Kana Watanabe has spent her entire career fighting in her native Japan but the 32 year old is preparing to take on Alejandra Lara at Bellator 255 in Connecticut this weekend. It won’t be her promotional debut but it represents a step into the unknown for the Rizin veteran.

Watanabe’s last fight came at Bellator Japan in 2019. On that occasion, she overcame Brazil’s Ilara Joanne (9-5) via third round ground and pound.

It was a performance that clearly impressed Bellator boss, Scott Coker. But, having been offered a multi-fight deal with the promotion, the former Olympian has been forced to wait 15 months for her chance to get back in the cage.

“I’m very happy to be back fighting. I’ve been training every day during my lay off and have been itching to get back to fight so yes, I’m very happy to have a fight scheduled,” said Watanabe.

Basic skills

Despite being a veteran of 11 fights Watanabe feels she is relatively inexperienced,

“I’m still very new to this sport and there is still a lot to improve, and I used this period to raise my basic skills.”

The talented flyweight is a veteran of Japanese promotions Deep-Jewels and Rizin. Currently riding a seven fight winning streak Watanabe is pleased with the opportunity to finally showcase her skills on the international stage,

“I’m very honoured to be competing in a promotion with so much talent. I’ve always been a competitor and once I’ve made my transition to MMA, I’ve always wanted to face tough international competition. And now I’m given the opportunity,” said Watanabe.

Stiff competition

There will certainly be more competitive matchups at flyweight in Bellator. Lara has won her last two fights and is six years younger but Watanabe feels she has the advantage in at least one area,

“My opponent is very tough and she’s in the rankings of the division, so I’m honoured to be facing such an opponent. I think the key point will be when the fight hits the ground. I think my ground control is better and I have the advantage there,” said Watanabe.

The opportunity to face a winder talent pool of fighters competing in her weight class was a key factor in Watanabe’s move, but she hasn’t ruled out a return home to Rizin later in her career.

“My focus at the moment is to win in Bellator. And after that and things make sense fighting in Rizin would be something to think about,” said the 32-year-old.

Interesting fight

Despite having already fought under the Bellator banner, Watanabe is treating this fight as he promotional debut and is determined to start with a victory before hyping up her credentials as a serious challenger for the title.

“I think I still have ways to go. But I think I would have a better idea after getting a win in my Bellator debut,” she said.

The belt currently resides with Juliana Velasquez. The Brazilian also comes from a Judo background and it’s a matchup that Watanabe would relish.

“I think it will be a very interesting fight. Style wise. We share the same background, our strengths are similar,” said Watanabe.

Tough fighter

Velasquez won the belt by beating Ilima-Lei Macfarlane at Bellator 254. Before that, the Hawaiian had reigned as champion for more than three years, successfully defending the belt on four occasions.

“Ilima is a very tough fighter with tons of experience so that is somebody I would love to face some time,” said Watanabe.

Watanabe had a prolific year in 2019 and racked up four victories. With the pandemic keeping her out of competition for all of last year, the 5’6″ star has made her intentions for 2021 absolutely clear, and said,

“My goals are to beat tough opponents, rankers that are put in front of me and climb up the ladder towards that title fight.”