Julia (The Jewel) Budd was more worried about her quality of life last year than fighting for a mixed martial arts title.
Two weeks after learning last April of a Bellator title shot, the 33-year-old from Port Moody, B.C., was sidelined by herniated discs in her back.
“I was in really rough shape for about six weeks there,” Budd recalled. “It was not even about fighting, we were just trying to heal up and make sure that I was able to walk and have a healthy life.
“I had kind of given up the thought of even fighting again because it was so painful and I didn’t know where that injury would lead us to.”
So painful that Budd had to lie in the back seat of the car to get to her chiropractor because she couldn’t sit up.
“That lasted five or six weeks and then I slowly felt stronger and stronger,” she said.
Budd started boxing and doing light training in mid-July. Amazingly she returned to action in October, winning a majority decision over Australian Arlene (Angerfist) Blencowe at Bellator 162.
That set the stage for the rescheduled featherweight title fight March 3 against Dutch veteran Marloes Coenen at Bellator 174 in Thackerville, Okla.
Budd (10-2-0) showed her strength early, taking Coenen down in the first round. The Dutch fighter proved prickly off her back at first, attempting submissions, but wore down and was battered by Budd on the ground in later rounds.
Referee John McCarthy stopped the onslaught at 2:42 of the fourth round.
Budd was Bellator’s inaugural 145-pound women’s champion. The 35-year-old Coenen (23-8-0) announced her retirement in her post-fight interview in the cage.
The five-foot-eight Budd has now won eight straight since losing to (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey in Strikeforce in November 2011. Her only other loss, also in Strikeforce, was to Amanda (Lioness) Nunes in January 2011.
In between those losses, Budd made history when she won a decision over Germaine (The Iron Lady) de Randamie on a Strikeforce Challengers card in Kent, Wash., in June 2011. It was the first women’s fight under the Zuffa banner since the UFC’s then-parent company took over Strikeforce in March of that year.
The fighters all share history.
Rousey defeated Miesha (Cupcake) Tate to win the Strikeforce title in her next fight and went on to famously become the first UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Nunes is the current UFC title-holder, dethroning Tate and then hammering Rousey to defend the 135-pound crown.
De Randamie became the UFC’s first featherweight champion in February, when she won a decision over Holly Holm.
Now Budd is part of a women’s featherweight championship triumvirate that includes Brazilian star Cristiane (Cyborg) Justino (17-1-0), who holds the Invicta FC title.
She hopes a title defence may come in Canada, perhaps on a card with fellow Canadian Rory MacDonald, who makes his debut for the promotion on May 19 at Bellator 179 in London, England.
Budd turned down back surgery last year, instead focusing on “basically full-time” rehab. She visited her chiropractor three times a week and an osteopath twice a week.
“It got me to a place where even now I’ve got to pay attention to my body,” she said. “It’s made me more in tune, when to pull back when I’m doing too much, just listening to myself more.”
Budd actually feels stronger these days, acknowledging that in the past she had not given her body enough time to recover.
“I was training, training, training … I was just kind of taking it for granted, being healthy, and then boom. When it went, it was like a big wake-up call.”
She has previously suffered from had lower back spasms but it all came to a head when she felt “a little pop” during wrestling training.
“I kept wrestling and when I got off the mat, I was completely tilted to one side. I couldn’t stand up straight. By the end of the day, I was laying down, like I couldn’t even stand up. From there it was pretty brutal.”
These days a healthy Budd is savouring the title win, sharing the triumph with family, friends and pupils at Gibson MMA.
“I’m still digesting that night,” she said.
But she continues to teach classes.
“I love giving back to all the kids and families that have believed in me this whole route. So (the championship win) was huge. I had a lot of teary-eyed little kids that I train. I love teaching them, I love teaching the women’s classes.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press