Top flyweight contenders in Bellator are vying for an important win on Friday that could lead to a title shot.
Second-ranked Denise Kielholtz (6-3 MMA, 6-2 Bellator) meets third-ranked Kana Watanabe (10-1-1 MMA, 2-1 Bellator) in London on the main card of Bellator 281.
Kielholtz is coming off a title fight loss against former flyweight champion Julianna Velasquez last July.
Watanabe is also coming off a loss against current flyweight champion Liz Carmouche.
But a win for either fighter against the other could throw them right back in the mix unless Bellator decides to do a Carmouche vs Velasquez rematch first.
Hailing from the Netherlands, Kielholtz has nine MMA fights, but she plays two roles in the Bellator company. She is a highly-accomplished kickboxer with a 47-3 record and is the current Bellator Kickboxing Flyweight Champion.
In MMA, she has wins over Kate Jackson, Kristina Williams, and Sabriye Sengul.
Japan’s Watanabe joined Bellator in 2019 after a dominant run in Rizin and DEEP JEWELS. She amassed an undefeated record coming into Bellator and won her first two fights with the promotion before being stopped by current champ Carmouche at Bellator 261 last June in the first round.
Watanabe has Bellator wins over Alejandra Lara and Ilara Joanne.
Kielholtz vs Watanabe: how they stack up for Bellator 281
As a kickboxer, Kielholtz is obviously very comfortable with her hands and feet in the stand-up game.
BetRivers has Kielholtz a -245 favorite on its moneyline, slotting Watanabe +180 to pull off the upset. FanDuel has the same odds on Kielholtz but offers a better payout of +196 on Watanabe. PointsBet has an identical line to BetRivers’ for Watanabe but offers more forgiving odds on Kielholtz of -230.
But also as a kickboxer, the ground game is surprisingly solid. Half of Kielholtz’s wins have been by submission, so she has proven to be dangerous in almost every area of the game. Kielholtz has also been submitted in two of her three losses.
Watanabe has strong judo, winning multiple international competitions. She also has four first-round wins in her five-year MMA career so far.
Of her eight wins before the Carmouche loss, Watanabe finished five of her opponents.
The matchup here is great. Both women are 33 years old, both women have around the same number of fights and both women have the same reach at 66 inches. This fight is also each fighter’s first bout in 2022.
Both fighters have the skills and history to end fights on their own accord, either by knockout or submission so it’s unclear what we will see on Friday. Both fighters have proven that they are also comfortable standing or rolling around on the ground. We could see a mixture of their skills being highlighted the longer the fight lasts.
But we do know Carmouche and Velasquez will both be paying attention to this bout. Both the champion and former champion could be facing either Kielholtz or Watanabe next, depending on what goes down in London.
How to watch
When: Friday, May 13 at 4 p.m. ET for the Main Card, 1 p.m ET for the prelims
66 inches inches
Juliana Velasquez: L (Dec.)
|Last 5||Liz Carmouche: L (TKO)|
Kate Jackson: W (KO)
|Alejandra Lara: W (Dec.)|
Kristina Williams: W (Sub)
|Ilara Joanne: W (TKO)|
Sabriye Sengul: W (Sub)
|Hee Eun Kang: W (Sub)|
Bryony Tyrell: W (TKO)
|Justyna Haba: W (Dec.)|