Bellator 257 will be a family affair Friday when former featherweight champion Julia (The Jewel) Budd and lightweight Lance Gibson Jr. share a card for the first time.
Budd, 37, is Gibson's stepmother.
The common denominator is Lance Gibson Sr., a former SuperBrawl, Shooto and UFC fighter who now serves as their trainer and tactician.
Then a Muay Thai fighter, Budd started training at Lance Sr.'s gym in Port Moody, B.C., in the early 2000s and the two later connected. A couple since 2009, they got married in 2013.
Lance Jr., now 26, was about nine when he first met Budd.
"I was upstairs at our gym … I think I was playing video games on the computer or something like that and I could hear her kicks, the crashing of the pads," he recalled. "Me and my cousin sit up and we're like 'Who the heck is that?' And it was Julia. She was just ripping the Thai pads open."
Lance Jr. was already well into mixed martial arts. He says he has a photo of himself in action at the age of two.
"It's been a part of my life the entire time … It's in my blood, it's in my DNA."
Still, his original plan was to become a naturopathic doctor. He eventually abandoned his studies to return to the gym.
Lance Sr., now 50, fought twice in the UFC in 2000, defeating Jermaine (Bam Bam) Andre at UFC 24 before losing to Evan Tanner at UFC 29. He retired with a 4-5-0 record.
He trains fighters at Gibson MMA and has also worked as an actor and stuntman.
The main event at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., sees light-heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov face No. 2 contender Phil (Mr. Wonderful) Davis in the quarterfinals of Bellator's 205-pound Grand Prix.
Budd (14-3-0) takes on Brazil's Dayana Silva (9-5-0) while Lance Jr. (3-0-0) meets 39-year-old Marcus (The Blueprint) Surin (6-2-0) on the undercard. Lance Jr. and Budd will work each other's corner with Lance Sr. in charge.
Budd says it's personal when she watches Lance Jr. fight.
"I care about him a lot … He's so skilled I'm not worried about him at all," she said. "But at the same time, it's exciting for me to get to see him go out there and shine."
Lance Jr. says he tries to put family ties aside when he's in Budd's corner.
"I've struggled doing that because I care so much," he said. "But it's important to kind of separate those two and give her the right coaching advice in the corner.
"But yeah I love it. It's part of our life. So at the end of the day, it's fun."
Budd and both Lances teach at their gym. Budd and Lance Jr. train with a small group of sparring partners — but sometimes go one-on-one.
"I don't like to spar him, though," said Budd.
"She beats me up all the time," countered Lance Jr.
"We're just a family unit. This is really a part of our life," added Budd.
Close in age, Budd and Lance Jr. have a bond to match.
"He has an amazing mother, so I'm not trying to be his mom," said Budd. "And when we're in the gym, I'm learning so much from him as well. So I'd say we're kind of equals but at the same time, we're on the same journey with mixed martial arts as well."
The family, which also has a place at Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast, is rarely away from MMA. If it's on TV, they're watching. Lance Jr. says his grandmother, who lives with them, may be the biggest MMA fan of the group.
But when they take a break, it usually involves fishing, hunting or the outdoors.
"I always try to be in nature when it's my time to not be in the gym," said Budd, who added bee-keeping as a pastime over the last year.
Budd lost her 145-pound title to Brazilian icon Cris Cyborg at Bellator 238 in January 2020, ending her 11-fight win streak. She bounced back last August at Bellator 244, earning a unanimous decision over American Jessy (The Widowmaker) Miele.
Budd remains the No. 1 contender at 145 pounds and is looking for another title shot.
Lance Jr. won his Bellator debut last time out in October 2019 when he stopped Dominic (Domnation) Jones in the second round at Bellator 232. His three wins have all come in the first round, lasting a total of six minutes 22 seconds.
The 155-pounder was slated to compete with Budd on the Bellator 244 card but his undercard bout with Shane (The War Rhino) Kruchten the fight was cancelled. Rescheduled to Bellator 253 last November, it was postponed again.
Lance Jr. says his father is coping well with the double training duty ahead of Friday's card.
"He actually seems pretty calm, cool and collected," he said with a laugh. "We'll see how it is on fight day.
"But no, he's awesome. He's been around us for so long. it's nothing new for him. He's a warrior. He's got a warrior spirit. Actually I would say he's a general. He's going to go in there and he's going to lead us to battle."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press