For the most part, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane has long been ready to move past being an internet sensation for authoring the infamous ”Soccer Mom” KO in her professional mixed martial arts debut.
But match her up with an opponent who has garnered a few web clicks of her own, and watch Macfarlane’s competitive side emerge regarding her reputation as Bellator’s resident viral queen. “The Ilimanator” will face Jessica Middleton in the Bellator 178 co-headliner at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Friday night. Middleton, who goes by the moniker “Million Hits,” scored a spinning backfist knockout of Holly Torrez in an amateur bout in 2014 that has received more than 1.4 million views on YouTube.
“It’s battle of the virals,” Macfarlane recently told Sherdog.com. “It’s viral vs. viral. I think it’s cool too that we both have knockout wins that went viral. I didn’t even know that she had that until I found out I was fighting her and we did our research and that popped up. I was like, ‘Oh s--t, OK. That’s cool. Good for you, girl.’”
However, Macfarlane would like to point out that as far as internet sensations go, when it comes to her and Middleton, she is the more, well, sensational.
“I’m pretty sure mine is more viral because I was on [WorldStarHipHop], Tosh.O, ESPN...so I’m pretty sure I’m more viral than her,” Macfarlane said. For those scoring at home, Macfarlane’s clip does have nearly 2 million views.
However, the reality is that Macfarlane vs. Middleton is far more than just a curiosity booking between a pair of flash-in-the-pan YouTube stars. Both flyweights have proven themselves against tougher competition since the highlight reel appearances that made them visible commodities in the MMA world. Macfarlane is 4-0 in the Bellator cage and has a budding feud going with another promotional talent who garners plenty of internet clicks, Anastasia Yankova. Middleton, meanwhile, has begun her promotional tenure with triumphs over Alice Yauger and Bruna Ellen.
That, in part, is why the bout has been placed in the co-headlining position, one spot below the featherweight championship clash between Daniel Straus and Patricio Freire. The Bellator 178 main card airs on Spike at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
“I think that it’s appropriate,” Macfarlane said of her placement on the card. “I think that it’s time. I was hoping after my win over [Emily] Ducote that my next fight was going to be for the belt. If it can’t be for the belt, then I guess co-main event is cool...I didn’t know I was the co-main event until Bellator released it. It’s cool, but it’s not super important to me. What’s important to me now -- I’m not looking past this fight -- is fighting for that belt.”
The California-based organization has not yet unveiled its women’s flyweight title, but Bellator President Scott Coker has said that the plan is to crown the inaugural 125-pound queen at some point in 2017. Bellator has already broken ground in that realm this year, crowning its first 145-pound female champion on March 3, when Julia Budd defeated Marloes Coenen via fourth-round technical knockout.
Macfarlane hasn’t had any discussion with Bellator brass regarding a timetable for the implementation of the flyweight crown, but she believes a victory over Middleton would firmly establish her as one of the division’s top two contenders.
“I have no idea what they have planned,” she said. “However, I do think if I get the win [Friday], then I’m definitely hands down the frontrunner, the No. 1 contender for the belt.”
Currently 13 fighters are listed as part of the women’s 125-pound division on Bellator.com. Building depth is a work in progress, but according to Macfarlane, it’s a worthwhile endeavor -- especially as Bellator continues to grow its brand.
“I think they definitely need to add more fighters to this division...I think that it’s good in the sense that Bellator has a smaller division because it’s easier to get fights, but at the same time if they want to start building the division, they’re gonna have to start expanding,” Macfarlane said. “I think that’s going to be easier especially as people see that this division is legit. The promotion is on the rise. It’s no longer just about the UFC. It’s like Bellator is coming in hot right now. I think that’s going to make it a lot easier to sign fighters and for fighters to buy in. And for the viewers to buy in to this.”
Perhaps the most viewer-friendly bout looming for Macfarlane is a showdown with Yankova, the 26-year-old Russian star who is also unbeaten and has attracted plenty of attention for her looks. However, the Moscow native has struggled making weight and, at least according to Macfarlane, wasn’t particularly impressive in dispatching 18-year-old foe Elina Kallionidou in her last outing at Bellator 176.
Macfarlane hasn’t held back when it comes to expressing her opinion regarding Yankova, whether on social media or in interviews.
“On Twitter I kind of called her out. I was like, ‘Not impressed and not a flyweight.’ I was annoyed with this last fight for a couple different reason. First I was annoyed that she got another catch-weight. This is her third time fighting at 130, so she hasn’t even fought at 125 yet for Bellator,” Macfarlane said. “On top of that she didn’t even make the 130 catch-weight. She weighed in at 133. Then her performance was like really not good at all. I thought it was really sloppy. All she did was just bumrush the girl against the cage and just hold her there. It wasn’t what I expected from a girl who is supposedly one of the frontrunners of the division, somebody who’s contending for the belt. I was like, ‘No way.’
“If you want to attract the viewers, then that fight would make sense. Of course I would love that fight too just to shut all of her fans up. Everybody thinks she’s so amazing, but I’m like no, I’m pretty sure I would beat the s--t out of her,” she continued. “It would be fun to still fight her, but I don’t think she’s on my level. I think there are a lot of other fighters in the division who deserve a shot before her. And I think there are other fighters in the division who are at a way higher level than her. Again it’s a business. She has a lot of followers, a lot of fans. So we’ll see what happens. Another thing too is I don’t think she can physically fight for the belt because she hasn’t even made 125 yet, so who knows?”
In a still growing division, Macfarlane has an opportunity to become a star with continued success. The UFC has not added a 125-pound weight class, and women’s flyweight bouts outside of Invicta have been few and far between. It isn’t necessarily for lack of interest on the athletes’ part: UFC strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk has previously expressed a desire to become a two-division champion if the Las Vegas-based promotion were to implement the 125-pound weight class.
While Jedrzejczyk’s dream has not come to fruition, that hasn’t prevented Macfarlane from contemplating how she would fare against the Polish star at 125 pounds. Her take, at this point in her young career, is grounded in reality.
“I think she would honestly beat the s--t out of me. She is such a monster. If she is such a monster at 115, imagine what she could do at 125,” Macfarlane said. “I still think I’m very early on into my career. I still consider myself a baby in the sport. I’ve only been doing this a couple of years. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch when I say a fighter like Joanna would beat the s--t out of me because they’re on a different level. They all have a crazy number of fights and they’ve been doing this for years. I think eventually when I’ve been fighting as long as they have and I have the experience that they have, I absolutely might be on that same level as them. Right now, I don’t think I’m ready for someone like Joanna.”