As the calendar turned to 2016, Bellator MMA looked to elevate its profile by ushering in a new women's 125-pound division. The company signed Anastasia Yankova -- a marketable Russian beauty and high-level Muay Thai practitioner -- to be the face of the female flyweights.
Then just 24 years old, she was supposed to be Bellator's answer to the UFC's stable of charismatic, talented female stars -- Paige VanZant, "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. The Moscow native had a ton of hype behind her, talked up to be a world-class striker with devastating power and the marketable good looks to back up her skills. With just two pro MMA fights under her belt, Yankova was placed on the Spike-televised main card of Bellator 152 for her promotional debut.
The decision to place her so high on the card had as much to do with her marketability as it did her fighting skills. This was no secret. Not that there was anything wrong with that. This was smart business, right? Scott Coker, the man behind Rousey's early marketing push in Strikeforce, thought he could replicate the former UFC champ's success with the young Russian in Bellator. Her unique combo of looks and talent would surely translate to big ratings and high ticket sales, correct?
Things didn't go exactly as planned. Somewhere along the way, Bellator seems to have taken for granted that Yankova would even be able to compete as a flyweight. In all three of her Bellator appearances, she opted to compete at a catchweight of 130 pounds because dropping to the flyweight max of 126 would be too difficult.
Since Bellator doesn't have a women's bantamweight division and because Yankova hasn't shown that she can fight as a flyweight, it's questionable at this point if the promotion should even continue to give her opportunities. Additionally, since her original signing in 2016, several legit 125-pound talents have jumped over her in the rankings and stolen the spotlight she once had.
Ilima Macfarlane, Emily Ducote, Brooke Mayo, Valerie Leteourneau and Veta Arteaga are just a few of the fighters who have emerged as stars in the division. Also at 125 for Bellator, Kristina Williams, Heather "The Heat" Hardy and Ana Julaton have all become household names over the past year.
As for Yankova, she's all but forgotten. A match against Macfarlane, which was greatly hyped by the media at one point, now seems unlikely to ever happen. Yankova is apparently planning a comeback in 2018, and Bellator will likely give her another opportunity. But if she struggles with the weight cut to 125 in her next start, perhaps it'll be time to cut ties.