Bellator 254: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane Finds Relief, Fresh Motivation in Title Loss

It’s not entirely hyperbole to say that an era has ended for Bellator MMA’s flyweight division. On Thursday at Bellator 254, Juliana Velasquez brought to an end the reign of Ilima-Lei Macfarlane — the only women’s flyweight champion the promotion has ever known.

Macfarlane, interestingly enough, almost immediately found a positive in the loss. After noting that the damage she had taken in the fight was a new experience.

“I don’t think I’ve ever bled like this before or broken my nose, or been cut open,” she observed. “So yeah, this is cool. I mean, honestly, this is in a weird, really weird way, this is kind of always what I felt like I needed in my career.”

Speaking to media outlets including Cageside Press, the Hawaiian now-former champ explained what she took away from the loss. “You can’t just always keep winning and excelling. You have to hit some type of plateau or something, so I’m actually really happy that this happened,” she stated. “I’m like, relieved that, okay, this is what it feels like to lose.”

The feeling of losing her title to Velasquez in a five-round unanimous decision can’t have been great. But if Macfarlane sounds a little relieved, there’s a reason. While tearful, “These are tears of relief,” she admitted. “It’s hard, being the champion is hard. It’s hard being it for so long. So I’m really grateful for this experience to this moment.”

That said, Macfarlane is far from giving up on fighting. While she’s looking forward to having more flexibility, and three-round fights, and to taking a break, she also noted that she was game for the idea of a flyweight grand prix.

“For sure,” she replied when asked whether the tournament, if it happens, could be her next move. “I think it should happen regardless of who the champion is.” The flyweight division, Macfarlane added, is “really sick and people would love to see a tournament.”

The Hawaiian also has other things to look forward to. As she noted, she’ll likely still be a big part of whenever the promotion heads back to Hawaii. Plus, there are other sorts of opportunities out there. “Now that I’m not the champ again, I would love to be one of those fighters that takes fights on on a couple weeks’ notice.”

Watch the full Bellator 254 post-fight press conference with Ilima-Lei Macfarlane above.