After a near three-week hiatus, Bellator MMA return on Friday night from WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma with a card that is flying under the radar but is filled with a number of intriguing matchups. There is interest from a European perspective as SBG Ireland products Kiefer Crosbie, Sinead Kavanagh, and Will Fleury all look to add to their promotional resumes. However, the fighter on the card with links to the continent in the bout of highest consequence is women’s featherweight title contender, Olga Rubin (6-0), as she looks to take the belt from the grasp of current champion, Julia Budd (12-2).
Rubin is 3-0 in Bellator and secured her shot at the title when she defeated Iony Razafiarison back at the end of February via unanimous decision. The fight began with Razafiarison utilising good in and out movement to land some clean shots on the feet as Rubin appeared to take a while to settle. There was a brief grappling exchange towards the end of the first round where Rubin was taken down by her opponent, but she proceeded to get back to her feet right away before ending the round in a dominant position.
During the second and third rounds, Rubin implemented her grappling game far more effectively which enabled her to open up a lead over Razafiarison. She saw out the fight by landing some tidy shots in the clinch against the cage and worked to her feet urgently whenever her back hit the mat. It wasn’t a performance filled with high-paced action but it was enough to secure Rubin the next opportunity to fight for the belt even though she knows she is capable of much more.
“It was a tough fight for me,” said Rubin. “I faced some adversity leading up to the bout so I didn’t give the performance I was planning on executing. However, I adapted my game plan to achieve the win. My physical advantage meant that I could pin her on the cage while using my dirty boxing and elbow strikes to hurt her. It was hard to adjust to a shorter opponent so I couldn’t get the finish that I wanted.”
The 29-year-old, undefeated fighter lives in Israel where mixed martial arts is still a growing and developing sport. Bellator have visited the country three times since 2016 and have always drawn lively and passionate crowds. These shows gave many residents their first opportunity to watch high-level MMA in person. Rubin picked up arguably the biggest win of her professional career to date in Tel Aviv when she defeated Cindy Dandois, and she has seen evidence of a higher participation rate in martial arts compared to years ago. Although MMA still has a long way to go before it reaches the popularity levels of other sports in Israel, Rubin is delighted to see a greater appreciation of the skills and talent involved.
“There has been a big awakening in the Israeli scene,” explained Rubin. “Bellator keeps returning to Tel Aviv which has massively helped to push the sport forward and make the public more aware of what we do. Many fighters understand that this could be their big break so work even harder now they see a path to the biggest organizations.”
When she isn’t training in Israel, Rubin can often be found in England working with one of her mentors, UK MMA pioneer Brad Pickett. Being so far away from the UFC veteran’s hometown, many would question how the pair’s paths first crossed. It all began when Rubin reached out to ‘One Punch’ on social media, asking if she could train with his team due to being a fan of his brawling fighting style.
Up until around a month ago, she worked under Pickett at Team Titan but he recently left the gym to start up his own facility, Great Britain Top Team, where she now trains. The camp is affiliated with American Top Team, which is a first in the UK and will provide fighters with more scope to enhance their skills. Rubin lauds the amazing sparring partners she has worked with in preparation for this fight and believes that due to all of their efforts, she is in good stead to achieve her goals on Friday night.
Rubin was a self-professed party girl for many years until she stumbled across Ronda Rousey vs Miesha Tate II online, which almost instantly hooked her to the sport. She was impressed by the dominance of Rousey but the toughness of Tate made more of an impact on her. With no prior martial arts experience, at the age of twenty three, she began training all of the aspects of MMA together in order to catch up with everyone else.
It will be no easy task to claim the title on Friday, making the years of hard training worth it, as she is a sizeable underdog against one of Bellator’s dominant champions. Julia Budd is on a ten-fight winning streak and hasn’t tasted defeat since 2011. In fact, the only two losses she has received in her professional career were against Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey, so she has only lost to elite-level athletes. She is channeling the motivation her son gives her every day to overcome the odds and deliver a dominant performance in her US debut.
“Julia is one of the best featherweights out there,” stated Rubin. “I was watching her fights before I became a professional so you could say she is one of my idols. I’m extremely hungry for the belt and they say that the wolf climbing up the mountain is the hungriest. It’s an honor to be able to showcase my skills against such a powerhouse. I’m fully prepared to go the distance and compete wherever the fight goes but I’m predicting a second round knockout.”
Bellator 224: Budd v Rubin can be seen live on Paramount Network/DAZN at 9/8c on Friday night in the US while UK/Irish fans can watch live on Sky Sports at 2am BST, early on Saturday morning.