Fresh off of the longest layoff of her professional career, Kristina Williams is jumping right into a high-stakes bout with Juliana Velasquez at Bellator 224 on July 12.
This fight gives both women the opportunity to make a statement to secure the next shot at Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s women’s flyweight title.
Williams burst on the Bellator scene in her professional debut by defeating Heather Hardy. “War Horse” battered the boxer-turned-MMA fighter with a variety of strikes, breaking her nose and forcing the doctor to stop the fight in the second round.
Williams got her first title-eliminator opportunity in her third pro fight against Valerie Letourneau. She suffered her first loss, dropping a unanimous decision to the UFC veteran who then went on to unsuccessfully challenge the champion.
Returning to the cage in November, “War Horse” picked up a win that put her name right back into the title mix. Speaking with John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock, Williams detailed her time off and the changes she has made in hopes of earning her first crack at the flyweight belt.
Kristina Williams makes her return
After defeating Bruna Ellen by unanimous decision at Bellator 210, Williams was eager to return to the cage. She wasn’t satisfied with her output in the bout, so she hoped to make some minor tune-ups, get back in the cage and continue to build momentum as she approached the top of the division.
Then, as it sometimes does, life got in the way.
“I ended up getting married in February and that kind of put me off of like a March fight,” Williams explained. “I didn’t really want that much time off. It just kind of ended up that way.”
Eventually, Williams got the call to take a fight against fellow top contender Velasquez. In this bout, Williams is expecting a war, but she is wary of her opponent’s versatility.
“I think she’s a pretty well-rounded fighter, but she likes to stand up like I do, so I think we might have a good time standing up,” Williams said. “I’m not gonna underestimate her ground and her takedowns, and she has really good pressure on the wall. She likes to hold people on the wall, clinch. I like to clinch a lot too, so I think it’s going to be a really exciting fight.”
On top of the potentially thrilling bout, there’s heavy title implications at play. The champion Macfarlane is currently without a fight after last defending her belt against Veta Arteaga in April. Though a rematch with Arteaga has been rumored due to the doctor’s stoppage in the first bout, Williams and Velasquez both have a shot at jumping ahead of her with an impressive performance.
“I definitely think that it could be [a title eliminator],” Williams said. “I don’t know what they’re going to do with Veta next, if they’re going to have Ilima fight her or not, so I’m kind of just waiting.”
Williams doesn’t want too much of a gap between this bout and the next though.
“I definitely do not want to sit as long as I have,” she said. “I would hope it would be — if it’s like a title fight, within six months. If it’s not a title fight, probably sooner, like three or four months at least. If this fight goes my way, I would even fight sooner than that.”
Making the most of her time off
Now that she has gone through the process of preparing for fights many times, “War Horse” has made a number of changes to her approach.
“I actually added like a lot more strength training and conditioning and a lot more recovery in this camp,” Williams said. “It’s been helping a lot.”
Williams trains out of American Elite MMA in Oklahoma. Since joining, she’s witnessed the continuous growth of the gym.
“My team from last time has grown a lot,” Williams said. “I have girls from Oklahoma like Stephanie Geltmacher and Julia Avila and Sarah Alpar who I’ve been training with, and those are pretty new additions to my team, so that’s been really awesome.”
The trio of professionals has only further pushed Williams to better herself in training. Prior to their arrival, Williams was already working with Invicta FC strawweight champion Jinh Yu Frey as well as 11th-ranked UFC flyweight contender Montana de la Rosa.
Training with top-tier athletes helps iron sharpen iron, but Williams’ favorite part of her training is the vibes from her teammates.
“Everybody’s there to work to help each other get better and there’s no jealousy that I feel like goes on a lot of times,” Williams said. “It’s just a very positive work environment.”
The growth of women’s MMA
With just four pro bouts at age 29, Williams is still very much a part of the newer class of female fighters in MMA. Even so, she has seen the sport grow more and more from when she began getting involved in it.
“I’ve seen a lot of talent come into Bellator and the UFC lately,” Williams said. “I think that we’re just going to see better and better people come in … It’s going to be amazing. There’s going to be a lot better competition and harder competition, so everybody’s going to keep evolving.”
“War Horse” has seen the growth of women’s MMA in her time with Bellator. The card she will fight on, Bellator 224, is headlined by a women’s featherweight title bout between champion Julia Budd and Olga Rubin.
While Williams spends most of her time scouring the flyweight division for potential future opponents, she certainly plans on watching the featherweights fight once her bout is over.
“[Budd is] a very physically strong fighter and she overpowers people a lot,” Williams said of the champion. “Olga is pretty physically strong too, so I think she’s going to give her a challenge. Definitely, I think it’s going to be a good fight.”
Another staple of women’s MMA, Cris Cyborg, has one fight remaining on her UFC deal. She will fight Felicia Spencer at UFC 240.
Cyborg has expressed interest in testing the waters in free agency, meaning that a possible fight between the Budd vs. Rubin winner and the former UFC champion could happen in the near future.
“That would be really cool if Cyborg came to Bellator,” Williams said. “I don’t know if that would happen, but I think that would definitely put us way up there, and that would be an amazing fight.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.