Bellator champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane will expand her resume tonight in New York and make a little promotional history at the same time.
Macfarlane will be part of the Bellator 222 broadcast team as an analyst, she posted earlier this week on Instagram. As such, she’ll be the first women’s fighter to work as an analyst for the promotion.
“On my way to New York for #Bellator222, and super excited to announce that I will be part of the commentary team this Friday at Madison Square Garden!” Macfarlane posted. “Fricken nervous but honored that I will be the first female fighter that has done this for @bellatormma. So grateful to everyone for trusting me with the job! I’m no @sonnench, but I’ll do my best on the desk alongside @therealpunk and @jayglazer . Make sure you all tune into @dazn_usa to watch us this Friday! #fightfamily #BellatorMMA #champlife #fightanalysis #deskcommentary #pineappleprincess #ilimanator
Bellator 222 takes place Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York. The main card streams on DAZN following prelims on MMA Junkie. In the main event, welterweight champion Rory MacDonald (20-5-1 MMA, 2-1-1 BMMA) takes on Neiman Gracie (9-0 MMA, 7-0 BMMA) in a title fight that also is a semifinal bout in the welterweight grand prix tournament.
In addition, Lyoto Machida (25-8 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) meets Chael Sonnen (30-16-1 MMA, 2-2 BMMA) in the light heavyweight co-feature, and bantamweight champ Darrion Caldwell (12-2 MMA, 9-1 BMMA) puts his title on the line in a rematch with Rizin titleholder Kyoji Horiguchi (27-2 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) in a crossover fight.
Macfarlane (10-0 MMA, 9-0 BMMA), Bellator’s 29-year-old undefeated women’s flyweight champion from Hawaii, is coming off her third straight title defense with a TKO win over Veta Arteaga at Bellator 220 in April. In that fight, doctors shut down the bout due to a massive cut for Arteaga, giving Macfarlane the win in the third round.
Prior to that, she won the 125-pound belt with a submission of Emily Ducote at Bellator 186, then defended it with submissions of Alejandra Lara and Valerie Letourneau in 2018. Seven of her nine Bellator wins are by stoppage, including six submissions. Those six submissions have her tied for the most in Bellator history.
With another action-packed month of MMA in the books, MMA Junkie looks at the best fights from April 2019: Here are the five nominees, listed in chronological order, and winner of MMA Junkie’s “Fight of the Month” award for April.
At the bottom of the post, let us know if we got it right by voting on your choice.
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Israel Adesanya def. Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 236
Just 14 months after making his UFC debut, Israel Adesanya (17-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC) became a champion in the promotion. He defeated Kelvin Gastelum (15-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) to claim the interim middleweight belt in one of the best fights to ever take place in the octagon.
Adesanya became the 12th fighter in UFC history to win a title with an undefeated record when he beat Gastelum by unanimous decision in a matchup with countless turns of momentum and moments of resiliency. With the win, “Stylebender” is headed to a unification matchup with Robert Whittaker.
Dustin Poirier def. Max Holloway at UFC 236
Dustin Poirier (25-5 MMA, 17-4 UFC) waited a long time to get his first UFC title shot, but he made the most of the moment, outpointing Max Holloway (20-5 MMA, 16-5 UFC) in an action-packed classic.
Poirier got the upper hand early in the fight when he hurt “Blessed” with heavy power shots. He managed to keep a high pace throughout the fight, countering Holloway’s output with power to edge out a unanimous decision and win the interim 155-pound belt.
Islam Makhachev def. Arman Tsarukyan at UFC on ESPN+ 7
Islam Makhachev (17-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) and UFC newcomer Arman Tsarukyan (13-2 MMA, 0-1 UF)C matched move for move in a battle for grappling supremacy in an enthralling lightweight affair.
But Makhachev proved more adept at winning positions and brought more energy for a three-round fight, resulting in a unanimous decision over Tsarukyan. The final scores were 30-27 twice and 29-28 for Makhachev, who picked up his fifth straight octagon win.
Mike Perry def. Alex Oliveira at UFC on ESPN+ 8
Mike Perry (13-4 MMA, 6-4 UFC) dropped Alex Oliveira (19-7-1 MMA, 9-5 UFC) with punches and nearly pounded him into unconsciousness with ground-and-pound, but in the end he had to settle for a decision.
After starting slow in the first and then hurting Oliveira in the second, Perry cruised to a unanimous decision with scores of 29-28 across the board.
Benson Henderson def. Adam Piccolotti at Bellator 220
Another Benson Henderson (27-8 MMA, 4-3 BMMA) fight, another razor-close result. After three rounds of closely contested action that saw several momentum swings, two of three judges ruled Henderson the winner via split call over up-and-comer Adam Piccolotti (11-3 MMA, 7-3 BMMA).
The close scorecards were a fitting result for a fight with intense grappling exchanges. Henderson proved once again he’s one of the best on the canvas, escaping bad position after bad position to threaten Piccolotti with strikes and submissions to get the nod.
In one of the best fights in recent memory, Adesanya claimed the UFC’s interim middleweight title in a classic five-round thriller with Gastelum.
Gastelum moved quickly to the center at the start of the fight, while Adesanya was content to study from range. A few probing kicks and punches just touched the mark for Adesanya before Gastelum rushed forward with a pair of leaping power punches that missed. Gastelum looked comfortable in the pocket with Adesanya, and his left hand did land clean, leaving his opponent off-balance for a few tense steps away from the fence.
Adesanya continued to be the more accurate striker with his flicking shots, but Gastelum was finding the mark on occasion with his powerful blows. Adesanya’s movement saw him avoid Gastelum’s biggest shots, but he certainly wasn’t untouchable.
Adesanya was a little more aggressive to open the second, kicking at the body and then punching up top. Gastelum continued to press, looping the left hand over the top when in tight. Adesanya tried to attach high, but Gastelum’s defense was solid, and he countered with a beautiful straight punch down the middle. The big left followed shortly after, as well.
Adesanya did his best to slip and move on the outside, but Gastelum was undeniably finding the mark. As he gained confidence, Gastelum pressed, and Adesanya made him pay with a counter right that sent him crashing to the floor. Adesanya followed, but Gastelum was able to crawl back to his feet and reset.
Adesanya’s punches were beginning to land with more authority as the round unfolded. He countered well and again saw a right hand snap his opponent’s head back. A slick reverse elbow stunned Gastelum, who shot for the takedown unsuccessfully after being wobbled. Gastelum grabbed the body again in the final seconds but couldn’t get the fight to the floor.
Gastelum appeared energized to start the third, bouncing lightly on the outside and loading up on the big left. The crowd started chanting Adesanya’s name, and he looked confident on the outside. A brief Thai clinch saw Adesanya land a knee up the middle, but Gastelum pulled away and remained upright. Gastelum leaped forward with a few right hands, but Adesanya’s counters were well-timed and proved the more effective blows.
Adesanya’s right hand really started to find a home as the round unfolded, and Gastelum’s face showed the wear of the blows. In the final 90 seconds, Gastelum was able to drive forward and score a clean takedown, but Adesanya was instantly scrambling and back up on his feet, looking to strike. The two traded a few low kicks before the bell, and the round ended on the feet.
Gastelum came forward quickly in the fourth, and his punches came with bad intentions. Adesanya was forced to move laterally to avoid the chase, but he eventually found his way back to the center of the cage. Adesanya’s right hand again found a home, but Gastelum was able to shake it off and resume his pressure attack, eventually getting inside and briefly holding a clinch, though he wasn’t able to capitalize.
Adesanya tried to turn up the heat late in the frame, though his punches were met with powerful replies. Each time Adesanya tried to completely unload, Gastelum would swing back with menacing replies. A Gastelum high kick landed clean and stunned Adesanya in the final minute, and he couldn’t hide the repercussions. Gastelum charged to capitalize, but Adesanya was able to avoid the follow-ups and scamper to safety. Adesanya pressed inside at the bell, and the round ended against the fence.
With the fight seemingly in the balance in the final round, the crowd rose to their feet. Gastelum was incredibly aggressive again to open, but Adesanya shifted left and stayed out of trouble. Adesanya chopped the leg and then delivered a few straight punches that landed clean, but Gastelum would not go away. Gastelum continued to stalk from the center before shooting inside and looking for the takedown. Adesanya countered with a guillotine, but Gastelum slipped out of it after several very tense moments. As they hit the floor, Gastelum slipped to the top, but Adesanya threatened with a triangle choke and then an armbar in an amazing scramble. Gastelum pulled free, and the two returned to the feet.
On the restart, Adesanya went to work, peppering his opponent with stiff punches to the face. Gastelum absorbed them all and swung back, but it was clear the strikes were having an effect. Adesanya’s quick punches continued to score, and Gastelum failed on a takedown attempt. With time winding down, Gastelum moved forward. However, it was Adesanya’s punches that were true, and he again dropped his opponent with a little more than a minute remaining.
Gastelum refused to go away that easily, crawling to his feet and looking to attack. However, Adesanya was there to deliver more damage, bloodying Gastelum and sending him crashing to the canvas. Gastelum stood once again, but Adesanya was unrelenting and dropped him once again, finishing the final round with a barrage of punches on the floor. In the end, Adesanya was awarded the decision win and the interim title with scores of 48-46 across the board.
With another action-packed month of MMA in the books, MMA Junkie looks at the best knockouts from April 2019: Here are the five nominees, listed in chronological order, and winner of MMA Junkie’s “Knockout of the Month” award for April.
At the bottom of the post, let us know if we got it right by voting for your choice.
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Martin Nguyen def. Narantungalag Jadambaa at ONE Championship 93
Martin Nguyen (12-3) successfully defended his ONE Championship featherweight title with perhaps the most devastating knockout of his career so far, putting away Narantungalag Jadambaa (14-6) with a crushing shot.
Nguyen used a mixed attack to confuse and hurt Jadambaa in the fight. His opponent had no idea what was coming, so when Nguyen stunned him with a hard leg kick in the second round he retreated only to be met with a flying knee that put the lights out and gave Nguyen a defense of his strap.
Next page: Joshua Pacio vs. Yosuke Saruta, ONE Championship 93
Veta Arteaga was almost 12 minutes into her first Bellator title bid, and actually doing well, when an elbow from flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane landed clean on her forehead.
Arteaga didn’t make much of it right away, thinking it was no more than a welt. But then she got up and noticed the blood pouring down. First, she thought it was Macfarlane’s. Then she realized it was hers. That’s when referee Jason Herzog said he was calling in the doctor.
Those are words that “no fighter wants to hear,” Arteaga said, as they obviously indicate that something is amiss. And, as pretty much everyone could see from the strip of white – Arteaga’s skull – that peaked through the gash, that was certainly the case here.
“When the doctor came in, he just said, ‘You can cover it up, but the blood is going to keep dripping in her eyes,’” Arteaga told MMA Junkie. “I said, ‘I can see. I don’t feel the blood as like a distraction.’ But then he looked at me. ‘It’s just way too deep.’ And I was like, ‘Crap.’ At that moment, I felt like the world paused. It was just a moment of shock, like ‘this is not happening.’ That wasn’t the way this was supposed to turn out.”
Arteaga’s tone recounting the anti-climatic ending to the Bellator 220 co-main event, however, is far from somber. In fact, she says that last bit with a laugh, before adding a positive spin.
“At the same time, I was like, ‘Wow. That’s just to show you that anything can happen in a fight, and anything can happen at any moment,’” Arteaga said. “I’m definitely going to reflect and learn, and I already have, as far as how I want to move on as a fighter on situations and how I want to get better.
“It was like a moment of shock, that’s what it was. It’s just like, ‘No way, this is not happening. I’m doing so good, I won the first, I won the second.’ It was just like an awe moment. It was a crazy feeling. A lot of mixed emotions. Then, at the end, I felt upset. I mean, I felt upset, and I felt proud of myself at the same time, because I was able to do good.”
(Note: Arteaga was ahead on one of the judges’ scorecards, while the other two had it even going into the third).
Four days later, Arteaga was doing just fine. Overall, she received 15 stitches on a cut that looked “worse than how it feels,” and that was basically it. There was no dizziness, no concussion, just a deep cut.
Mentally, too, Arteaga was ready to move on. Already done with with the brief “grieving process” of her lost title bid, she was more interested in looking ahead than sulking over it.
“The other day I woke up, and I was like, ‘You know what? It happened. Oh well, I just have to focus on what I want to do for the next fight.’” Arteaga said. “And how I want to perform on the next fight – whether it’s with Ilima or not.
“It doesn’t stop me from still being hungry and motivated. It doesn’t hold me back from the goal and the plan. So that’s an exciting part, feeling that I still have that drive, that I still want to be up there at the top and achieve my goals.”
Arteaga’s gone through losses before – twice, in fact, both split decisions. She’s experienced frustration, too, particularly when the scorecards gave Anastasia Yankova a fight Arteaga was confident she had won at Bellator 161. This time, though, the feeling was different. “Surreal” is one word she can find to describe it, or as if it was a “dream” that she needed to wake up from.
“I felt like I didn’t lose, nor did I win,” Arteaga said. “It was just a moment of pause.”
But she did lose via third-round TKO. And though it took a doctor’s call to wave it off, Arteaga is clear in that she doesn’t want to take away from the champ’s merits in beating her.
“(Macfarlane) just capitalized sooner than I did, that’s what it was,” Arteaga said. “It was a chess match and who was going to move quicker, and she just made the first move.”
Macfarlane (10-0 MMA, 9-0 BMMA) was candid in her assessment of the bout. She said she was surprised by her opponent’s solid defensive wrestling and acknowledged the good preparation made by Arteaga (5-3 MMA, 4-3 BMMA) and her team, which led her to struggle early.
At the same time, Macfarlane is a self-admitted slow starter and knew that, as tired as she felt, it was about finding the perfect opportunity to pounce. As a result, she added yet another finish win to her unbeaten resume and got to keep her belt.
Macfarlane could have just taken that win and run with it. Instead, she went over to Arteaga and said she had the immediate rematch if she wanted it. Macfarlane would later confirm that in the cage and talking to reporters backstage, with no shortage of praise for her opponent.
For her part, Arteaga says she would be “more than honored” to share the cage with Macfarlane again. She also believes it’s a fight that would have fan appeal, as well, given how the first match went. But Arteaga is also prepared to handle someone else if, by any chance, the seemingly logical rematch isn’t next for her.
“I’ve already proven that I can be there, and I’m also an elite athlete just like Ilima is an elite athlete,” Arteaga said. “We’re both well rounded. So, if Bellator says for me one more fight – I don’t want to get my hopes up too much and get too set on, ‘No, you promised me a rematch.’
“I’m just going to be ready for whatever the next step is and just focus on myself, on what I’ve got to do to perform at my best. And let the W’s just take care of itself and eventually I’ll get back to having that title shot and having a different outcome.”
Arteaga is excited about getting back in camp, but she’s also not in a rush. She believes she’ll be ready to get back to training by the end of May, if not sooner, but she also is planning on some vacations. December, she says, seems like a good turnaround.
Interestingly enough, Macfarlane also would like to stick to her twice-a-year fight calendar that usually includes one winter outing – November or December, she said in her post-fight interview.
Last year, that fight happened in Macfarlane’s native Hawaii, where she defended her belt against Valerie Letourneau. If Hawaii is in Bellator’s plans again this year, the champ said the rematch with Arteaga would be a perfect fit for the local crowd.
Arteaga, for her part, says it doesn’t really matter where the rematch happens. But venturing into this particular enemy territory doesn’t seem like a bad idea, either.
“Wherever the rematch is, I’ll make sure to be ready, I know that she’s going to be ready, and it will definitely be a good fight, for sure,” Arteaga said. “(But) I would be happy. I’ve never been to Hawaii. I would love to go out there and perform.”
“I know how he feels,” said ex-champ Lima, who faces Michael Page at Bellator 221 on May 11 in Rosemont, Ill. “I’ve been through that as well. … I hope he fights. I hope he finishes this tournament.”
Featherweight standout McKee, who faces ex-champ Pat Curran, called MacDonald “a true warrior” and owned up to his own struggles.
“I’ve had some of those situations in my own self, going through depression and not feeling like my career is progressing,” McKee said. “But that’s part of the trials and tribulations of life, so you’ve just got to keep your head up and keep fighting.”
MacDonald, 29, appears to be taking that advice. Shortly after a conference call in support of Bellator 221, he announced he would face Neiman Gracie in the semifinals of the welterweight grand prix on June 14 at Bellator 222.
Not all were moved by MacDonald’s vulnerability. Gracie called it “bull(expletive)” at the Bellator 220 post-fight news conference this past Saturday. Michael Chandler, who defends his lightweight title against featherweight champ Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, was flippant.
“Unlike Rory MacDonald, I talk to my God every day, and he’s completely fine with me beating the hell out of people,” Chandler said.
For Page, MacDonald is just a reminder of extra suffering in the gym.
“Honestly, the only reason I want him to stay in the tournament is simply because he made all of us do five rounds instead of three, so he might as well stay in it for the whole journey,” Page said. “Because if he wasn’t in the tournament, it would have been a three-round tournament. If you’re going to make us do five rounds, don’t pull out of the tournament.”
Page questioned why MacDonald should be allowed to advance on a draw, though he agreed with Lima that the champ had done enough to defeat Fitch.
“Even if they have to bring in another judge to give a final decision, there should have been an actual winner,” Page said. “I don’t believe you should go through on a draw.”
Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald on Tuesday confirmed that he will fight Neiman Gracie in the grand prix semifinals on June 14 – a date that currently is blocked off, according to the California State Athletic Commission.
The CSAC, which regulated this past Saturday’s Bellator 220 in San Jose, handed MacDonald a mandatory 60-day suspension with 60 days no contact for a “facial cut on (his) right side,” per doctor’s notes issued after his majority draw against Jon Fitch. MacDonald also is subject to a potential 180-day suspension if he doesn’t receive medical clearance for an elbow injury.
Reached for comment about the mandatory 60 days, CSAC executive director Andy Foster confirmed the suspension is in effect. He declined additional comment on MacDonald competing at Bellator 222 on June 14 but added, “If he’s suspended, he’s suspended.”
When contacted by MMA Junkie, a Bellator official said the promotion is looking into the matter.
It’s a not uncommon for promotions to seek a medical exemption in the case of suspensions that conflict with fight bookings. UFC heavyweight Derrick Lewis received one to face champ Daniel Cormier at UFC 230 despite a suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission.