Juliana Velasquez: PFL ‘growing a lot’, can go head-to-head with UFC after Bellator acquisition

Former Bellator flyweight champion Juliana Velasquez believes the Professional Fighters League has taken the right step in acquiring Bellator to battle the UFC for the top stop in the MMA sphere.

Velasquez said on MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast that the future is bright for both PFL and Bellator fighters after the former announced its acquisition of the latter in November. PFL will continue with its traditional season format in 2024, with Bellator running as an international circuit.

“PFL is growing a lot,” Velasquez said. “These fights they’re doing, Francis Ngannou in boxing and these YouTubers, Jake Paul… I think that combining their athletes to Bellator’s will give fighters more name and more opportunity to show their value.

“I really think PFL can go head-to-head with the UFC. It already does, I think. It’s going to be pretty even in the eyes of the public. I think it’s going to be super cool.”

PFL currently doesn’t have flyweights as part of their regular season – only in the PFL Europe circuit. The PFL Europe flyweight champion in 2023 was Dakota Ditcheva, who defeated Malin Hermansson and Cornelia Holm this calendar year.

Velasquez, ranked No. 12 on the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, is the only Bellator fighter listed in the top 15 outside of Liz Carmouche (No. 6), who beat her twice in 2022 for the Bellator title. Taila Santos (No. 4) and Jennifer Maia (No. 13), who recently parted ways with the UFC, join them as the only non-UFC talent in the top 15.

“Maybe they don’t have as many girls now, but combining Bellator and PFL Europe, maybe now they can open this weight class,” Velasquez said. “I can fight another Bellator fighter in the PFL, it doesn’t necessarily needs to be under the Bellator [banner]. Let’s wait and see what happens. Maybe they’ll do a flyweight season now and put up quite a nice event, right?”

Velasquez was expected to face Paula Cristina in the final Bellator card of 2023, but she withdrew last-minute due to an infection. She is now cleared to resume light training, she said, and could fight late in the first quarter of 2024. Her girlfriend Milla Linhares will give birth to their first daughter Rafaela in December.

“I’ll be ready to fight whoever they put on my way,” Velasquez said. “I’ve never been part of a tournament in MMA, so I would love to see what it feels like, and win such tournament like thrones I competed in judo. It would be very interesting.”

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