Ilima-Lei Macfarlane moving on after ‘boring as sh*t’ title loss to Bellator champ Juliana Velasquez


Ilima-Lei Macfarlane | Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Former Bellator flyweight champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane has no desire for an immediate rematch with Juliana Velasquez after the Brazilian took her title at Bellator 254.

That doesn’t line up with what champions usually say, but Macfarlane is honest to a fault. When she finally got around to watching the five-round fight, she told MMA Fighting, she thought it was “boring as sh*t” and looked at the positives of moving to the next chapter in her career rather than getting revenge.

“Nah, I’m good,” she said when asked about a second fight. “I’m totally fine. I was joking with my corners right after the fight in the cage: ‘Does this mean I don’t have to train for five rounds anymore?’”

Looking back at the buildup to her fifth attempted title defense, she can see the signs a win wasn’t meant to be. She had a lingering feeling the bout would be cancelled due to the pandemic. When she arrived on site, she felt distracted. Even before she made her walk to the cage, a commissioner couldn’t interpret a pregnancy test that would clear her to fight.

“I pee on the stick, and the guy could not read it,” she said. “I was like, ‘Holy sh*t, this is how it happens.’ [I told him], ‘What if I sign something that says I know that I’m fighting pregnant?’ And he’s like ‘No, because technically it would be two people.’ He gives test to me and the other woman commissioner, and we’re like, ‘Oh, it’s negative.’”

Macfarlane felt worse for her cornermen than herself in the wake of her setback. They’d taken time from their families to help her prepare, and she wasn’t able to deliver. But considering the challenges of 2020, losing a fight – even one where she gave up the belt – wasn’t the worst thing.

“I lost my dog this year, and that was for sure the worst thing that happened in 2020,” she said.

Before the loss, Macfarlane thought she’d retire after completing her current contract in about three years. While she didn’t want to find out before a fight she was going to be a mom, she expected to start a family with her husband back in her native Hawaii after she hung up the gloves. Their dream was to open a gym and a restaurant.

She still wants those things. But now, she also wants to take cross-promotional fights in RIZIN and face “riskier” opponents. Her reasons are competitive – and practical.

“I don’t know if I could walk away at 33,” she said. “I really thought about it, and I was like, hell no, I can’t. I have to keep fighting once I have babies, because if I don’t, I’m just going to stay fat.”

Bellator 254 was clearly a transition for the long-running champ. But to hear her tell it, the shift was a much-needed change in perspective.

“I feel like people thought I was too comfortable, and in some senses, I think I was getting like that, too,” she said. “I needed to feel a loss, and I think everybody does in every sport. In anything. You need to feel what it’s like to lose and respond accordingly.”

The best response, of course, is a comeback. After a short break, Macfarlane will get to work on that. In the meantime, the division has been opened up for her longtime teammate and friend, two-time UFC title challenger and Bellator acquisition Liz Carmouche, and Bellator kickboxing champ Denise Kielholtz. Both have her endorsement.

“I could see either of them fighting for [the belt], or fighting each other for the chance,” Macfarlane said. “I’m excited to see how this shakes up the division.”

And so Macfarlane wants to tell everyone that she’s fine, really. She recently posted a message meant for her friends as much as her fans. This was meant to be, and she’s moving on.

One positive from the fight with Velasquez: a broken nose. Macfarlane said she wanted to be in a barnburner, and she certainly got that.

“It was great,” she said. “That was the first time I really bled. I always wanted to have a really bloody fight, just a war.

“Well, it wasn’t really a war. I actually thought it was boring as sh*t. It was very bloody. So that was cool. I felt what it’s like to be split open and to have a broken nose, and it wasn’t really that bad.”

No matter what Macfarlane does next, she’s definitely still a fighter.

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