Featherweight contender Julia “The Jewel” Budd has experienced a lot in just six fights. From her debut for Strikeforce to her current run in Invicta Fighting Championships, the Muay Thai standout’s career has played out in front of hundreds of thousands of onlookers over the past two years.
Through big wins and tough losses, Budd has become stronger and more determined to make her mark on the sport. The 145-pound division has had its own share of ups and downs in recent years, but Budd sees a bright future for herself and the other featherweights under the Invicta FC banner.
Whereas most fighters ease their way into MMA with low-profile fights early in their career, Budd (4-2-0) jumped right into the proverbial fire in her October 22, 2010 pro debut for Strikeforce. She entered the fight with a considerable amount of fanfare due to her successful stint in Muay Thai, where she posted a 7-1 record and scored a notable win over Gina Carano. Some observers wondered if Budd’s game would be limited to standup only, but it was her wrestling and powerful ground and pound that yielded two impressive victories during her time with Strikeforce.
With the peaks came the valleys, however, and Budd was also on the receiving end of two high-profile defeats. In her second fight, she was knocked out by Amanda Nunes in just 14 seconds. Ten months later, after avenging a Muay Thai loss to Germaine de Randamie in an MMA rematch, Budd was submitted by current Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey. The losses were tough to take and left Budd at a crossroads. Rather than give up, she decided to work even harder to continue her quest to become a mixed martial arts champion.
In late 2011, the Strikeforce women’s featherweight division took a major hit when champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos tested positive for steroids and was suspended for one year. The promotion had already begun to shift its focus onto the 135-pound bantamweight division and the future of 145 in Strikeforce was, at best, uncertain.
Around the same time, plans were announced for the launch of a new all-female MMA promotion, Invicta Fighting Championships. The upstart organisation was set to feature fights in all five major women’s weight classes, including featherweight. Budd heard about the promotion and campaigned to get on its inaugural card in April. She was unable to secure a spot, but was invited to compete at Invicta FC 2 three months later.
The Invicta FC 2 card had many highlights, but few were more impressive than Budd’s first-round dismantling of fellow Muay Thai practitioner Elina Nilsson. Budd once again showcased her underrated wrestling skills by effortlessly taking Nilsson down. She proceeded to batter her Swedish opponent for the next three and a half minutes until the bout was mercifully stopped. It was Budd’s most dominant performance since her MMA debut against Shana Nelson 21 months prior. More importantly, it earned Budd a fight against fellow contender Elaina Maxwell at Invicta FC 3 on October 6th.
One week before the planned fight, Maxwell suffered a concussion in training and Budd was faced with a last-minute opponent change. She was matched up against nine-year veteran Danielle West, an American who had been living in the U.K. for over a decade and would be competing in her home country for the first time. Budd felt that she had prepared herself for any scenario once the fight began and was not overly concerned by the change.
“I found out one week from the event that [my opponent] would be Danielle West, so it was pretty much too late to make any serious changes,” Budd says. “I felt pretty confident. I’d done a lot of wrestling and I was prepared for all aspects, so I was ready to go. I really wanted to keep it standing, so right off the bat when we clinched up I was kind of frustrated, but I just adjusted.”
West closed the distance right away in search of a takedown, but Budd’s takedown defence was solid and she was able to keep the fight on the feet against the cage. She eventually took West down and moved straight to mount before finishing West with a vicious barrage of punches and elbows. The TKO victory was similar to Budd’s win over Nilsson in July and equally impressive. Her ground game was getting better and better thanks to hard work in the gym at Gibson’s MMA in Port Moody, B.C.
“We focus on a lot of ground and pound and positioning. We do a lot of submissions, too, but I focus on [ground and pound] a lot. There were a lot of challenges starting out [in wrestling]. All of the guys in the gym, the first thing they would do is take me down and I would be fighting to get back to my feet. Then I started adjusting and getting better takedown defence and getting more comfortable in all aspects. I’m comfortable grappling and on the ground. I almost like that as much as Muay Thai now.
“It’s easier to finish the fight from [mount or side control] as well and that’s something that we’ve really been working on; just getting that killer instinct and being able to see when it’s time to finish the fight. I feel like that’s something that I never really figured out in kickboxing and I always let my opponents off the hook there. I’m seeing it more in MMA and I’m able to see when my opening is. Once you start throwing those punches and elbows, [the opponent] can only take so many. We drill more where the weak spots are in my game, so that’s why those are all of a sudden becoming my strengths.”
Budd’s two victories for Invicta FC have put her on a fast track to a shot at the promotion’s 145-pound title, which is expected to be unveiled at some point in 2013. Budd wants the belt, but she is content to fight her way to it. If she is offered a title shot for her next fight, that’s fine, says Budd, but she is open to a rescheduled number one contender’s bout with Maxwell or a battle with another rising star in the 145-pound division, Ediene Gomes. Her primary focus, besides capturing the title, is to stay with Invicta FC for the long-term to help to build the brand as a whole.
“I want to stick with Invicta and I want to help to build their brand,” Budd says. “I want to be their champion, so that’s my goal. I feel like I have a handful of fights left, so I want to build this promotion and this brand. I’m just starting to gain momentum and get comfortable, and I’m just starting to learn all of the aspects of the sport. I’m really happy and I’m loving where I am.
“I’m looking forward to keeping the momentum going and continuing to learn and build as a mixed martial artist,” she adds. “I’m excited about Invicta and I can’t wait to compete for them again. It’s great to have regular competition. You know what to look forward to.”
Budd believes that a super fight between Rousey and Santos will likely take place in the UFC or Strikeforce in 2013 once Santos returns from her suspension, but her interests lie with Invicta FC and its future. She feels that fighters are treated differently in Invicta FC than they are in other promotions, including in Strikeforce where a single loss can be detrimental to one’s career, and speaks highly of her experiences with Invicta FC thus far.
“I’m happy staying with Invicta,” she says. “We’re getting [viewer] numbers that are almost better than the Strikeforce Challengers series. I think that there are a whole bunch of girls from all over the world – they’re bringing them in from Sweden, England – in the 145-pound division, and Invicta wants to keep the division, so that’s good. I just want to thank Invicta for building me and having me on two of their cards, and I’ve got to thank my coach and teammates at Gibson MMA.”
Over the years, many fighters have opted to call it quits following a tough loss. Not Budd. For her, the adversity early in her career showed her that she is capable of persevering through anything in the sport and she is focused on continuing her climb to the top.
“I think that it was just [about] sticking with it, through the losses and the wins,” Budd says. “Those were two pretty tough losses to have early in my career, but I think those toughened me up and made me realise just how seriously I wanted to take it. I stuck with it and I think that that was the turning point, just getting comfortable and confident. I didn’t give up. I kept getting better and kept learning.
“It’s just like, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ After those two losses, I’ve been through it all and I don’t feel that anything will ever break me.”
Budd’s next fight for Invicta FC has not yet been confirmed, but she is sure to factor heavily into the promotion’s featherweight title plans for the coming year. She hopes to one day defend the Invicta FC Featherweight Championship in her home country of Canada.