Bellator 224: “Budd vs. Rubin” airs tomorrow night (Fri., July 12, 2019) from WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Oklahoma. The dominance of the women’s Featherweight champion comes to the forefront in the main event as she takes on a rising star as a challenger who is currently undefeated.
Let’s break it down!
145 lbs.: Julia Budd (12-2) vs. Olga Rubin (6-0)
In the ranks of Featherweight fighters in the women’s division the only comparable fighters to Julia Budd are Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes (who recently became a two-division champion). Currently on a 10-fight win streak, Budd has been progressively looking better with each title defense, executing a striking clinic against Talita Nogueira in her last fight at Bellator 202. It should come as little surprise to those who know her Muay Thai background that she’d be excellent in this area, but at 35 she’s clearly coming into her prime.
Bellator MMA has the enviable problem of finding women good enough to challenge her given that the best fighters in this weightclass are split between at least three promotions, but Olga Rubin is a strong candidate. Having made a successful professional debut at Bellator 164 almost three years ago, Rubin has remained undefeated since, scoring technical knockout victories in 50 percent of her fights (three of six). After being given a solid test in the first round by Iony Razafiarison at Bellator 217, Rubin busted her nose and mauled her against the cage en route to a unanimous decision victory.
“The Jewel” Julia Budd relishes a challenge and Rubin is certain to provide it. She’s 29 years old, 5’9” and has a 69-inch reach. That puts her toe to toe with Budd as she’s 5’8” and also has a 69-inch reach, so the only major advantage Rubin has coming in is being the younger fighter. As much as I’d like to believe that benefits Rubin, it’s hard to imagine Rubin winning any of the striking exchanges, and as she has yet to record a submission it’s hard to picture her ground game being superior to Budd’s (even though she only has one submission). She certainly has “a puncher’s chance” and could use a tactic that has hurt Budd in the past — getting in her face and forcing her to be a counter fighter. That hasn’t been enough to knock her off, but it has resulted in many fights that go to a decision. Based on Budd’s last performance it seems like she’s overcome this problem as well.
Final prediction: Julia Budd scores via fourth round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Rafael Carvalho (15-3) vs. Chidi Njokuani (18-6, 1 NC)
This is a critical test for both men to determine their status in the Middleweight division generally and Bellator MMA in particular. Carvalho’s once dominant status as champion has flagged following a quick title loss to Gegard Mousasi and a competitive but losing effort against Lyoto Machida. A third straight loss endangers not only his hopes of ever getting back to the world title but sends the message that Carvalho may no longer be relevant as an attraction to the promotion. Indeed, he could be bounced to “Prelims” undercard bouts … or cut altogether.
Njokuani’s record has been similarly spotty of late. After years of struggling to fit his 6’3” body into a Welterweight frame, Njokuani finally made the wise decision to move up to 185 pounds. That worked out against Hisaki Kato, but not so well with John Salter. Another loss would be his third in his last four fights, so he can no more afford to drop this bout than Carvalho. The good news is that his height and reach (79 inches) make him a danger for anyone in the weight class … except Carvalho, who is also 6’3” and has a 78-inch reach. Despite coming up short against Machida I liked what I saw of him against the UFC veteran, particularly given he busted Machida’s nose with a well-timed strike, and I think he’ll give Njokuani fits.
Final prediction: Rafael Carvalho wins a unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Juliana Velasquez (8-0) vs. Kristina Williams (3-1)
With a sterling record like hers and so few contenders women’s division champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane hasn’t already beaten, Juliana Velasquez has to feel like she’s “got next” with another win. Williams was in a similar position once before a loss to Valerie Letourneau sent her back down the ladder. Williams needs this win more than her opponent and will have the raucous support of the Oklahoma crowd behind her given she hails from Edmond. At 5’8” with a 66-inch reach she’s a fairly sizable Flyweight, but Velasquez actually has 1.5 inches on her in striking even though she’s slightly shorter. Velasquez also sports considerable stopping power with 37 percent (three of eight) fights coming by knockout, which makes her a rarity in the smaller weight classes. Williams is an experienced Muay Thai fighter, though, so it’s unlikely she drops her guard and walks right into a punch or kick. The record of both women on paper does little to show how close and exciting this fight actually is.
Final prediction: Kristina Williams wins via split decision
170 lbs.: Ed Ruth (6-1) vs. Kiichi Kunimoto (20-7-2)
With his blue chip amateur wrestling credentials and former spotlight in the Welterweight Grand Prix, Ed Ruth could have asked for (and received) a much easier fight for Thackerville. However, that’s not how he rolls (pun intended). The experienced 38-year-old Kiichi Kunimoto will be as big of a test as any wrestling or mixed martial arts (MMA) match Ruth has ever had. A star of the Pancrase promotion and former UFC fighter, Kunimoto holds notable wins over Fumitoshi Ishikawa, Daniel Sarafian and Satoru Kitaoka to name a few. In addition, 50 percent of his wins (10 of 20) come by submission so he’ll enjoy working from the bottom or the top, making life difficult for someone such as Ruth with a takedown pedigree. Ruth doesn’t tend to win with his wrestling though — five of six wins (83 percent) are knockouts. Being 10 years younger and presumably having more strength and cardio as a result put all the chips in Ruth’s favor. Kunimoto is legendarily hard to finish as he’s only been knocked out once and submitted twice, but I have a sneaking suspicion Ruth can get the job done.
Final prediction: Ed Ruth via third round technical knockout
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 224 tomorrow with a main card at 9 p.m. ET on Paramount Network (and DAZN), with “Prelims” undercard bouts starting at 7 p.m. ET (exclusively on DAZN). To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.