Aspen Ladd still confused about PFL-Bellator’s plans for women’s featherweight division

When Aspen Ladd signed with the PFL as a free agent, she was excited compete in the promotion’s season-long format where the winner earns a $1 million grand prize.

She came up short in her first bid to become a PFL champion during the 2023 season, but the 29-year-old UFC veteran was excited to try again in 2024, especially after learning that a whole new roster of fighters would be jumping into the fray at 145 pounds. This past November, the PFL closed a deal to acquire Bellator MMA along with all of the fighters, which included a slew of women’s featherweights and champion Cris Cyborg.

But rather than put the top eight fighters in another season long format, PFL dropped the women’s featherweights in favor of introducing a women’s flyweight season instead.

“I was definitely disappointed,” Ladd told MMA Fighting in reaction to the PFL’s decision. “Because I did my first season with them so going into the next one, we’re like we know how everything works, we know how this is, I’m used to this format. Then bam! It changes again.

“So this is more back to the one-off fights like when I was in the UFC basically. But it’s still different because I don’t know what next year’s going to hold. I don’t know what we’re building towards. I don’t know if they’re combining. So I’m taking it one fight at a time. That’s my full, complete focus and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

At Bellator Paris on Friday, Ladd faces Ekaterina Shakalova, an 8-1 prospect who made her Bellator debut this past August. Ladd can’t control what happens past that date, although she wishes there was a little more clarification about what happens afterward.

All signs have pointed towards a “champion vs. champion” fight between PFL’s Larissa Pacheco and Bellator’s Cris Cyborg but no deal has been struck just yet. That fight started gaining steam after Kayla Harrison bolted from the PFL and signed with the UFC.

Beyond that, Ladd doesn’t know if there’s a plan in place for a PFL champion at 145 pounds and a Bellator champion at 145 pounds or if the entire division is just being combined into one group.

She’s excited about all the different matchups now that the featherweight division is much, much deeper but where that goes beyond 2024 is anybody’s guess.

“Bellator had a giant division and now we have this one, giant division,” Ladd said. “The opportunity to compete and with more competition, that’s thrilling. It’s just the format we’re fighting in. It’s like OK. Season last year, back to one-off fights this year but I’m curious to see what they’re going to do.

“Will it be one unified belt for both organizations? Or are they going to keep it Bellator has one and PFL has one? I don’t know and I’m curious about that.”

Ideally, Ladd hopes the PFL considers returning to the season format for the featherweights because that guaranteed her the chance to potentially fight four times in a year with a chance to win a $1 million prize at the end.

She was convinced that was already happening after PFL bought Bellator but then plans changed and Ladd can only roll with the punches being thrown at her.

“I think that would be very neat and that’s where my mind went at the beginning of the year,” Ladd said about a future featherweight season. “That’s almost what they did last year. Because they had the European season, Dakota [Ditcheva] won it and then they acquired Bellator and they took the top 125’ers and that was the season.

“It almost feels like if that’s the plan, we’re going to have the 145’ers all fight it out and then take the best of them and throw them into the season next year. We’ll see.”

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