Throughout the past two years, Zoila Gurgel (formerly Frausto) has been a lightning rod for controversy within Bellator.
It all started when she won the only Bellator women's tournament, starting with a qualifier bout against renowned grappler Rosi Sexton and then defeating a trio of elite females in Jessica Penne, Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii to be crowned the inaugural Bellator women's 115 pound champion.
The wins over Fujii and Aguilar did not come without controversy, as many had scored the bouts for her opponents, but Gurgel trudged on. When she finally returned to the Bellator cage, she was surprisingly placed on the preliminary card at Bellator 35 for a fight against Karina Hallinan. This caused a bit of a stir, but it was only the beginning.
After Gurgel injured her knee preparing to fight Brazilian standout Carina Damm, she went public with a plea for help raising funds for her medical costs, which brought some criticism against Bellator for not taking care of its champion.
Then, when the two women Gurgel had controversially defeated, Aguilar and Fujii, fought each other, the Bellator commentators discussed the controversy and much was made about how the winner of the fight would be the actual best women's 115-pounder in the world. This didn't sit well with "The Warrior Princess" either and she made her feelings known.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the decision to again put Gurgel on the preliminary card for her return bout with the promotion last night (Oct. 26, 2012) at Bellator 78 in her backyard of Dayton, Ohio. Prominent female fighters like Miesha Tate blasted Bellator for the decision.
Gurgel would go on to defeat her opponent, Casey Noland, in a hard-fought decision, but she wasn't pleased with the performance, even taking to Twitter to mention that she agreed with Bellator's decision in retrospect.
At the post-fight press conference, Gurgel stated that she was rusty, and was not planning on ever returning to the 115 pound weight class where she won the title. Afterwards, she spoke with MMAmania.com about her performance, her conversation with Bjorn Rebney and the future of her strawweight title in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You said in the post-fight press conference that you will be staying at 125 pounds from now on. Does that mean you'll be vacating your 115 pound title or are you going to wait until Bellator holds another 115 pound tournament to make that decision?
Zoila Gurgel: You know what? I really wanted to actually hit 115 one more time just to defend that belt but it's not gonna be a good idea for me. I had my body fat tested and the doctor was saying I was 123 pounds with lean muscle so if I cut to 115, it wouldn't be a good idea for me. It took me two years to get back to normal after those cuts. It doesn't look like I'll be heading to that weight again. It looks like 125 is where I need to be so that's where I'm going to say.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned that you and Jorge Gurgel had a big conversation with Bjorn to clear the air and everything. Was it about the side issues that have been going on or were you talking about your future and your decision to stay at 125?
Zoila Gurgel: There was a lot of miscommunication on both our ends between Bellator and us. A lot of things got thrown in the air, he said/she said stuff and we were pretty much in a room for a good hour at least talking about everything and just wanting to establish a new relationship with Bellator because this is where I want to be. When I was first here with them, they treated me amazing and it was perfect. It was exactly where I wanted to be and it is where I want to be. I know they have a lot of the big name women that I want to fight at 125 and if this tournament happens, it's exactly where I want to be. Pretty much, the only word that I know how to use to describe it is "squash." We pretty much squashed everything and we're hoping to start something fresh and new. Bellator is looking forward to working with us and we're looking forward to working with them.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How much of a distraction was everything before tonight's fight?
Zoila Gurgel: This time around, it didn't distract me as much as I thought it would. Though every single day, there was something said about it that was thrown in my face that I had to address but I was focused, as much as I could be for this fight. I just didn't perform at the level that I thought I should.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned that it took until right at the end of the fight against Casey Noland tonight where it finally sunk in how you were doing. Was it just a real gradual building process throughout that fight? You definitely did get stronger as it went on.
Zoila Gurgel: It was just like a numbing feeling. I never believed in ring rust. I believed it was always an excuse for people who weren't ready and I was ready. I was in the gym every single day. I worked on everything I possibly could. I felt like I was in the best shape I'd ever been in and I got in there and I couldn't turn it on. I couldn't understand where my aggression was. I was getting hit and kneed and I wasn't getting angry. Usually when I get hit, I get angry and that's when I start really fighting back. I didn't turn it on until the very last round. At that point, I felt I still had the fight in me but the fight was pretty much over. It was a learning experience and I'll be back.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you think that if the Zoila that showed up right at the end of tonight's fight had been there the whole time, you'd have got a finish?
Zoila Gurgel: It probably would have been in the first round (laughs) but you live and you learn and that's what I did.
You can follow Zoila on Twitter @ZoilaGurgel.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
With the beef squashed, will things go back to normal with Gurgel and Bellator? If you watched the prelims, what did you think of her performance last night against Noland?