Some would say it was terrible matchmaking. In her second pro mixed martial arts fight, Julia Budd faced Amanda Nunes, who is now widely regarded as the greatest female fighter of all-time.
Six months later in her next fight, she defeated future UFC featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie. Five months after that, Budd squared off against Ronda Rousey, who at the time was en route to establishing herself as the most dominant women’s fighter of the day.
Facing that type of competition so early in one’s career has broken many a fighter. But for Budd, she’s convinced it’s what has made her a world champion. And it’s why, despite being a +275 underdog at BetMGM, Budd is convinced she’s ready to defend her featherweight title by defeating Cris “Cyborg” Justino at Bellator 238 on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, DAZN) at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
“This is the perfect point of my career for this fight to happen,” Budd told Yahoo Sports. “I feel so excited about it. Everyone knows what kind of fighter [Cyborg] is, but everything has fallen into place for me. I’ve got all the tools I need to win this fight. I’m well-rounded and I’m not just a kickboxer jumping into the cage in MMA.
“This is coming at the right time for me. Fighting those women, those experiences I gained, they made me into the fighter I am today. I think it worked out perfectly for me.”
Fighting Cyborg, whom Bellator president Scott Coker has taken to calling the greatest women’s fighter of all-time, is a mental challenge for any opponent. Cyborg is far bigger and more physically powerful than most women are used to fighting, and she’s skilled, not just large.
Some women have wilted when confronted with her in the ring, but Budd chuckles at the notion she may be intimidated.
This is a woman who was 2-2 in her MMA career after four fights and had been knocked out in 14 seconds by Nunes and arm-barred in 39 seconds by Rousey. It took a mentally strong person to overcome that, and Budd proved herself by not losing since that Nov. 18, 2011, fight with Rousey in Las Vegas. Rousey’s arm bar dislocated Budd’s elbow.
It did not break her, though. She regrouped after that, ripped off 11 consecutive wins and became the inaugural Bellator featherweight champion on March 3, 2017, when she stopped the legendary Marloes Coenen in the fourth round.
🇨🇦 @JuliaBudd hasn't lost a fight in nearly a decade!— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) January 17, 2020
See her last title defense in this week’s #FullFightFriday!
Don't miss her title defense next Saturday against @CrisCyborg! 🇧🇷
🎟 https://t.co/G0R5BQcgHI#Bellator238 pic.twitter.com/TqyVOSRsE4
Fighting Cyborg is an entirely different story, but Budd’s background as a kickboxer should help with that. While Cyborg has good jiu-jitsu, she’s primarily a striker who uses her size and physical strength to her advantage. But Budd is also a former pro kickboxer who has a victory in that sport over Gina Carano, who would go on to become one of the legends in the early days of women’s MMA.
Budd concedes she doesn’t have the one-punch power that Cyborg brings to the fight, but she says she’ll have an advantage in the stand-up nonetheless.
“I don’t have as many knockouts as her, but I’m more of a technician,” she said. “I have been in there with so many great [strikers] that I’m not going to be intimidated. A lot of girls melt or are broken before they even get into the cage with her.
“To be honest with you, I’m sick and tired of being on the back burner. This is my time and this is my title and it’s my division. I know she and Coker have a great relationship, a special relationship, and there has been all this talk of the big plans they have for her in Bellator. That’s fine. But you know what? I’m ready to go out there and put the best performance of my career on and awaken some people who don’t really know me and think she’s just going to come in and walk right through me.”
More from Yahoo Sports: