Bellator women’s flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane will put her belt on the line Thursday against undefeated Juliana Velasquez in the main event of Bellator 254 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.
Macfarlane (11-0) won the inaugural Bellator women’s flyweight championship in November 2017, and has successfully defended her crown four times since then.
Macfarlane Settles in as Bellator Champion
She last fought in December 2019, scoring a unanimous decision victory over Kate Jackson. A former jiu-jitsu world champion, Macfarlane has six submission wins in her 10 fights in Bellator, making her one of the most dangerous grappling artists in the promotion’s history.
Macfarlane says her game is evolving as she settles into the role of a dominant champion.
|Bellator 254 Odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook)|
|Ilima-Lei Macfarlane: +131||Juliana Velasquez: -167|
|Linton Vassell: -305||Ronny Markes: +225|
|Magomed Magomedov: -305||Matheus Mattos:+225|
“I’m really starting to enjoy the process, enjoy the camps, enjoy the evolution of my skills as a mixed martial artist,” Macfarlane told reporters. “Now I feel a lot more relaxed, not taking my opponents lightly, but I don’t have as much pressure as people think I have being champion. I’ve reached a lot of the heights one could reach in their career.”
The 34-year-old Velasquez (10-0) is still reaching for her goals. The Brazilian won each of her first five Bellator fights, last beating Bruna Ellen by unanimous decision on the undercard of Macfarlane’s last title defense.
Velasquez Sees Athleticism as Difference Maker
Velasquez may pose the toughest test yet for Macfarlane. The challenger says her athleticism could make the difference in deciding which woman takes her first loss on Thursday.
“There is a big difference between being a fighter and being an athlete,” Velasquez told MMA Junkie. “Even though I fight, I’m an athlete first. I came from judo, which is an Olympic sport, so I’m a trained athlete, and now I’m training and fighting. I believe that’s the type of athlete and the type of fighter you have to be. You have to be an athletic fighter to beat the current champion.”
While pundits may see a clash of styles between the striker Velasquez and the grappler Macfarlane, the challenger says she plans to show all sides of her MMA game on Thursday night.
“I think fans are going to see a different Juliana than before,” Velasquez told MMA Junkie. “People always kind of know me for my stand up and my striking ability, but I think that they’re going to see the grappling side, since my background is judo.”
Oddsmakers see Velasquez as the favorite, though with two tested and undefeated fighters competing, anything could happen. DraftKings Sportsbook lists Velasquez as the -167 pick over MacFarlane (+131).
While the champion may come in as the underdog, she says the odds don’t intimidate her – if only because she’s never learned how to read them.
“I don’t even understand how odds work, honestly,” Macfarlane told reporters. “I’ve never bet on anything in my life before.”