The Bellator 254 main event sees a clash of two undefeated standouts, for women’s flyweight gold. Juliana Velasquez (10-0) represents the biggest test to date for Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (11-0). It’s a fight that has long been in the making, after the Brazilian arrived in Bellator MMA back in 2017.
“I’m ready, I feel very encouraged to fight,” Velasquez told Cageside Press in an exclusive interview ahead of her title shot. “I think I will do much better than previous fights. I’m more than ready.”
Heading into the biggest fight of her career, Velasquez is treating the bout just like any other. “Even though this is for the championship, for the title, all the previous fights have brought me to this one,” she explained. “All the fights for me are the same. They have the same importance. They always push me to get better, and work harder.”
While that is no doubt true, Velasquez had expected to be at this point a year ago. As did many others. Her fight with Kristina Williams was positioned as a title eliminator back in July of 2019.
“I thought I was going to fight with her after the fight with Kristina Williams, because they announced it after the fight,” Velasquez admitted. “But after that, they gave me Bruna Ellen as the alternate fighter. I’m just ready to go and do whatever they say, like a good fighter, good worker. And that’s it. But I did believe that last December, I would have a fight with Macfarlane. But it didn’t happen.”
There’s been some speculation that the fight last December with Macfarlane didn’t happen because the threat of a Velasquez win would spoil the parade in Hawaii. Bellator has made visiting the Island state an annual tradition, and Macfarlane has been the centerpiece for two consecutive years. “I’m happy to know that people think like [that], that I’m a strong opponent for her,” said Velasquez. At the same time, she knows that it’s 50-50. Anything can happen in a fight, especially given the pair have two very different styles of fighting.
The Brazilian fighter remains something of a question mark to many MMA fans: a dominant prospect who has quietly run up five straight wins under the Bellator banner. Her success should come as no surprise, as Velasquez started in Judo at four years old. That came because of her father’s involvement in the sport. “Between four and fourteen I changed sports a lot, quite a lot, until I found myself back in Judo,” she recalled.
Eventually, she would change to MMA. “I think a lot of people will know me better after this fight, because I have this amazing opportunity to fight for the title. I think more people will know me, understand me, and know more about my story.”
When it comes to that story, Velasquez isn’t one of those fighters who was getting into scraps as a youth. “I’m all about peace and love,” she laughed. If she wasn’t fighting today, “probably I would be a P.E. teacher.”
In the meantime, she has her eyes focused on the prize this Thursday. “To win the belt in MMA, coming from an Olympic sport like Judo, for me the belt would represent the same as an Olympic medal,” she told us.
Bellator 254 takes place this Thursday, December 10 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The main card airs live on CBS Sports Network following online prelims available via Cageside Press.
For more with Juliana Velasquez, check out her full media day press scrum below.