The Bellator women’s flyweight title is up for grabs as two undefeated fighters put their records on the line in the main event of Bellator 254.
Reigning champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane will look to defend her 125-pound title against unbeaten Brazilian challenger Juliana Velasquez in the night’s headliner at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. as the Hawaiian champ looks to successfully register her fifth straight defense of the belt.
The co-main features the Bellator debut of Russian bantamweight – and the only man to defeat UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan – Magomed Magomedov, while lightweight contenders Nate Andrews and Goiti Yamauchi are also set to face off in a pivotal bout for both men at 155 pounds. The main card will also feature a heavyweight bout between Brazilian veteran Ronny Markes and former light heavyweight title challenger, England’s Linton Vassell.
Bellator 254 takes place Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The main card airs on CBS Sports Network following prelims on MMA Junkie.
Here are four burning questions ahead of fight night.
Which undefeated flyweight will walk away with the belt – and their 0 intact?
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane heads into Uncasville this week looking to make it five title defenses in a row, but she faces arguably the toughest test of her title reign in the form of fellow undefeated fighter Juliana Velasquez.
Macfarlane (11-0 MMA, 10-0 BMMA) has been virtually flawless during her championship reign since capturing the vacant title with a win over Emily Ducote at Bellator 186 back in November 2011.
Since winning the title, she’s submitted Alejandra Lara and Valerie Letourneau, scored a TKO finish of Veta Arteaga and outworked Kate Jackson as she extended her perfect professional record into double figures.
While Macfarlane was building her reign at the top of the division, Brazil’s Velasquez (10-0 MMA, 5-0 BMMA) was building momentum of her own as a potential future challenger to the Hawaiian’s throne.
Victories over Na Liang, Rebecca Ruth, Lara, Kristina Williams and Bruna Ellen took her record to 10-0 and, with a comparable unbeaten record to the champion, the time was right for the pair to meet for the title.
Both are brimming with confidence and neither woman has tasted defeat inside the cage. Barring a freak result, one of them will lose their “0” on Thursday night.
Who’ll keep their unbeaten record and head into the new year with the title, and who could find themselves having to fight through a rumored flyweight grand prix tournament to earn their next shot at gold in 2021?
Can Magomed Magomedov kick off his Bellator career with an impressive win?
It may not have garnered massive headlines at the time, but Bellator completed something of a coup by snagging the signature of Russian bantamweight Magomed Magomedov earlier this year.
The 28-year-old, who fights out of Dagestan, is the only man to defeat UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan from their days with Russian promotion ACB (now ACA). Back then, “Tiger” was the promotion’s bantamweight champion. He later lost out in a rematch, but remains one of Russia’s premier fighters. Now he gets his chance to shine on the big stage.
Magomedov will face stiff opposition on his debut on Thursday night, however. Former TUF Brazil competitor Matheus Mattos is also a former ACB contender, but he and Magomedov never crossed paths inside the cage during their careers. Now they will get the chance to finally meet inside the Bellator cage, with the winner likely to be thrust into a contender fight early in 2021.
Will Magomedov prove that his reputation is justified, or can Mattos score a huge win to kick off his Bellator career?
Which lightweight can push themselves one step toward the division’s big names?
He may not be the biggest name in the Bellator lightweight division, but Brazil’s Goiti Yamauchi is edging toward title contention at 155 pounds. He’s riding a three-fight winning streak, with his split-decision win over Daniel Weichel followed up with a pair of first-round submission finishes of Saad Awad and Daron Cruickshank.
Yamauchi has been out of action since last December, but now he’s back and ready to extend that winning run and move one step closer to a bout with one of the very top contenders at 155.
Standing in his way is Nate Andrews, whose only losses since 2014 came against former UFC prospect Chris Wade during the PFL’s 2019 lightweight season. Originally booked to fight his promotional debut at Bellator 241 before the coronavirus pandemic struck, Andrews returns Thursday night, looking to make an impact on his first appearance inside the Bellator cage.
It’s a main card bout, and a big opportunity for both men to pick up an eye-catching win and move toward contendership in a wide-open lightweight division. But who will move forward, and who will end up having to regroup at the start of the new year?
Can Linton Vassell continue his reinvention as a heavyweight?
After suffering his second light heavyweight title disappointment, then a knockout loss to former champion Phil Davis, Linton Vassell took the decision to leave 205 behind and move up to take on the big boys of the Bellator heavyweight division.
His first outing saw him lose out on the scorecards to Valentin Moldavsky, but he bounced back in style with a second-round finish of Sergei Kharitonov. Now the Brit is looking to firmly establish himself as a rising force in the division by claiming back-to-back wins on Thursday night.
His opponent as as seasoned as he is. Ronny Markes has been around since 2007 and, after seeing matchups with Josh Barnett and Matt Mitrione fall through, he’s set to face Vassell in his first MMA outing since the end of the PFL’s 2019 season.
It’s Markes’ Bellator debut, and he’s looking to arrive with a bang as he attempts to immediately push himself into the title picture. But Vassell has operated at the highest level in Bellator’s 205-pound division for years, and will hope that experience stands him in good stead as he bids to become a contender in his new weight class.