Ilima-Lei Macfarlane believes she will be facing the most difficult test of her flyweight reign when she faces Juliana Velasquez in the Bellator 254 headliner on Thursday night.
Since becoming the promotion’s inaugural 125-pound queen with a submission of Emily Ducote in November 2017, “The Ilimanator” has vanquished Alejandra Lara, Valerie Letourneau, Veta Arteaga and Kate Jackson in successive championship defenses.
“Yes, I consider it the biggest challenge so far,” Macfarlane said of Velasquez during a virtual media day. “I would say that Valerie Letourneau at that stage of my career was my biggest challenge because of her pedigree, her experience in the sport, but I would say that stylistically, Juliana is my biggest challenge to date.
“Not only is she a southpaw, but she’s bigger. She seems very physically strong. She goes for the finish. I think her mentality too — she’s ready to be champion. She works hard and she wants this a lot.”
Like Macfarlane, Velasquez is undefeated. Her 10-0 career mark includes five triumphs under the Bellator MMA banner. While the aforementioned Letourneau had the previous experience of a UFC title bout on her resume, Velasquez’s attributes will make her a formidable adversary, according to Macfarlane.
“I think Juliana is a lot more of an intimidating, physical fighter than any of my former opponents,” Macfarlane says. “She’s bigger than me. She’s has a longer reach. Really aggressive and physical. I think that’s one of the main differences between her and my other opponents.
“I feel like this fight’s going to be really tiring. I’m gonna be exerting a lot of physical effort trying to take her down, trying to strike with her. I feel like my other fights were very strategic, but with her it’s going to be a very physical fight.”
Macfarlane built her name almost exclusively in the California-based promotion, as she has earned 10 of her 11 career victories in Bellator competition. Now one of the organizatinon’s biggest stars, Macfarlane has come a long way from being the fighter who initially gained notoriety for a viral knockout of a soccer mom. She claims that her extended success has served to relieve much of the pressure that comes with multiple title defenses and solidifying a legacy.
“Honestly, I feel like I’ve made history quite a bit. Regardless of the outcome on Thursday, I’ll still be in the history books,” she said. “So at this point to be totally honest, I’m just having fun with my fights. I’m finally being able to enjoy [them]. I feel like a lot of pressure has been lifted off me because I have accomplished a lot in this division and my career.
“I’m really starting to enjoy the process, enjoy the camps ,enjoy the evolution of my skills as a mixed martial artist … I don’t have as much pressure as people think I have being champion. Because I think I’ve done a good job of being champion and I’ve reached a lot of heights that one could reach in their career.”