They stand on the precipice of history.
The inaugural Bellator MMA women’s featherweight championship will hang in the balance when Marloes Coenen takes on Julia Budd in the Bellator 174 headliner on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Their five-round clash for promotional gold anchors a four-fight main draw on Spike TV (9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT).
Coenen has won six of her past nine bouts but finds herself on the rebound after a stunning submission loss to Alexis Dufresne at Bellator 155 on May 20. Spawned by the Golden Glory camp in her native Netherlands, the 35-year-old former Strikeforce champion owns victories over Arlene Blencowe, Liz Carmouche, Sarah Kaufman and Roxanne Modaferri. Coenen has secured 17 of her 23 professional wins by submission: 10 by armbar, six by rear-naked choke and one by triangle choke. In a stellar career that dates back to November 2000, she has never suffered back-to-back defeats.
Budd will enter the cage on a seven-fight winning streak, her stock at an all-time high. The Canadian muay Thai practitioner last competed at Bellator 162 on Oct. 21, when she was awarded a three-round majority decision over Blencowe at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee. Budd, 33, has not lost since she submitted to a Ronda Rousey armbar under the Strikeforce banner in 2011.
With the Coenen-Budd title clash on the marquee, here is what to watch for at Bellator 174:
The potential payoff was too great for Mike Rhodes to pass up.
The reigning Victory Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder will serve as a short-notice fill-in for the injured Chris Honeycutt when he meets “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner Kendall Grove in a featured attraction at 185 pounds. The Roufusport standout has hit his stride since being released by the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2014, going 4-0 with three finishes. Rhodes last fought inside the VFC organization in June, when he submitted Rakim Cleveland with a second-round guillotine choke.
Grove has gone 4-3 since he signed with Bellator some three years ago, wins over Joe Vedepo, Christian M’Pumbu, Joey Beltran and Francisco France offset by losses to Brett Cooper, Brandon Halsey and former middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko. The 34-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has secured 10 of his 23 career victories by submission. Grove last fought at Bellator 162 in October, when he bowed to second-round punches from the aforementioned Shlemenko.
Brandon Girtz has had enough of the lightweight division.
The Grudge Training Center rep will shift gears and move to 170 pounds when he locks horns with the well-traveled Fernando Gonzalez in a three-round welterweight feature. Girtz was an NCAA All-American wrestler at Minnesota State University, a Division II school in Mankato, Minnesota, before transitioning to mixed martial arts. The 31-year-old last competed at Bellator 165 on Nov. 19, when he saw his three-fight winning streak snapped in a unanimous decision loss to undefeated American Kickboxing Academy prospect Adam Piccolotti.
Girtz gets no picnic in his debut as a welterweight. A King of the Cage, Strikeforce and World Extreme Cagefighting veteran, Gonzalez has posted a 5-1 mark across his last six outings, a contentious split decision defeat to the unbeaten Michael Page in November interrupting his momentum. The 33-year-old Team Quest standout boasts wins over Karl Amoussou, Karo Parisyan, Marius Zaromskis and Gilbert Smith.
No Ordinary Joe
Joe Taimanglo was within a stone’s throw of a title shot in Bellator’s bantamweight division -- until his rematch with Darrion Caldwell went awry.
Taimanglo will collide with the once-beaten Steve Garcia, as he steps back in the cage for the first time since his unanimous decision loss to Caldwell at Bellator 167 in December. The former Pacific Xtreme Combat champion has recorded 14 wins across his last 17 appearances -- the run includes his upset of Caldwell on July 22 -- and now owns a place among Bellator’s best at 135 pounds. Taimanglo carries the rank of brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has delivered more than half (12) of his 23 career victories by submission.
The 24-year-old Garcia has thrown out his anchor at Luttrell’s MMA and Fitness in New Mexico and boasts five finishes among his seven pro wins. He has not competed since he took a unanimous decision from Ronnie Lawrence at Bellator 162 four months ago.