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Ilima-Lei Macfarlane says yes to future boxing bout, bantamweight move, ‘hell no’ to Cris Cyborg superfight

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Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (pictured) defends her flyweight title against Juliana Velasquez in the main event of Bellator 254 this Thursday in Uncasville, Conn.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Even if she vanquishes another challenger and clears out her weight class, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane can still see fresh opportunities on the horizon.

Macfarlane has firmly established herself as the queen of Bellator’s flyweight division and one of the faces of the promotion. On Thursday at Bellator 254 she looks for title defense No. 5 against fellow unbeaten fighter Juliana Velasquez. A win over Velasquez would leave Macfarlane with few options for her next fight at 125 pounds, which is one reason why she’s had her eye on moving up in weight should that become an option.

Currently, Bellator does not host a 135-pound division for women, something that Macfarlane would like to see change.

“I have recently been pushing for them to open a bantamweight division because hell no I’m not going to cut down to 115,” Macfarlane told MMA Fighting. “I’ve found that throughout the course of my career I’ve slowly been getting bigger and bigger with each fight. That’s not necessarily to say that I’ve been putting on fat or anything—actually I have—but it really is my frame. I’ve put on muscle with each camp and so I have kind of planted the seeds that, ‘Yeah, it would be cool if there was a bantamweight division.’

“But I kind of have a feeling that if they were to open up bantamweight, it would dilute the featherweight division especially. I know a lot of women that would cut down, so I’m not sure if that’s an option quite yet. But I would love that.”

With no guarantee that a Bellator bantamweight division will materialize in 2021 or that the matchmakers will be able to find her as intriguing an opponent as Velasquez, Macfarlane has been thinking outside of the box.

Like many combat sports fans, she was drawn to the recent Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. exhibition bout. The two heavyweights headlined an event that also included a boxing match between YouTube star Jake Paul and former NBA player Nate Robinson that ended in a grisly KO of Robinson, as well as rap performances interspersed between the fights.

It was quite a spectacle, one that Macfarlane wouldn’t mind being a part of in the future.

“Yes, 100 percent,” Macfarlane said when asked if boxing on a card like Tyson-Jones Jr. is an option. “My coach has actually been saying for the longest time that he really wants me to do a professional boxing match. I think that would be really, really cool. One of my friends and fellow Bellator fighters and professional boxer extraordinaire Heather Hardy, we’ve actually talked about it and we’re like we should totally do one, that would be really cool. I feel like fans would tune in. Even though we’re homegirls, it would just be such an interesting matchup and an interesting fight. The MMA champion vs. the boxing champion. That’s definitely something that would interest me.

“Like I said, how I want to have for the remainder of my fight career, I want to take cool fun fights and cool experiences. A boxing fight is definitely one of them that I would love to do.”

The bout could theoretically happen under the Bellator banner if Scott Coker were to expand the promotion’s brand to boxing as he has for kickboxing in the past. For now, it’s just another idea that Macfarlane is keeping tucked away.

One suggestion that she has zero interest in is a pairing of herself and Bellator featherweight champion Cris Cyborg. Macfarlane and Cyborg are two of Bellator’s biggest names, but the thought of jumping up two weight classes to take on one of the most feared fighters in the history of MMA is a bridge that’s way, way too far.

“Do you want me to die?” Macfarlane asked in response to a hypothetical Cyborg matchup.

“That’s a big hell no for me,” Macfarlane continued. “I’m a huge fan of Cris Cyborg, but definitely trying to preserve my brain cells and my overall health and life.”


See more from Macfarlane from Bellator 254 media day: