Valerie Loureda was struck with an epiphany at this past year's WrestleMania.
A rising star for Bellator in the women's flyweight division, Loureda watched the larger-than-life presentation of WWE's signature event. Sitting in a suite at AT&T Stadium, she realized her future no longer belonged inside the cage, but rather in the squared circle.
"In that moment, I knew it was my destiny to become the first of my culture as a WWE superstar," says Loureda, 23. "My goal is to headline a WrestleMania. I want to be the first Cuban-American Latina woman to headline. And I'm going to bring a style to WWE never seen before."
Only five fights into her pro career, Loureda (4-1) last fought in November at Bellator 271. She defeated Taylor Turner by split decision, which will remain her final fight for the foreseeable future.
In his congratulatory statement to Loureda, Bellator president Scott Coker left open a possibility for a return to Bellator.
"Valerie Loureda is a very young and talented athlete who can accomplish plenty in MMA for years to come, but for now we wish her the best of luck as she pursues her dream of becoming a WWE superstar," Coker says. "She will remain an active and under contract fighter with Bellator, and we look forward to welcoming her back into the cage in the near future."
Loureda will not moonlight as an MMA fighter, WWE confirmed, though Bellator retains her rights if she ever returns to MMA. Her multi-year deal with WWE is now the priority, and she confirmed her start date with the company is July 18.
"The hardest part has been that mental shift (from MMA to pro wrestling)," Loureda says. "I cried a lot. Crying out of happiness, but it was hard. I trained as hard as I could for the past five years for MMA. When I got offered the WWE contract, I realized this was what I was born for. I'm here to represent Cuban-American woman and Miami and Latinas. I'm shifting all my passion from MMA to WWE. I want to inspire young girls. I come from a family of immigrants and I'm a first-generation American. If I can follow my dreams, they can, too.
"My goal is to prove myself every day. I want to be the best, and I'll work very hard to meet my big goals and expectations."
Saturday's UFC 276 is a loaded fight card.
The centerpiece is Israel Adesanya defending his middleweight title against Jared Cannonier in the main event, but the title bout pitting featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski against Max Holloway should steal the show.
Volkanovski has already defeated Holloway twice, including taking the title from him. Both fights went the distance, with Volkanovski winning the first by unanimous decision, then taking the second by split decision in an extraordinarily close bout. Watching round 11 – as well as a potential 12, 13, 14, and 15 – will be a joy. If Volkanovski retains, he will have cleared the top of the entire division, putting himself in position to jump to lightweight to become UFC's next double champ. And that's what I see happening. As great of a fighter as Holloway is, Volkanovski fights a style that is his undoing–and I see the champ retaining.
This is shaping up to be a night for the reigning champs. Adesanya has too many answers for Cannonier. He is the type of elusive fighter that is a nightmare matchup for Cannonier, whose improbable run to the title is about to hit midnight. The rest of the card has some high stakes, too. Sean Strickland and Alex Pereira will battle to become the next in line for the middleweight title. The backstory is written if Pereira wins, as he already owns two victories against Adesanya in kickboxing. Sean O'Malley also has the biggest opportunity of his career. A win against number-nine bantamweight Pedro Munhoz will elevate him into the top-10 of the bantamweight division, which is long overdue for the versatile, powerful O'Malley.
Kill Cliff FC
Say goodbye to Sanford MMA. And hello to Kill Cliff FC.
Kill Cliff, the clean energy drink company, has taken over the naming rights of Sanford MMA.
Kill Cliff FC immediately becomes a well-known entity in MMA. Their roster of over 80 professional fighters includes UFC's Gilbert Burns, interim Bellator welterweight champion Logan Storley, former ONE middleweight and light heavyweight champ Aung La Nsang, and Robbie Lawler, who competes on the main card tomorrow at UFC 276 in a welterweight bout against Bryan Barberena.
After losing four in a row, Lawler ended that losing streak in impressive fashion against Nick Diaz last fall at UFC 266. A win against Barberena suddenly gives new life to the 40-year-old Lawler. And for Kill Cliff, there is no better advertising than a victory.
Booker T at UFC 276
Wrestling icon Booker T will be part of the 276 coverage, providing analysis on the UFC Fight Pass kickoff show.
"I've been a fan of UFC since the '90s, and now I'll be close enough to the action to get a splash of their sweat on me," said Booker T, who is WWE Hall of Famer Booker Huffman. "So this is an honor for me."
Huffman was part of the media coverage for UFC 271 in his hometown of Houston, making headlines when Adesanya stopped his press conference to offer his praise for the former WCW champion. So it is fitting that Huffman returns with Adesanya headlining.
"I'm really excited for this whole card, especially this fight," said Huffman. "Jared Cannonier is a road warrior. This is his chance to become great, to finally win the gold. But Adesanya is special. That footwork should be his savior, putting Cannonier in an uncomfortable position.
"If I were betting, I'd take Adesanya."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.