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It’s about a two-hour drive from Oklahoma City to Thackerville, so Emily Ducote won’t have to travel far for the biggest test of her young mixed-martial-arts career. The Oklahoma City-based fighter known as “Gordinha” will practically have a home-field advantage when she takes on former UFC strawweight title challenger Valérie “Trouble” Létourneau July 14 at the WinStar World Casino live on Spike TV.

This will mark the third time in five outings that Bellator MMA has chosen to showcase the American Top Team fighter close to home, of which Ducote said she is fond.

“I’m really happy to be fighting in Oklahoma again,” Ducote said. “It means a lot to have my team, friends and family there to watch the fight. The crowd has been amazing both times I fought at WinStar.”

The bout will be contested at flyweight during a pivotal time for the weight class across promotions. Bellator reiterated its commitment to the division by announcing the signing of six new additions on April 28. Ducote, for her part, is excited about confronting the fresh faces.

“It’s a really exciting time to be a part of the organization since there isn’t a title yet,” she said. “The Bellator roster is already full of talented flyweights, so I’m really excited to see who all the new girls are matched up with.”

Demand for flyweight division puts pressure on promoters

Prior to Létourneau’s departure, the UFC was fairly adamant about not creating a 125-pound weight division for women. But it has since started using The Ultimate Fighter reality show to populate the new division.

Emily Ducote
Emily Ducote (Facebook)
Also, KSW, considered the largest mixed-martial arts promotion in Poland, started giving flyweights more attention as it crowned a champion on May 27. Ducote attributes the change of heart regarding the new weight class to a crop of fighters she believes don’t belong in other divisions.

“I think that a lot of girls have been asking for the flyweight division to be made, since a lot of girls are either fighting in a weight class too small or too big,” she said. “The flyweight division is the perfect weight class for a lot of fighters, and I think the promotions are realizing that there is a lot of girls and talent in that division … I think it’s a great time to be a flyweight, especially with a lot more opportunities opening up for more girls.”

Ducote’s upcoming Canadian opponent Létourneau also expressed this sentiment as early as December 2016.

“I was hoping we were going to open a 125 division and 115 was behind me, but there’s now doubt for me. I’m way too small for 135,” Letourneau told MMAFighting.com in 2016 prior to leaving for Bellator and having the opportunity to fight at flyweight.

Emily Ducote, coach looking forward to facing Létourneau

With Létourneau’s arrival in Bellator, Ducote has a chance to get a win against an opponent with championship experience. Ducote seems eager to prove herself and excited for the fight but described Létourneau as very technical. Nikki Burleson, Ducote’s boxing coach for three years, has been making sure that she’ll be ready.

“There are always technical aspects that you work on to specifically prepare for an opponent. We have studied Valérie,” Burleson said. “We are aware of her strengths, weaknesses and physical advantages … as with every opponent we are preparing for … .”

Burleson said watching Ducote grow over the last three years, from being labeled as Bruna Vargas’ relatively unknown opponent to the owner of a 3-1 record inside the division, has been very satisfying.

“Being able to watch and be a part of Emily’s journey has been extremely satisfying,” Burleson said. “As a coach and as a team we have known from day one that she was something special. She put the work in daily, behind closed doors, getting better and better every day without anybody paying any attention or knowing who she was.

“Coming into the Vargus fight, we knew they were bringing us in as the opponent, but they didn’t know what we knew as a team. We knew what we were bringing to table, coming in ready to make a statement and take advantage of the opportunity. And, that’s exactly what Emily did. So it’s been great seeing her get the recognition she deserves.”

Ducote has won five of her past six fights, having finished three of her opponents by way of submission. Emily “Gordinha” Ducote appears primed to become an exciting fighter amid what could become an exciting division across promotions.

“I’m excited to be back in the cage, expect to see the best version of Gordinha. Come fight day, every part of my game will be ready,” Ducote said.

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James Nghiem is an Oklahoma-based stand-up comic and drummer who runs Robot Saves City, a local comedy label.