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Ilima-Lei Macfarlane relieved by Bellator 254 loss: ‘It is hard doing it for so long’

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Bellator 254 marked a lot of firsts for Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, who is now the former Bellator women’s flyweight champion.

“Man, this is like a first a lot of things,” Macfarlane told MMA Junkie at a post-fight news conference. “I don’t think I’ve ever bled like this before or broken my nose or (been) cut open so yeah, this is cool.”

But the broken bones and lacerations weren’t the most blatant firsts Macfarlane (11-1 MMA, 10-1 BMMA) encountered Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. A unanimous decision defeat to new Bellator champion Juliana Velasquez was the first time she’s lost in her professional career.

Although emotional about the loss, Macfarlane still elected to participate in post-fight questioning. Unusual for someone in her position, Macfarlane was at peace.

“Honestly, this is, in a really weird way, this is kind of what I always felt like I needed in my career,” Macfarlane said. “You can’t just always keep winning and excelling. You have to hit some type of plateau or something. I’m actually really happy that this happened. I’m relieved that this is what it feels like to lose.”

Macfarlane displayed a mix of emotions but voiced her newly found state of relaxation. After her three-year reign came to an end, she spoke about the burden of being a champion and all that comes with it. Being title-less isn’t all that bad.

“These are tears of relief,” Macfarlane said. “It’s hard being a champion. It is hard doing it for so long so I’m really grateful for this experience and this moment. … Sometimes I think as a champion you don’t get that luxury of choosing your fights or, I don’t know, taking really crazy fights. I’ve always wanted to be that fighter that takes a fight on two weeks’ notice, you know? I guess you almost really do have more freedom when you’re not at the top.

“I’m excited for this next chapter. I was joking with my corner (like), ‘Yay, this means I don’t have to train for five rounds any more in camp. I can have a three-round camp. Then I was like, ‘Oh, well. There might be a rematch or maybe we’ll get a tournament, so I guess I’ll still have to train for five rounds. Yeah, it just seems like there’s a little bit more flexibility when you’re not the champ.’”

Macfarlane, 30, reigned as Bellator’s first 125-pound women’s champion since she won the belt in November 2017. She defended her title four times and headlined two of Bellator’s first four shows in Hawaii.

Bellator 254 took place Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. The main card aired on CBS Sports Network after prelims on MMA Junkie.

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