weaknesses.
Nunes brought the fight to her that night and got the better of Cyborg, and Budd plans to do the same at Bellator 238.
“It’s the same thing what Holly [Holm] did to Ronda [Rousey],” Budd said. “It shows people that she’s human. I think there’s a lot of fights, even the ones where she won, where I thought my skill set, I can capitalize in a lot of areas. I always wanted to fight her regardless of what happened with Amanda.
“This fight was going to happen. I prepared for her to be the very best Cris Cyborg, and I’m sure she’s going in with extra motivation after that loss. I expect her to come in at her very best. I’m ready for everything.”
A win over Cyborg would be a massive achievement for Budd’s career, but even then she won’t feel satisfied because there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Rankings are always subjective, and while Budd may have a much deeper resume at 145 pounds, she can’t say for certain that beating Cyborg would allow her to leap frog Nunes as the best featherweight in the sport.
After a knockout loss to Nunes in just her second professional bout, Budd would love the chance to run it back again to prove who truly is the best featherweight fighter in the world.
“That would be a dream fight,” Budd said. “Maybe a crossover. Bellator’s down. We could fight each other and that could be a fight to solidify that spot. I think a lot of the time, I’ve never focused on rankings or any of these things, because that’s up to the media and they get to decide who is their favorite fighters are and it always changes. I’ve never focused on that, but that’s my goal. I want to go down as the very best. I want to be remembered as that.
“So this is my legacy. Me beating Cris is the only thing on my mind, and the other people can have their thoughts on that and their opinions. After that, it would be amazing if we could do a UFC vs. Bellator, champion versus champion fight. But I’m a Bellator fighter. I’m not going anywhere. This is my home.”