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Coker: Bellator 261’s Liz Carmouche vs. Kana Watanabe serves as flyweight title eliminator

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The flyweight co-headliner for Friday’s Bellator 261 got a bump in status.

Bellator President Scott Coker on Wednesday told MMA Fighting the winner of Liz Carmouche vs. Kana Watanabe will be the next challenger for the Bellator flyweight title.

Coker said the timeframe for the winner’s title shot will be determined by an upcoming fight between current 125-pound champ Juliana Velasquez, who this past December captured the belt, and Denise Kielholtz in a Bellator 262 headliner next month.

“I’m not sure who’s going to win that fight, to be honest,” Coker said. “But Watanabe, who’s undefeated, let’s see what she can do against Liz Carmouche, who’s been around for a long time and knows the game. There’s not going to be any tricks up Watanabe’s sleeve that she can pull on Liz.

“Once Watanabe gets you on the ground, it’s pretty much over. This girl’s a great submission fighter. Let’s see if Liz tries to keep it standing up. I think it’s going to be a great matchup.”

In a previous interview with MMA Fighting, Carmouche hoped a win over Watanabe would secure a title shot with her ultimate goal being to win the flyweight and convince Bellator to open up the bantamweight division so she could capture a belt in that division.

Coker in principle welcomes that idea, but questioned whether there is enough talent to sustain a women’s bantamweight division.

Since signing with Bellator after a departure from the UFC, Carmouche is 2-0 in the cage and is ranked No. 2 in the promotion’s 125-pound rankings. In her career at flyweight and bantamweight in the UFC, she has only fallen short against ranked opposition. A lackluster showing in 2019 against pound-for-pound great Valentina Shevchenko preceded her outser from the UFC.

Watanabe, an Olympic qualifier in Judo, has also won two straight since migrating from DEEP and Rizin FF and is undefeated at 10-0-1.

Before the short-notice opportunity to fight at Bellator 261, Carmouche trained with Ronda Rousey’s former judo coach to prepare for her next fight. Rousey famously submitted her with an armbar in a groundbreaking women’s MMA fight at UFC 157.