Bellator 236: “Macfarlane vs. Jackson” comes to Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii, later this evening (Sat., Dec 21, 2019), streaming live on DAZN. The only undefeated champion in the entire promotion, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, puts her title on the line once again in the place she is most beloved.
Let’s break it down!
125 lbs.: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (10-0) vs. Kate Jackson (11-3-1)
It would be difficult at this point after previewing so many of Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s fights over the years to say anything new about her. After staring at this screen for an inordinately long time I finally thought of three things I’ve never said about her before. No. 1 — Ilima-Lei is an ascendant athlete. Whatever you think is the best version of her you’ve seen to date is inevitably eclipsed by her next performance. No. 2 — Ilima-Lei is a domineering fighter. She controls where a fight takes place, how it takes place, and makes you face her on her terms. No. 3 — Ilima-Lei is a self-assured athlete. No one needs to tell her that she’s great — not the fans, not her coaches, not her teammates. She doesn’t need to boast about being the best Flyweight in Bellator MMA — she just is.
With sincere respect to Kate Jackson, I can say absolutely none of these things about her as an opponent. As recently as Bellator 191 she was drubbed by Valerie Letourneau, who rightfully received a title shot ahead of Jackson as a result. For Jackson to be in this position only two wins later shows just how thoroughly Macfarlane has cleaned out her entire weight class. Jackson doesn’t even bring the size advantage or world title experience to the table that Letourneau did.
Their stature is virtually identical, their records are far from it, and while many a prognosticator has been made foolish overrating a champion (Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm are on line one) I have yet to see a Jackson fight to convince me she’s championship material. She’s a good striker and may have a slim edge over Macfarlane, but “Ilimanator” didn’t wind up 10-0 by being dominated on the feet. She can hang until she seizes a takedown or pulls you into her guard, and once you’re trapped in her web it’s only a matter of time before she eats you alive.
Final prediction: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane via rear-naked choke in round one
145 lbs.: A.J. McKee (15-0) vs. Derek Campos (20-9)
The Featherweight Grand Prix rolls on with the first match of the “Elite Eight” taking place later this evening. Once again, we have a sizable mismatch in terms of athlete records and overall talent. Campos stands on a better footing simply by owning a win over former champion Daniel Straus, but that should also come with two footnotes — he beat a man who was almost paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, and he snapped a three-fight losing streak in doing so. Of their two opening round matches McKee’s was FAR more impressive. He walked through a former World Series of Fighting (WSOF) champion in Georgi Karakhanyan like he wasn’t even there, and Karakhanyan is more experienced and seasoned than Campos by a long shot. The best things Derek Campos has gone here is that “he brings West Texas” to every fight. He won’t quit. You have to drop him or stop him. I believe he can actually go the distance with A.J. McKee but I don’t believe he can emerge the victor in the fight.
Final prediction: A.J. McKee wins a unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Jason Jackson (10-4) vs. Kiichi Kunimoto (20-8-2, 1 NC)
Kiichi Kunimoto is a veteran fighter who has taken 50 percent of his wins (10 of 20) by submission. The 38 year old Kunimoto will almost certainly want to take the 29 year old “Ass-Kicking Machine” Jason Jackson to the ground, but that’s easier said than done — just ask Ed Ruth. Maniacs between you and I, I thought Ruth lost that fight, so giving Jackson an opponent who also lost to Ed Ruth comes across like a “make good” by Bellator. Kunimoto couldn’t handle Ruth’s stand-up, while Jackson not only did but convinced at least one judge that he was the better man, so it’s hard to imagine “Strasser” Kunimoto out-striking Jackson let alone pulling off the upset victory.
Final prediction: Jason Jackson via first round ass kicking
145 lbs.: Juliana Velasquez (9-0) vs. Bruna Ellen (5-2)
I don’t know if she’s “tougher than a $2 steak” as good ole’ J.R. would say, but I do know Juliana Velasquez is undefeated for a good reason. She’s finished three of her last four opponents including two knockouts and an armbar, and all but one of those happened after the halfway point of a three round fight. That’s pretty damn tough. The jury is still out on Bruna Ellen. An early loss to middling fighter Jessica Middleton derailed her hype train early on, and despite being a Team Nogueira fighter she’s only recorded one finish and zero submissions. In a sport known for upsets we should never take away Ellen’s chance to have a good day, but standing 5’4” to Velasquez at 5’6” she’s giving away a lot of height, reach and power to a proven finisher who gets better as fights go on.
Final prediction: Juliana Velasquez via third round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Raufeon Stots (12-1) vs. Cheyden Leialoha (7-1)
Every Hawaiian Bellator card needs some local flavor ... here it is. Cheyden Leialoha will look to score an upset over rising Roufusport star Raufeon Stots, who was on a four fight winning streak before signing his Bellator MMA deal. He’s a well balanced fighter with 25 percent of his wins coming by knockout, 25 percent by submission and 50 percent by decision. You really can’t ask for more from a prospect than that — striking, ground game, and cardio. The onus is on Leialoha to find a weakness and exploit it. Given that he failed his one big test in his appearance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series, I’m not convinced he will. He’s pretty good at the submission game (57 percent of his wins, four out of seven) but it’s not the Lex Luger-like “total package” that Stots brings to the game.
Final prediction: Raufeon Stots via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Nainoa Dung (3-0) vs. Zach Zane (10-7)
Nainoa Dung is a serious striker and hugely popular with the local Hawaiian fans. For that reason alone he’s on the main card of this broadcast, facing a mediocre opponent who has more experience but far less star power or long-term potential. It doesn’t take a psychic to see the result her.e
Final prediction: Nainoa Dung via technical knockout
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 236 tomorrow with a main card at 10 p.m. ET exclusively on DAZN, with “Prelims” undercard bouts starting at 8:30 p.m. ET. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.