It took Juliana Velasquez three years and five fights in Bellator to get her shot at becoming the women’s flyweight champion.
And after taking the belt from Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, the only other champion the division has known, last December, she’s ready to begin her own quest to defend the title and leave her mark as a dominant champion.
"My confidence is sky high," Velasquez said. "The moment I don’t feel that confidence in myself is the moment I’m going to stop fighting. I believe I can achieve many title wins and remain the champion for a long time."
Her first defense comes Friday against Denise Kielholtz, the current Bellator flyweight kickboxing champion, at Bellator 262 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Even with the striking credentials of Kielholtz (6-2), a winner of four straight, Velasquez still plans to go in aggressive and look for a finish.
"If I am feeling well striking I don’t think I will have any need to take her down," she said. "It all depends on what she brings to the table and how we’re dealing with each other, but you can be certain that my plan ‘A’ is to go in there and look for a knockout."
Not everyone was impressed with Velasquez’s aggressiveness during her unanimous decision win over Macfarlane, including the fighter who is in line for a title shot against the winner of Friday’s bout, Liz Carmouche.
Velasquez (11-0) had a strong response to hearing that Carmouche didn’t believe her title win was "championship worthy."
"What matters in the end is that I am the champion and I have the belt and I’m the one at the top," Velasquez said. "If she thinks she can do better she’s welcome to come here and try but it’s funny to hear something coming out of her mouth because her last title fight was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen, it wasn’t exciting at all."
Carmouche lost by unanimous decision to UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko in August 2019. All three judges scored it 50-45 for Shevchenko. It was Carmouche's last fight in the UFC before signing with Bellator.
"And her fight against [Vanessa] Porto - with their names and their accomplishments I was expecting to see something much better, and it had zero excitement," she continued. It’s funny that she was talking about a fight but she’s welcome to come here and do something different, I’ll be waiting for her."
Carmouche won her most recent bout with a 35-second TKO of Kana Watanabeat Bellator 261 last month.
Velasquez transitioned to MMA after not making Brazil’s Olympic judo team. To her, the Bellator title holds the same reverence as an Olympic gold medal.
"Getting the title was everything that I wanted," Velasquez said. "It was an amazing experience to finally have it."
Bellator 262 fight card
Main card, 9 p.m. ET on Showtime
Flyweight World Title: Champion Juliana Velasquez (11-0) vs. Denise Kielholtz (6-2)
Heavyweight: Tyrell Fortune (10-1, 1 NC) vs. Matt Mitrione (13-8, 1 NC)
Bantamweight: Matheus Mattos (12-2-1) vs. Cee Jay Hamilton (15-8)
Featherweight: Arlene Blencowe (13-8) vs. Dayana Silva (9-6)
Middleweight: Johnny Eblen (8-0) vs. Travis Davis (10-4)
Prelims, 6 p.m. on YouTube, Pluto TV
Heavyweight: Ronny Markes (19-8) vs. Said Sowma (6-2)
Featherweight: Cody Law (3-0) vs. Theodore Macuka (1-0)
Welterweight: Roman Faraldo (5-0) vs. John Ramirez (5-5)
Flyweight: Diana Avsaragova (3-0) vs. Gabriella Gulfin (2-2)
Featherweight: Johnny Soto (4-1) vs. Adil Benjilany (5-3, 1 NC)
Lightweight: Charlie Campbell (3-1) vs. Nicholas Giulietti (2-1)