Bellator 178: “Straus vs. Pitbull 4” comes to Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., this Friday night (April 21, 2017). As one might expect from the name of the featured fight on Spike TV’s broadcast, Featherweight champion Daniel Straus will meet Patricio “Pitbull” Freire for a fourth (and hopefully final) time.
There are some other intriguing fights on the card, though, including a key match between Flyweights in a division that has thus far not crowned a Bellator world champion.
“The Iliminator” Ilima-Lei Macfarlane would be a worthy candidate for that honor. She’s run up a perfect (5-0) record, including all four of her Bellator MMA fights, picking up wins over bruisers like Rebecca Ruth and Emily Ducote in the process. Indeed, she’s found a finish in 60 percent of her fights so far. However, Jessica Middleton isn’t going to roll over for her. She, too, owns an undefeated record (2-0) and just came off a gritty and scrappy win over Alice Yauger at Bellator 171 earlier this year.
MMAmania.com recently spoke with Ilima-Lei Macfarlane about this important test at Bellator 178 and her future plans to one day be crowned as Bellator’s first-ever women’s Flyweight champion, but we also reminisce about one of Bellator’s most visually stunning submissions in her rear-naked choke of Ruth.
“Well, honestly I thought that my chokes SUCKED in that fight because it took me three times to actually finish her. What made the difference in that third attempt was I just made a little adjustment — we call it a ‘Five-O’ grip in our jiu-jitsu system ... I’m a Tenth Planet Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. We call it a ‘Five-O’ grip where we trap their wrist down and then go for the choke. So I made that little adjustment, which was easier, too, because she was on her feet.”
Even as Macfarlane was making those adjustments in the fight, she was also thinking of another famous women’s MMA fight and trying to create an equally memorable moment.
“If you recall the Miesha Tate versus Holly Holm fight, when Miesha had Holly in a rear-naked choke, you saw Miesha’s face and she was just gritting her teeth (and) squeezing with all her might, that totally flashed into my head during the fight. I thought ‘Make a Miesha Tate face for the cameras!’ — It turned out to be a great picture.”
Those moments have led to one high profile fight after another for Macfarlane, which puts her in position to create another lasting impression this weekend. She’s more than ready.
“There’s no major injuries. Of course there’s always aches and pains every day but no big injuries, everything has been according to plan really. For now I’m just in the weight cut phase. I’m getting to my grumpy annoying phase where I tell my teammates, ‘Don’t talk to me [laughing] ... just let me go about my business.’”
If she’s grumpy about making the cut, that’s just the motivation she needs for Middleton, who she rates as potentially her most dangerous opponent to date.
“She is like no other opponent that I’ve faced so far. She’s definitely the tallest, longest, biggest fighter that I’ve gone against — she’s like 5’8” I think and a 70” reach. She’s also a Muay Thai practitioner from what we know. So I’ve only gone against boxers, a wrestler, and a jiu-jitsu specialist so far. So she’s my first Muay Thai and the biggest fighter that I’ve gone against.”
That Muay Thai experience includes a spinning backfist knockout that went viral, which is something that Macfarlane is prepared for even if it’s not something she’s scared for.
“I’ve been sparring a lot of my taller longer teammates. Oddly enough this is kind of my first camp where we haven’t really been worried too much about what she’s doing and what she’s focusing on, we’ve just been keeping with my own game. Yeah, we’re aware of her spinning backfist and spinning back kicks, but we’re not going to let her dictate where the fight goes.”
Macfarlane isn’t just scouting current or future opponents when she’s watching fights. She loves the women’s MMA scene in general and admits to being completely partial toward it.
“I always tell people — because everyone talks to me about guy fights and everything — and I’m like, ‘Honestly I don’t know anything about the male MMA fighters.’ All I really watch and follow are all the women. I am probably biased of course, but I find them so much more exciting to watch.”
Her narrow focus is a fitting one given she’s an undefeated phenom on a quest to make a name for herself in women’s MMA and Bellator. For Macfarlane, an inaugural title fight is on the radar.
“That’s the plan so hopefully I don’t mess up this fight that I have, but we’re hoping to make a run for that belt because with everyone that they’ve signed it just makes the most sense that I would be the front contender for it.”
Macfarlane is clearly not looking past Middleton on her way to the top, but she does think she could get there anyway even if things went awry in Uncasville.
“I don’t think it would be the end of the world if I didn’t get that win this next fight, because I think Bellator does a really good job of getting their girls fights, even if they are coming off of a loss. I think (Emily) Ducote and Rebecca Ruth are still up there in the division. Just because they lost doesn’t mean they’re entirely phased out.”
If given the opportunity, Macfarlane would fight either one for the inaugural title, but she’d even take recent Bellator signee Colleen Schneider if she could make the weight.
“Level-wise I actually think that Colleen Schneider would be a good test for me. She’s a veteran, she has like 16 fights or whatever, but the only thing I’m worried about with that — and I’m actually worried about with Anastasia (Yankova) as well is — can they make Flyweight?”
One might indeed wonder that about Yankova, but for now it’s time to dance with Middleton and hopefully add something new to her Bellator resume.
“I’ve been visualizing myself finishing her with a TKO, and whether it’s on the feet or in ground-and-pound, I just see the fight being stopped by TKO.”
You’ll have to tune in to Bellator this Friday to see if her bold prediction comes true.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded in the video player above and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here.