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Bellator releases Jessica Aguilar and Jessica Eye; shuts down women's MMA division

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Sorry ladies, no more Bellator for you.

Jessica Eye (right) rose to the top of the women's flyweight rankings under the Bellator banner
Jessica Eye (right) rose to the top of the women's flyweight rankings under the Bellator banner
Photo via Bellator

Bellator MMA made some very big moves yesterday, announcing Michael Chandler vs Eddie Alvarez 2 for its upcoming (Nov. 2, 2013) pay-per-view (PPV) debut.

Of course, with the good news came some bad as two of the best pound-for-pound female fighters in the world, Jessica Eye and Jessica Aguilar, were released by the promotion.

Both women confirmed the swirling rumors via Twitter:

It wasn't just that Bellator released Aguilar and Eye, the promotion completely backed out of women's MMA in general, instead choosing to focus on it's growing divisions from bantamweight all the way up to heavyweight in the men's department. Notable female strawweight Felice Herrig also became a free agent and was quickly scooped up by Invicta.

Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney provided a statement on the release of the ladies:

"Jessica Eye, Jessica Aguilar and Felice represent all that is good in women's MMA. Both Eye and Aguilar are ranked No. 1 in the world in their respective divisions and carry themselves with class and distinction elevating the women's game. I've said many times that fighters need to fight and fight often. Given our current focus, we are not in position to provide these very deserving women regular and reoccurring fights on a large platform. And, I felt it was best to let them go and secure options that did. I genuinely wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors and will be rooting for each of them wherever they fight."

Rebney's statement covered most of the promotion's bases, but perhaps most telling was his answer about Bellator's involvement with women's MMA in his interview with Michael Stets of MMAmania posted last night (but recorded two days before Bellator cut ties with WMMA).

This answer sheds significantly more light on the reasoning behind Bellator's decision:

Michael Stets: Women's MMA doesn't appear to be a priority for Bellator. Why is that?

Bjorn Rebney: We've had some really talented ladies sign to the organization. The focal point, our focus has really been on the development of the men's game -- 45, 55, 70 and 85 have been rock-solid strong for us, they are getting deeper and deeper and I'm putting a huge amount of effort in the last year into 205, 265 and 135. I'm putting just an amazing amount of effort into those divisions so we can round them out and try to get them closer in terms of talent level.

I think you see it now at 205 with the Newtons, and the Mikhail Zyatts and the Attila Veghs and the King Mo's, that's rounding itself out beautifully. 265 is coming around. I think Minikov is an absolute monster. Minikov vs. Volkov is going to be a crazy world title fight for us. Ryan Martinez -- who just went in for hand surgery today -- I know he lost to Minikov, but man, Martinez is a beast.

So we've got some great, great talent at 265 and we still have to keep rounding that out and building more guys. Thirty-five has been rock solid as well. It's been that focus and now the pay-per-view. It's been more difficult for us to round out the fullness of divisions at either 15 or 25. I'm going to have to figure out in very short order, what I can do to give the ladies more flexibility to fight anywhere and everywhere.

Look, the cornerstone of a fighter's career is fighting and fighting often. It's about building up their resume as a fighter and building up their brand. It's incumbent upon me as a good guy and as a promoter, to ... If I can't give them the fights that they need on a huge platform, I've got to put them in a position where they have the flexibility to fight somewhere else.

We are going through that as we speak and we are trying to find out the best way to do it. I have nothing but wild respect for Jessica Aquilar, who has been with us since the start. She's awesome, and Jessica Eye is just a hugely talented fighter. Felice Herrig is terrific.

We have some good ladies signed. It is by no means fair to them to not be fighting all the time. Those ladies are so talented that they deserve to be fighting all the time, so we are trying to work our way through it. You may see them fighting in other places.

Bellator initially got involved with women's MMA in just its fifth event when future Invicta atomweight champion Jessica Penne defeated Tammie Schneider via first round TKO at a 117 pound catchweight. The promotion held a women's 115 pound tournament in 2010, featuring a laundry list of top names in the sport including Carla Esparza, Aguilar, Megumi Fujii, Penne, and Zoila Gurgel. Gurgel won the inaugural tournament after scoring consecutive controversial decisions over both Aguilar and Fujii, but never defended her title as another women's tournament was never held.

With Bellator dropping out of the women's MMA market, the all-female Invicta Fighting Championships just became even more potent in regards to being the home of the best female fighters in the world. UFC got into WMMA earlier this year but features the women's bantamweight division exclusively.

Did Bellator make the right call?