Two titans of Bellator’s women’s flyweight division collided in the main event of Bellator 254. Both undefeated, both at the top of their game, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Juliana Velasquez truly represented the two best fighters in the weight class.
While in a perfect world that would always be the case in title fights, due to politics, timing and injuries, it’s not always a possibility. But sometimes the stars align, and the two best fighters in the world, or at least the organization, throw down. That was the case Thursday night.
Aside from the undefeated records colliding, there was another storyline to the Bellator 254 title fight. No Bellator champ had ever defended a title five times. Hawaii’s Macfarlane had a chance to do just that against Velasquez.
The opening round between champ Macfarlane and challenger Velasquez saw a good half round of feeling out. Macfarlane stayed on the outside, choosing her moments, while Velasquez cautiously pressed forward. The size advantage of the Brazilian was blantant, but when she threw out a leg, Macfarlane immediately dove for a takeown. She came nowhere near landing it, however. Both fighters would land a few kicks, the odd punch, but really little of note in the opening five minutes.
Arguably the opening minute alone of round two featured better action than the entirety of the first round. Velasquez led the attack, but Macfarlane answered back before circling out. Again, as she had in the first she was picking her spots. And Velasquez was very careful not to throw anything that would put her in danger of a takedown. Two minutes in, the pair finally came together in a clinch, but it was the champion with her back to the fence. Macfarlane clasped her hands to secure a body lock, while Velasquez broke out a foot stomp. The champ would eventually reverse the position but when she dragged Velasquez down, the challenger landed on top. Off her back, Macfarlane couldn’t get much done other than a couple of punches, which was all Velasquez could do from the top.
Macfarlane punched her way in early in the third, going to the body. But Velasquez would move in, threatening with more power and landing with a straight left. Ilima-Lei shot for a takedown but was well short. She did that a second time, briefly dropping Velasquez on her backside, but the finish was sloppy, and at some point the champ had been bloodied. Throughout the third, Macfarlane’s attempts to close the distance were easily turned away by Velasquez. Then, just before round three came to a close, Macfarlane ate a nasty jump knee from the challenger.
Macfarlane survived the knee, but may very well have been down on the scorecards heading into the championship rounds. Velasquez held center in the fourth, with Macfarlane closing the distance firing her jab, and circling away. Macfarlane would claim a body lock scoring a takedown with a trip, with roughly two minutes remaining in the round. Badly in need of a finish or at the very least a clear round, Macfarlane managed to trap the challenger against the cage, peppering her body with punches. The blood, sourced from Macfarlane herself, wouldn’t help submission attempts however. With Velasquez’s leg trapped, the champ landed more output than she had in perhaps the entire fight, though none was enough to come close to a stoppage.
💪 @Ilimanator gets the takedown late in round 4️⃣.
— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) December 11, 2020
Depending on how the opening round was scored — given how little action there was and the low number of strikes — Macfarlane entered the final frame either in need of a finish, or in a potential tie, two rounds a piece. Macfarlane immediately closed the distance in the final frame, looking for the takedown. She worked for a trip, Velasquez fought it off. The Brazilian defended with a whizzer, but Macfarlane worked for a single leg. However when they went down, it was Juliana Velasquez landing on top at a critical time in the fight. A big elbow from Velasquez followed. The champ backed up to the fence, and eventually moved back up as Velasquez backed away. That led to another takedown attempt from Macfarlane. When she couldn’t land it, she worked in a few knees to Velasquez’s leg. But it was Velasquez finishing the round with a successful trip.
The scorecards all had it for the challenger. Juliana Velasquez now becomes the second Bellator flyweight champion, improving her record to 11-0 in the process. While an immediate rematch with Ilima-Lei could be possible, coming out of the fight, it also feels unnecessary. Better to have Macfarlane put together a win or two, while Alejandra Lara and newcomer Kana Watanabe, plus Liz Carmouche, remain options for Velasquez’s first title defense sometime in 2021.
Official Result: Juliana Velasquez def. Ilima-Macfarlane by unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 48-47)