In the past 24 hours, there have been oodles of speculation that Gina Carano, the former face of women’s MMA known to be in talks with the UFC, was on the brink of signing instead with Bellator MMA, now run by Carano’s former Strikeforce boss Scott Coker. The fact that Coker and Carano had a strong working relationship added credence to the rumours, but they have since been shot down by Coker himself.
That does not mean, however, that Bellator won’t be returning to the realm of women’s MMA.
One of the serious missteps of the Bjorn Rebney administration at Bellator was its inability to nurture the women’s side of the MMA equation in the promotion, which dropped women’s fights altogether by mid-2013. Prior to that, top names such as Jessica Aguilar (now WSOF champion), Megumi Fumi, Carla Esparza (the Invicta champion currently lined up to compete on The Ultimate Fighter 20), and Jessica Eye (a current UFC bantamweight) fought for the promotion.
At the same time, women’s MMA was already skyrocketing in popularity, and has become one of the top attractions in the sport in 2013-2014. By dropping the division, Bellator more or less gave up on a previously niche area of MMA that was exploding, and frankly, squandered a great opportunity.
With Coker captaining the Bellator ship these days, Bellator has a chance to get back in the women’s MMA game. Coker knows that the girls can draw; his promotion was one of the first to have a women’s MMA fight headline a major event. On top of that, frankly, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Carano may not be an option (though nothing is certain at this point), but Marloes Coenen‘s name has been linked to Bellator as well.
Coenen (21-6) hasn’t fought since July 2013, when she lost a bout for the Invicta featherweight championship to Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, but she remains one of the biggest names in women’s MMA; aside from Carano and Cyborg, she has the biggest name value currently not signed by the UFC — sorry, Jessica Aguilar.
The rumours come with good reason, too. On Twitter late yesterday, Coenen posted the following teaser:
There’s something I want to tell you but I have to wait a little longer…. #MMA
Note that it’s not tagged with Invicta MMA or any promotion, leading to speculation that the “big news” will be her fighting elsewhere. That could be the UFC or Bellator. For the UFC, Coenen would need to cut weight down to 135 pounds, as the promotion lacks a featherweight division; but Bellator — well, should Bellator want to get back in the WMMA game, setting up a 145-pound division (which the UFC lacks) would be a smart move, making them the premier destination for female featherweight fighters.
Will Bellator return to the WMMA game? We can certainly hope.