Zoila Gurgel had a lot of attention going into her return fight at Bellator 78, but much of it was for the wrong reason.
Following a devastating knee injury that required more than a year away from fighting, Bellator’s reigning 115-pound champion finally returned to action on Friday night in Dayton, Ohio, against Casey Noland.
Unfortunately instead of pure excitement and enjoyment for her comeback fight, Gurgel instead had to deal with the attention that came from her fight being placed on the untelevised undercard for the event. Despite being featured on event posters, Gurgel was still placed on the undercard. The uprising from a majority of the MMA community was in her corner, as it was virtually unheard of that a promotion’s champion would be on the undercard for any event, much less a return fight after more than a year away from the sport.
Prior to the event, Gurgel and her husband, Strikeforce lightweight Jorge Gurgel, were both notably upset, but after the show was over cooler heads prevailed. It appeared that Bellator’s champion was okay with where she was placed on the card once she got back in there and performed.
“To be on the undercard, I think it was the right thing to do based on my performance, obviously. I was just more than happy to be back in there,” Gurgel told MMAWeekly.com after the show.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney took the majority of the heat for the decision to place Gurgel on the undercard, with some of the scrutiny coming from other women’s fighters including former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate, who unloaded on the promotion via Twitter last week.
Looking back at the entire situation, Rebney says he understands where everyone was coming from including Gurgel, Tate, and the media that were unhappy with the fighter’s placement on the undercard.
“I understand the dynamic and I understand the emotional response. I want to promote shows and produce television, and fighters want to fight. So when you’re in a situation like Zoila was in, she’s been out almost 18 months, the last time Zoila fought for us was at Tachi Palace I think the first season we were on MTV2. It seems like eons ago. So I understand the emotional response. I understand the desire to be on the biggest stage,” Rebney stated.
Rebney was dealing with Gurgel’s return in a strategic manner to ease her back into competition, but not trying to hold her back or insult her in any way by placing her on the preliminary card.
He says he has no regrets about the decision, but now that they are past it, Rebney is excited to see what Gurgel can do against the best fighters Bellator can throw at her.
“It wasn’t the right move to put her right back in against a major, world-class competitor out of respect for her and the developmental process. I get it, I get the emotion. That’s why in situations like that, I don’t respond emotionally and kind of counterpunch to it, because I get it. I was an athlete in college and I wanted to play,” said Rebney.
“Looking at it and hindsight being 20/20, I would do the same thing again. Zoila’s going to get better, she’s going to get sharper, she’s going to look better her next fight, and with big fight potential, possibly a rematch with Jessica Aguilar or a Megumi Fujii rematch or something like that, and she progressively gets her feet back under her, a TV spot will be a no-brainer.”
Gurgel is closing the chapter on the whole ordeal and focusing on getting another Bellator title in 2013.
“I’ll be the best in the world at 125 pounds,” said Gurgel. “I did it at 115 and I’ll do it at 125.”
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