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Ilima-Lei Macfarlane: Paige VanZant wouldn’t deserve immediate title shot in Bellator

Undefeated Bellator flyweight champion Ilima Lei-Macfarlane doesn’t exactly have a long list of real title challengers in front of her.

She’s already successfully defended her crown four times, and the worldwide coronavirus pandemic ground the fight game to a halt for months, which prevented new contenders from building momentum.

But the Bellator schedule is back up and running. And sooner or later, Macfarlane (11-0 MMA, 10-0 BMMA), as one of the company’s biggest draws, will be expected to get back in the cage.

There’s a fighter out there on the free agent market who, from a pure name value perspective, would bring more attention than anyone else she could meet at this moment: Paige VanZant. The former UFC star recently fought out her contract, leading to speculation as to where she’ll land next.

Macfarlane understands that VanZant would help shine the spotlight on the company. But she also knows that VanZant has lost four of her past six fights, including two of her past three, which came after she moved up to flyweight from strawweight.

And that’s enough, in Macfarlane’s mind, to come to the conclusion VanZant would have to earn her keep should she sign with Bellator.

“I think that she would bring really good publicity to our division,” Macfarlane told MMA Junkie Radio. “And you know, would I necessarily say that she should get a title shot right off the bat? Of course not. I don’t think so at all. But, like for future matches, yeah, I would totally welcome that.”

Recent scuttlebutt has it VanZant could wind up in Bare Knuckle FC. Macfarlane believes the former “Dancing with the Stars” contestant will end up wherever she can get the best deal.

“I think that she’s a smart girl, and she’s gonna go where, I think she’s going to bare-knuckle boxing,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that, but, yeah, I think that she should go where she’s going to be treated well and paid well.” 

So that leaves Macfarlane at Square 1 as she tries to figure out who’s next. Juliana Velasquez has made a legit case for a title shot, but she’s based in Brazil, which presents logistical issues in the COVID-19 era.

“It’s difficult with the travel ban, obviously,” Macfarlane said. “One of the No. 1 contenders, Juliana Velasquez, is in Brazil, and it’s really hard to get her over here because of the travel ban, so a lot of the contenders who are stateside are coming off of losses, so it’s kind of tricky. We’re kind of in limbo as far as a title fight goes.”

Macfarlane has an idea in the meantime: How about fighting up a weight class, just to get a fight in?

“I have proposed an idea. I’m like, ‘Well, we really don’t know how long this is going to last, so how would you feel about fighting me at bantamweight?” she said.  “That way people, for lack of a better term, won’t get their panties in a twist that Juliana isn’t fighting for the belt or with the whole title stuff. Why don’t we just fight a bantamweight fight against a stateside girl? I just want to keep active and give me a fight in 2020. We’re working on it.”

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Did you miss the debut of “UFC 252 Countdown” or just want to watch it again? Check out the main event preview now. The segment takes an in-depth look at the heavyweight championship main event, with the trilogy between Stipe Miocic (19-3 MMA, 13-3 UFC) and Daniel Cormier (22-2...

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