HONOLULU – Juliana Velasquez recognizes her name might not come up as one of the pound-for-pound best quite yet, but Bellator 278, she thinks, should change that.
A former international standout in judo, Velasquez (12-0 MMA, 7-0 BMMA) has yet to lose a mixed martial arts bout. If she defeats former UFC title challenger Liz Carmouche (16-7 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) in the Bellator 278 main event, it’ll mark two successful defenses for the champion.
“I think I should (be mentioned in the conversation), but I’ve got one fight coming up,” Velasquez told MMA Junkie through an interpreter at a news conference Wednesday. “For sure, my name is going to be on the list after this matchup.”
Velasquez, 35, started MMA later than most, but it’s worked out well. She defeated long-reigning champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane in December 2020 before a split decision over Denise Kielholtz earned her her first title defense in June 2021. The latter result was controversial, as many viewers scored the fight for Kielholtz.
“Obviously, I learned a lot,” Velasquez said. “Usually, I don’t want to let the judges decide. I don’t like to leave my fight in the judges’ hands, but I think (I did) enough. … I had my internal problems. There was a little bit of pressure. It was my first title defense. Today, I feel very confident and I’m very hungry to get a knockout.”
Carmouche, 38, is only three years older than Velasquez, but her tenure in the fight game is much more veteran than the Brazilian. Carmouche fought for a UFC title before Velasquez even had a single amateur fight.
Despite Carmouche’s place as one of the initial top-tier women’s fighters in UFC history, Velasquez was unconcerned with the nostalgia of sharing a poster. There is currently only one A-side, she thinks.
“She’s very experienced, but today I’m the world champ – not her,” Velasquez said. “I look at the poster and I’m just super stoked to be there.”
Bellator 278 takes place Friday at Neal S. Blaisdell Center with the main card airing on Showtime after prelims on MMA Junkie.