Ilima-Lei Macfarlane unconvinced by UFC crossover talk as Bellator flyweight champion eyes European debut

Tony Mogan

Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane remains sceptical over the prospect of cross-promotional bouts against UFC fighters as she targets a place on a European show in the near future.

Hawaiian sensation Macfarlane is perhaps the biggest star of Bellator’s growing female roster having won all 10 of her professional bouts to date, holding the joint-third longest winning streak in the promotion’s history.

Fresh off an emphatic TKO victory over Veta Arteaga at Bellator 220 in April, Macfarlane believes she will next be in action when the promotion returns to her hometown in December.

In the meantime, Bellator president Scott Coker has teased MMA fans over the potential of cross-promotional fights with their UFC rivals.

His promotion have held cross-promotional fights with Japan’s RIZIN to great success, but the UFC has traditionally distanced itself from the possibility of pitting their rivals against the competition.

While Macfarlane has dominated the flyweight ranks in Bellator, Valentina Shevchenko has done likewise in UFC, with the two champions recognised as the clear pound-for-pound best in the 125lbs division.

While such a match-up is likely to remain firmly in dream territory while the two are tied to their current promotions, Macfarlane admits the idea of further cross-promotion appeals to her.

“I personally don’t believe UFC vs Bellator will ever happen, that’s just not the business model of the UFC,” Macfarlane told Standard Sport.

“I know Scott said that he would be down for it but I just don’t think the UFC would ever agree to that.

Macfarlane is undefeated as a professional (Bellator)

“But I thought it was really cool, the stuff we did with RIZIN. Maybe, if the time was right in my career, I would love to do something like that, with ONE Championship or whoever.

“I think the cross-promotional matchups were really innovative and will hopefully open a lot more doors to a lot more opportunities. But as far as the UFC is concerned, I don’t think so.”

Macfarlane was in London ahead of Bellator 223 at the SSE Arena, Wembley, on Saturday, where a handful of fighters will be competing in their own backyard with Mike Shipman, Nathan Greyson and Nathan Rose among the Londoners in action.

Macfarlane's homecoming was on a much bigger scale, returning to Hawaii to successfully defend her title back in the main event against Valerie Letourneau late last year.

But the flyweight champion knows the pressures of being the hometown fighter apply whatever the circumstances.

“It is crazy, it means a lot. It was always my career goal and now I have finally done it, you almost think 'okay, I can retire, it was amazing'.

“It means a lot but it comes with a lot of baggage, you have to worry about tickets, friends and family bothering you, stuff like that. It has pros and cons but overall I have enjoyed fighting in my hometown, the atmosphere is completely different.

“It doesn't necessarily give you extra will to impress, I personally felt even if I was knocked out in the first round I would still have all that support behind me.

"Fighting in your hometown you typically have 10 times the support you would normally have.”

Bellator has stepped up its expansion in Europe in 2019, with the London show their fourth this year already following trips to Newcastle, Dublin and Birmingham. A Milan show is booked for October.

While she relishes fighting at home, Macfarlane admits it can be draining and is eager to test herself away from the US, possibly on a future UK show.

Mousasi and Lovato meet in London this weekend (Bellator)

“While I do love fighting at home, I could only do that once a year. I only have the emotional capacity to do that once a year.

"So to help balance that, I would love to fight overseas. I am hoping by them bringing me out here [to London], I can slowly start building a fan base out in Europe and come back.”

Macfarlane was in Tooting, south London, this week as Bellator teamed up with Rising Stars Support and TM Boxing to deliver an MMA session for youngsters involved in the charities.

“I feel it is our duty, we are given this platform,” Macfarlane said. “I’ve always wanted to do something that gives back to mankind, that helps make the world a better place.

"Surprisingly fighting has done that, as odd as it sounds, but it has given me the platform.”

Tickets for Bellator London: Mousasi vs. Lovato Jr. are now on sale and can be purchased online from axs.com/uk and Bellator.com