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Bellator champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane: Liz Carmouche release re-affirms desire never to fight in UFC

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Bellator flyweight champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane shares a gym, training partners, coaches and a management firm with Liz Carmouche. They watch each other’s dogs. Macfarlane even watches Carmouche’s kids.

Longtime members of the same San Diego, Calif., gym that houses the charmingly named Team Hurricane Awesome, the standout fighters are closer than most. When Carmouche received her UFC walking papers, it wasn’t long before Macfarlane heard what happened.

The Bellator champ was dismayed. How could the industry-leader cut her teammate in the middle of promotion on behalf of them? Then, there was excitement. Word from Carmouche’s release came with a question: How comfortable would you be if she signed with Bellator?

”F*ck yeah” was Macfarlane’s answer. “I want her to come over.”

The idea of Carmouche fighting for the Viacom-owned promotion isn’t a new topic, Bellator’s champ said. Nor is the idea of a fight, though Macfarlane would prefer it if a bantamweight division could be opened so she could work alongside her teamate for the meantime.

They’ve also joked about Carmouche staying at flyweight so Macfarlane can move to 135 pounds, the result of increasingly difficult cuts to 125 pounds for the champ.

”Of course, it could all be controlled if I just had some discipline in the off-season,” Macfarlane said. “But I want to go for that champ-champ status as well.”

The 29-year-old Hawaii native plans to make that known on the post-fight mic if she’s able to put away Kate Jackson at a Bellator event scheduled for Dec. 21 just a short drive from her high school, Punahou, which once housed now-former President Barack Obama. She’s not sure when it’s a good time to start exploring other divisions, but it might as well be sooner than later.

Carmouche’s potential entry into Bellator – the promotion is already negotiating with the two-time UFC title challenger – provides an interesting wrinkle that Macfarlane can’t ignore.

”Hopefully soon, we fight for the same promotion,” she said.

Macfarlane criticized the UFC for letting go of Carmouche in the midst of promotional duties for this past Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 7, calling the move “bizarre and sh*tty.” She praised Carmouche’s poise in a statement over the release and said her teammate “needs to be with someone who respects her and appreciates her.”

”It’s never been a desire of mine to go over there, honestly, and after what happened to Liz, it just kind of re-affirmed why I never wanted to go over there,” she said. “I’m very happier where I am now, and I’ll be even happier if I can fight alongside my sister in arms.”

The two first broached the topic about a potential fight when Bellator opened the flyweight division that Macfarlane now rules. At the time, the UFC didn’t promote women at 125 pounds, and Carmouche was forced to fight in a division where she was undersized.

Later, Carmouche got that opportunity and went 2-2 as a flyweight. It was her most recent octagon appearance that undoubtedly led to her release; a rematch against UFC champ Valentina Shevchenko, whom she’d previously beaten on the regional circuit, ended in a lackluster showing and decision loss.

Whether or not Carmouche ends up in Bellator or another promotion, she’ll get the chance to hit the reset button. Macfarlane would like to see her friend and teammate bounce back, even if it leads to an awkward clash for those closest to them.

”Our coaches are like, ‘We’re not going to corner you guys. We’re going to be sitting in the audience eating popcorn,’” Macfarlane said.

But as long as they figure out who watches the dogs, she figures out things will end up OK.