Bellator 254: Velasquez to Provide Macfarlane’s Toughest Test

Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Juliana Velasquez Bellator 254 weigh-in
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Juliana Velasquez, Bellator 254 weigh-in Credit: Bellator MMA

Both Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Juliana Velasquez would have nothing left to prove in terms of who is the best flyweight in Bellator following Bellator 254.

Though she will not be gracing her native Hawaii this winter, flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is looking to complete her sweep of Bellator’s 125 pound weight class.  Since becoming champion in 2017, Macfarlane has gone through Alejandra Lara, Valerie Letourneau, Veta Arteaga and Kate Jackson.  Along the way, she has become a cornerstone of the promotion as she has twice been honored with being the centerpiece for their landmark events in Hawaii where even the UFC has been unable to touch ground.  Today, she is a brand all on her own as the face of Budweiser in Hawaii and working as a guest analyst on Bellator’s broadcast.

Inside the cage, it is hard to imagine what could be next for Macfarlane.  Bellator President Scott Coker has said he is waiting to see the result of the bout before moving forward with decisions on the next Grand Prix, that has long been rumored to feature the women’s flyweight division.  When surveying the landscape, however, it is hard to see a true candidate for Macfarlane should she prevail once again.  She has mentioned a fight with teammate Liz Carmouche, and also discussed a potential move up to bantamweight as well which is a weight class that Bellator does not currently have for women.

Though she does not provide anywhere near the fanfare of Macfarlane, one can argue that the best flyweight in Bellator is Juliana Velasquez.  Signed to the promotion in 2017, Velasquez quietly accumulated a 5-0 record on the undercards of all of her bouts.  She also arguably had the tougher schedule, overcoming former title challenger Alejandra Lara and more well-known contenders in Kristina Williams and Bruna Ellen.  She has been one of the top contenders at flyweight for nearly two years, although the promotion has been slow to give her the title fight showcase.  Following her one-sided performance against Ellen last year, Scott Coker was hesitant to name Velasquez as the next title challenger citing that she should have been able to score a finish during her performance.

Perhaps most infuriating is that Velasquez has been forced to wait for her opportunity while the promotion was still continuing to build up their champion.  Last year, all pundits and Macfarlane herself stated that Velasquez should unanimously challenge for the belt next following her victory over Kristina Williams.  When the announcement came for Macfarlane’s next bout, Velasquez was passed over in favor of the unknown Kate Jackson whom was on no one’s radar for consideration for a shot at the title.  This led to Velasquez facing Bruna Ellen on the same night, a noticeable step back considering that Williams had just finished Ellen earlier in the year and Velasquez had finished Williams.

Velasquez is perhaps the most multi-faceted and athletically gifted opponent that Macfarlane has faced in her title run.  The Brazilian should look to keep the fight at mid-range where she possesses a striking advantage and her power poses the most problems for Macfarlane.  Conversely, Macfarlane’s best route to victory is to use her wrestling to make the challenger carry her weight and get the fight to the mat.  Though an adept grappler in her own right, Macfarlane should look to rain down strikes and keep a busy pace should she get Velasquez down as going for submissions gives the challenger more chances to transition and get back to the feet.

Both women will wait to see if Bellator does choose to go forward with a flyweight Grand Prix in 2021 where familiar foes to both women are expected to be part of the field.  Should a tournament not materialize, Macfarlane could see a rematch with resurgent contender Alejandra Lara while Velasquez is likely to encounter Macfarlane’s teammate Liz Carmouche for her first title defense.