Juliana Velasquez is Bellator’s new flyweight queen.
The 34-year-old Brazilian mixed martial artist beat Ilima-Lei Macfarlane via unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 48-47) to win the Bellator women’s flyweight title Thursday night in the main event of Bellator 254 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Macfarlane had been the only women’s flyweight champion the promotion had known until now, after winning the belt in November 2017. Both women came in undefeated.
“To me, this is like a gold medal,” Velasquez said through an interpreter in her postfight interview.
ESPN had Macfarlane ranked No. 2 in the world at women’s flyweight coming in, just below UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.
Velasquez started off strong, though the first two rounds were close. A southpaw who was a Brazilian national-team-level judoka, she was able to keep Macfarlane at the end of her punches, particularly a nice straight left. Macfarlane attempted to blitz in for combinations and takedown attempts, but was mostly unsuccessful. At the end of the second, Macfarlane attempted a sacrifice throw against the cage, but it didn’t work — Velasquez ended up in top position on the ground.
Things started to pick up in Round 3. Macfarlane caught a Velasquez kick, starting a scramble. But Macfarlane fell head first against the cage, and it looked as though the fence opened up a cut across the top of her right eye area, just under her eyebrow. Velasquez then bloodied Macfarlane’s nose and mouth at the end of the round, connecting on a jumping knee.
Macfarlane was game, though. She was finally able to land a takedown on Velasquez late in the fourth round, where she delivered a nice volume of ground-and-pound. In the fifth, Macfarlane was not able to duplicate the feat. Velasquez stayed on her feet and once again took top position on a Macfarlane throw attempt. At the final bell, Velasquez landed a beautiful judo throw to seal it.
“At the end of the day, she just outperformed me,” Macfarlane said. “I think it was more like I didn’t find my groove until that [fourth-round] takedown. … Her game plan was spot on, though. She’s the champion, she deserves it.”
Judge Mike Bell scored the first, second, third and fifth rounds for Velasquez. Judge Sal D’Amato had Velasquez winning the first, third and fifth, and judge Bryan Minor had Velasquez winning the first, second and third.
Velasquez (11-0) has won all six of her Bellator fights. She was actually the slight favorite coming in, though she was the challenger.
Macfarlane (11-1) had won all 10 of her Bellator fights coming in. The Hawaii native, who lives and trains in California, had four title defenses, and if she had won Thursday she would have set Bellator’s title-defense record. Macfarlane, 30, had not been to a decision since 2016.