Liz Carmouche became a champion for the first time in her professional career by finishing Juliana Velasquez at Bellator 278 this past Friday night. But ‘Girl-Rilla’ saw her crowning moment overshadowed after fans and pundits called into question the controversial refereeing of one Mike Beltran that led to her win.
Carmouche dethroned Velasquez via fourth-round technical knockout after securing a takedown and advancing to a top crucifix position, where she trapped her opponent and rained down elbows until Beltran moved in to stop the fight. The stoppage was protested by Velasquez, who was left stunned in the immediate aftermath of losing the championship in that manner.
Though Velasquez disagreed with the decision, Carmouche believed it was correct. Given the position the ex-champion found herself in, the 38-year-old knew she would be unable to escape, and the damage would have been far worse had she continued to find her target with those elbows.
“I think he stepped in at the right time,” said Carmouche at her post-fight press conference (video provided by MMA Fighting). “I think if he let it continue, it could’ve been a broken orbital. It could’ve been her going unconscious. I think that when he stepped in, it was the right thing to do to protect the fighter because she wasn’t doing anything to correctly advance her position safely and she wasn’t doing anything to defend it, so she just kept taking it. Ending a fight that way, I’d much rather see the fighter step up and us be able to shake hands rather than her go to the hospital and not be able to remember what happened. So I think he did the right thing.”
Because of its ending, a rematch between Carmouche and Velasquez could happen next. The Brazilian had never suffered defeat before and was on a seven-fight win streak under the Bellator banner, which included decisions over Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Denise Kielholtz.
However, if it were up to the newly crowned champion, she would entertain a new challenge instead.
“I hope not,” said Carmouche. “I get kind of bored with rematches. I like to see something different and kind of change it up, and I’d love an opportunity to let somebody else in the division work their way up and to see what else I can show off in the cage.”
With her first championship acquired, Carmouche has a few ideas on how she would like to approach her reign. The former Marine has set her sights on introducing a new weight class and going overseas to fight in front of a crowd in Okinawa, Japan, where she grew up.
“There are three things that would really be optimal,” said Carmouche. “As much as I would love to see a 135 division, I think that one thing that’s unique that they don’t have out there is a 130 division. At 125, I feel like I’m cutting a little bit too low when I get to 125. 135 is a little too big. I think 130 would be a perfect division. What that would really do is it would start to cut off those 145ers who are making enormous cuts to do 135 and blowing back up. It would be true people that fight at that division, so that’s one I would really love to see. Of course to have two belts in two different divisions would be amazing.
“Another thing I would really like to do is go to fight in Japan,” continued Carmouche. “Whether that be in Okinawa or mainland Japan, I would love to take a show out there and have an opportunity to go home because I haven’t been home since 2006. Like I was saying, as much as I love Hawaii and I have a connection, I’d really love to be able to go home and show my family and to bring a unique twist on being in Japan. A lot of the fighters that have been there are Japanese fighters, and to have an American fighter that connects with it is so different and unique that I think it would really be great for Bellator, and a great opportunity that I would love to take advantage of.”
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