Kana Watanabe maintained her undefeated record in what was her first fight in over a year at Bellator 255. The promotion introduced fighter rankings earlier in the week and placed the Japanese star at #5 in the flyweight division.

With her opponent, Alejandra Lara ranked #4, this was an important victory for Watanabe and cements her status as a serious contender for the title. The 32-year-old was offered a deal after beating Ilara Joanne at Bellator Japan.

Kicking off the main card at Mohegan Sun, the fight began with a flourish as Lara showcased some clean striking. The southpaw cracked Watanabe with some solid left hands, but the judoka responded with a trip takedown.

Trading punches

Lara did well to eventually find her feet and both fighters began trading punches. Watanabe then went for another trip, but it was the Colombian who found herself in full mount before taking her opponent’s back and attempting a rear naked choke.

Watanabe was able to escape and landed a neat right hook when the pair returned to the middle of the cage. Lara came into the fight on a two-fight winning streak and ended the round strongly, landing with some solid one-two combinations before scoring with a knee and a stinging inside leg kick.

The start of the second round saw some fiery exchanges. Watanabe landed a powerful right hand and a heavy knee in the clinch. Lara fired back with a trio of lovely elbows in the clinch and followed up with a knee of her own.

Timely trip

Watanabe produced another timely trip takedown. From there, she looked to work an arm triangle to no avail before Lara was able to reverse the position. Watanabe, who has three wins via submission on her record, found the ascendancy once more as she took Lara’s back and went to work with some ground and pound.

The Rizin veteran walked plumb into a power left hand from Lara at the start of the third stanza but soon had ‘Azul’ back down on the canvas following another successful judo trip.

Watanabe’s ability to control her opponent and land shots from the top position would prove pivotal, with the latter stages of the fight crucial in sealing the split decision. Lara slips to 9-4 while Watanabe climbs to 10-0-1 and can expect to climb at least one place in the rankings.

Very stressed

Despite appearing to clearly win rounds two and three Watanabe says she was ‘stressed’ about the result at the end,

“I was very stressed about the result. I didn’t really get to work on my game plan that I had planned for tonight, but I’m very happy with the decision,” said Watanabe.

The Japanese flyweight can expect to move up at least one spot in the rankings and already has her eyes on the main prize,

“(Moving forward,) you can expect more striking from me, and I’m going to be gunning for the championship. Lara’s a very strong fighter and I’m very proud to come out with the win. (Next,) I just want to fight someone who’s higher up in the rankings.”

Bellator 255, Uncasville, April 2nd
Patricio Pitbull def. Emmanuel Sanchez via Submission (guillotine choke) at 3:35 of round one
Jason Jackson def. Neiman Gracie via unanimous decision
Tyrell Fortune def. Jack May via TKO (punches) at 3:16 of round one
Usman Nurmagomedov def. Mike Hamel via unanimous decision
Kana Watanabe def. Alejandra Lara via split decision (
Magomed Magomedov def. Cee Jay Hamilton via submission (rear-naked choke) at 1:22 of round two
Mandel Nallo def. Ricardo Seixas via knockout (strikes) at 3:23 of round one
Khalid Murtazaliev def. Fabio Aguiar via unanimous decision
Chris Gonzalez def. Roger Huerta via submission (strikes) at 3:01 of round three
Jose Augusto def. Jonathan Wilson via submission (head and arm choke) at 4:58 of round one
Roman Faraldo def. Trevor Gudde via TKO 1:30 of round one
Jordan Newman def. Branko Busick via TKO (strikes) at 2:30 of round two