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Valerie Letourneau wants a piece of Ilima-Lei Macfarlane ... respectfully

UFC 193 Open Workout
Valerie Letourneau faces Alejandra Lara at Bellator 201.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The low road is right there for the taking, if Valerie Letourneau wants to go down that path.

But the American Top Team competitor is too classy for that.

Bellator 201 on June 29 functions as a showcase for the company’s women’s flyweight division.

The inaugural women’s 125-pound champion, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, will make her first defense of the belt in her backyard of Temecula, Calif., where she defends the belt against Alejandra Lara in the evening’s main event.

Letourneau, meanwhile, squares off with Kristina Williams in a bout which will also be featured on the Paramount Network-broadcasted main card.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the best-case scenario for Bellator is for Macfarlane to successfully defend her title, and for Letourneau to look good in defeating Williams, thus leading to the division’s most high-profile Bellator bout to date.

If she chose, Letourneau could start trash-talking Macfarlane now, since in 2018, that’s the quickest way to get attention.

But while Letourneau admits Macfarlane has the gold she wants to take, she’s also not going to badmouth the champ just to create a false feud where there is none.

“I’ve called Ilima out, I called her out after my last fight,” Letourneau told MMA Fighting. “But it was a professional thing. She’s young, she’s the champ, she’s getting better and better every time out. But I can beat her.

“But here’s the thing,” Letourneau continued. “Every woman who has made it in this sport, everyone who has fought hard for their place on the card, everyone who has made it so that women can headline events, I can’t hate that. I won’t disrespect people who put in the time and the effort and all the hard work just like I do. I won’t do that just to get people to look at me.”

That’s a solid approach to take, because Letourneau has earned attention entirely on the merits of her accomplishments.

Before signing with Bellator, Letourneau found herself stuck in a no-woman’s-land before the UFC institute a flyweight class. She was a bit too small for the bantamweight division, and a bit too big for strawweight.

That didn’t prevent Letourneau from becoming a contender in both classes — she went the distance with then-strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 193 before losing a decision — but nor did it help her performance in the long run.

“It was brutal getting down to 115,” Letourneau said. “It was terrible. But the problem was, after I had gone through so much to get my body weight down to that level, my body adapted, and it was much harder to put on the weight I would have needed to go back to bantamweight. It turned into a no-win situation.”

And while the UFC has instituted a flyweight class since Letourneau signed with Bellator, she’s encouraged by what she’s seeing from the company. The UFC flyweight class has gone all but dormant since Nicco Montano became first champ, but Bellator 201 shows her new company has committed to making her division work.

“Things changed in the UFC since I left, but I’m still glad I made the move,” said Letourneau, who won her Bellator debut with a decision win over Kate Jackson at Bellator 191. “This upcoming show shows they’re serious about wanting to make this work.”

Of course, before Bellator can draw up contracts for a Macfarlane vs. Letourneau bout, both fighters need to win their bouts at Bellator 201. Williams, her opponent, is a replacement for the injured Bruna Ellen, and Letourneau sees her opponent as a step up over her original foe.

“No disrespect to Bruna, but Kristina is a better fighter,” Letourneau said. “I wasn’t enthused about a fight in which I wasn’t going to have to push my limits as a fighter. Kristina will be a good test, will help me better myself as I work toward my goals.”

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