Women's MMA is back on one of mixed martial arts' biggest stages with the announcement of two new fighters signed to the Bellator ranks. While reports were in the air that Bellator was targeting Gina Carano and Marloes Coenen, the end result is a little different. Marloes Coenen has been signed to a Bellator contract, but her first opponent will be former Invicta and Strikeforce fighter Julia Budd. Bellator announced the news via press release. The two women are set to face off in a bout later this year, although no date or venue has been set.
Coenen will enter her first bout with Bellator on the back of a thoroughly one-sided beating at the hands of Cris Cyborg, last July on Invicta FC 6. She brings an overall record of 21-6 with wins over Liz Carmouche, Sarah Kaufman, and Roxanne Modafferi. She's one of the few remaining prominent Golden Glory MMA fight team members, alongside Sergei Kharitonov.
Her opponent, Julia Budd, has been on a roll since a 2011 loss to Ronda Rousey. She's won four in row, most recently as a member of Invicta's featherweight division, and holds a 2011 win over Germaine de Randamie. She was a longtime kickboxer and Muay Thai practitioner before her move to MMA, and even holds a Muay Thai win over Gina Carano. In the cage, she's been much more of a wrestler, however, and is known for her strong double leg and stifling top control.
All things said and done, there are a few interesting factors at work here. First and foremost, both Budd and Coenen are coming directly off Invicta contracts. No information was made available in the press release as to whether either fighter is still under contract with Invicta, or if not, whether they are free to pursue fights outside of Bellator while under contract with the Viacom owned organization. However, MMA Fighting revealed that Coenen had completed her Invicta contract and given the new focus Knapp is putting on fighter development (and the large contract she was offered by Bellator), the promotion did not try and compete to re-sign Coenen.
In the past, the inability to get their women competitors cage time was one of the chief complaints against Bellator's pursuit of women's MMA. Compound those problems with the fact that featherweight has been one of the thinnest and most difficult to book women's divisions and Bellator may be setting themselves up for little beyond a couple of showcase fights to draw attention. That remains to be seen, but if Bellator has bigger designs on women's MMA, this is an odd first step.