Janay Harding competing at Bellator 219

On November 8, Bellator will once again showcase the talent of their roster with an exciting Friday night card in Thackerville, Oklahoma, headlined by highly touted middleweight John Salter. Also competing that night is UFC veteran Leslie Smith, who will be making her promotional debut, and “King” Mo Lawal, who is coming out of retirement for one last fight.

Not only is the main card full of intriguing bouts, so too are the preliminaries. Undefeated prospects Logan Storley and Jordan Young have the opportunity to extend their professional records to 11-0 and 12-0, respectively, and if successful come Friday, will continue climbing the ladder in Bellator.

Also fighting on the prelims is Janay “Hollowpoint” Harding (5-3), a bantamweight who has recently moved to featherweight in search of championship gold. The Australian will be taking on brawler Amanda Bell, who will be looking to rebound from her July defeat.

Harding spoke to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock about her upcoming bout and her journey to becoming a well-rounded fighter.

Improved jiu-jitsu

Janay Harding will step into the Bellator cage for the fourth time this Friday. Although she suffered defeat in her first outing for the promotion, “Hollowpoint” has bounced back with two dominant wins, with the latest coming in March.

In her last fight, Harding outclassed Russian submission maestro Marina Mokhnatkina for three rounds to score a unanimous decision victory. Despite controlling her opponent for the full 15 minutes, the 25-year-old was critical of her performance, stating that she was disappointed.

“There was a lot I was disappointed in,” Harding said.

“For me, it wasn’t my best performance, I think mentally I wasn’t in the fight. We made a few changes in the [training] camp so I think a combination of increased muscle mass and just not being used to my new physique did make a bit of difference in how technical I was, especially [going] into the third round. I was just a bit sloppy and obviously gassed quite a bit. I was still happy to come away [with the win] and be dominant.”

As of late, Harding and her team have begun putting a newfound focus on her grappling game, which was critical considering the level of jiu-jitsu her opponent possessed.

“I was just really looking forward to showcasing my jiu-jitsu against someone who has such [a] high [level of] jiu-jitsu. And just being able to show that as much as I’m a striker I’ve been working on my jiu-jitsu this whole time and I have solid jiu-jitsu as well. It’s just not something I gravitate towards in [terms] of my performance, so it was really good to test that stuff.”

Top of the Bellator featherweight division

Last month, Bellator unveiled the signing of one of the greatest female mixed martial artists of all time: Cris Cyborg. Shortly after this, they announced that she would get an immediate title shot against the company’s featherweight queen Julia Budd.

Harding weighed in on the former UFC star’s immediate title shot, and who she thinks will walk away with the featherweight crown.

“They are both such great caliber opponents for one another, and I think that’s a matchup that they have both been waiting for for a very long time,” Harding said.

“Julia’s such a strong champion that it’s kind of the first matchup that comes to mind that’s going to be Cris’ biggest challenge. I’m happy that she gets the title fight and interested to see who walks away with the title.”

“I do think she [Cyborg] is slowing down a tiny bit, just because of her age, and because of her age in this sport [which] makes a big difference. So I think technically they’ll go head to head in a few different sections. I think we’ll get to see a few different areas from both women and then whoever makes the best decisions comes out on top. I really don’t think it’s going to be one of those quick finishes from either girl, but either way, it’ll be interesting.”

The arrival of Cyborg in Bellator is not only huge for the promotion financially but crucial to the success of their 145-pound division. Along with their champion, many other of the female featherweights on the roster have spoken publically about the strength of Bellator’s featherweight division; they were able to create something the UFC was so desperately trying to force.

Janay Harding is one of many who feel like Bellator is the premier destination for all female featherweights, and credits Cris Cyborg for being a non-stop advocate for the division.

“Even when I got signed Cris shared that on her story – she’s always been a massive advocate of just growing the sport, especially the featherweight division for females,” said Harding.

“In the last two years it’s just really skyrocketed, and I think they’ve extended the gap between the UFC and Bellator featherweight division. So much so that it’s almost out of reach for the UFC now.”

“If I become a titleholder in Bellator, I’m not only world champion, I’m world champion in the deepest featherweight division on earth.”

Janay Harding walks out at Bellator 219
Janay Harding makes her walk to the cage at Bellator 219

Facing Amanda Bell

On November 8, Janay Harding will square off against highly experienced Amanda Bell, who will be hungry to return to the win column. Bell has won two of her four Bellator bouts, both via TKO.

“I think she’s a fantastic opponent” exclaimed Harding, “her record isn’t the best of course, but she’s fought some of the best people, which makes a massive difference and it just gives [her] so much more credibility.”

“For me, that’s a great fight. I love to be challenged, and not only am I challenged, but I do feel like my style works perfectly against hers. That kind of thing will just allow me to showcase my skills and showcase the fact that I am super worthy to be up the top end of these featherweight female rankings.”

Her opponent is known to be a brawler, meaning she likes to ‘stand and bang’ in order to dictate the victor. Harding must be wary of this, as 4 of Bell’s 6 wins have come via knockout.

Nonetheless the Australian remains certain that she will display her full skillset, which will leave doubters over how well rounded she really is.

“I want to utilize every skill I have. I want to make sure that I’m showcasing the fact that I’m an all-round fighter like I attempted last time. I just wanted to reiterate that I have a solid ground game and I have a solid all-round MMA game.”

Although she is the biggest female signing in the promotion’s history, Cris Cyborg wasn’t the first to jump ship from the UFC to Bellator. At the start of the year, the company’s president Scott Coker revealed that former UFC bantamweight Leslie Smith had signed a contract, and would be competing at featherweight.┬áSmith made her promotional debut in July, picking up a majority decision victory of Sinead Kavanagh.

Smith will also be competing on November 8 against Arlene Blencowe, who happens to have a stoppage victory over Harding. The Australian has her sights set on both women and is confident a fight could materialize with the two in the future.

“When Leslie got signed I was super interested in that fight for myself,” Harding told John Hyon Ko.

“And of course I’ve always been interested in that rematch with Arlene and I’m sure we’ll get our time, no doubt now that we’re in the same promotion. But I’m just interested to see how they go: obviously Leslie had a great run in the UFC and she’s a veteran on her own accord, but Arlene has incredible skills, especially in the striking. She’s so heavy-handed that I think Leslie will have a little bit of trouble with that. But either way, I think it’ll make a great fight.”

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