Even if the featherweight tournament final between Rad Martinez and Shahbulat Shamhalaev had gone off without issue, it would’ve been hard to trump the performance put on by Jessica "Evil" Eye against Zoila Frausto Gurgel in the opener of the televised card for Bellator 83 in Atlantic City, N.J.
After the main event was a very late scratch, the focus only intensified upon the standing arm-triangle submission that put Gurgel to sleep 58 seconds after the opening bell rang. Smiling from ear to ear during the post-fight press conference, Eye was just as quick to credit the Bellator champ as well.
“I couldn’t have done that without Zoila,” Eye told Sherdog.com. “I’m not too proud of a woman to say I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if she hadn’t done something right. I do feel like I made a mark, and I did it against the right kind of person.”
That mark further cements a career that has skyrocketed over the last two years and has picked up some very famous friends along the way. In attendance for Eye’s performance on Friday was Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs. The wideout is someone Eye calls a good friend and has given the Cleveland native more than just some notoriety.
“I don’t even know what’s going to happen when I go home to Cleveland. The Cleveland support because of Josh is insane. I want to be ‘The Queen.’ LeBron left as ‘The King.’ I’ll stand in as ‘The Queen.’ I’ll give it everything it needs.”
“The Queen” now finds herself in quite the envious position. During a week where Ronda Rousey was slated as the main event for UFC 157, Eye is now a figurehead in her own right. Don’t expect much to change from one of the Team Strong Style pioneers though.
“No not at all,” Eye proclaimed. “We don’t change anything. Even when we lost we didn’t necessarily change things. We just manipulated them. You don’t change things because changing things adds too many variables. I get back into the gym as normal on Monday morning.”
Eye acknowledged that what happens next is very much in the hands of Bellator, more specifically its CEO, Bjorn Rebney. With the tournament format long serving as a staple for Bellator, how do you build on the momentum of a performance like this?
“I don’t know,” Rebney stated to Sherdog. “That’s the key question. I mean at 125 right now, Zoila just got caught. I don’t think anybody is going to look at that and go, ‘I don’t want to see Zoila fight at 125 again.’ She (pointing to Jessica Eye) is a star. We’ve got a few other ladies to round out 125. I want to do it, I just don’t know if it’s going to be on the first season of Spike. But I think we can do it at 125.”
Rebney acknowledged that the likely focus of any future tournament would be at 125 despite Gurgel serving as the 115-pound champ. But the issues facing Rebney are the same ones his counterpart in the UFC long mentioned when asked about moving forward.
“We’ve got to develop a little bit more depth. We’ve got four or five in the mix right now --we’ve just got to find the other three,” he said. “When you see a performance like the one we saw tonight it speaks to how good some of the ladies are in the game. The question is depth. There are a series of good fighters out there; it’s just not all at the same weight class.”
A second women’s tournament in Bellator has been discussed seemingly since the day the first one ended. With depth being the issue in moving forward does the next Bellator women’s tournament have to be in its normal format?
“But that’s the other alternative and it’s not a bad alternative at all,” Rebney argued. “It’s still in the back of my head. Could we just go with four? Could you just take four ladies and do the tournament? Then it’s a little bit less of a pure tournament per se. It’s one fight and then you’re in the final, but that may be what it takes. One way or another I want to do it.”
With questions of tournament format and depth at 125 floating around in Rebney’s mind, there’s still yet an issue of space. Six world title fights are already scheduled for the first season of Bellator on Spike. But on a night where the ladies saved the show, Rebney recognized the circular logic behind the discussion involving women fighting in Bellator.
“That fight could’ve easily been a main event. If you’ve got the depth you’ll be able to have more great fights,” he said. “More depth can give you more fights like that to build on a show. The problem is it’s one of those chicken and the egg things. To get more women committed to it you have to do more of the fights. To do more of the fights you have to have the women to do it.”