Michael Chandler made history in Hawaii.
The Hard Knocks 365 representative became the first-ever three-time Bellator MMA champion, as he reclaimed the lightweight crown with a lopsided unanimous decision over the previously unbeaten Brent Primus in the Bellator 212 headliner on Friday at the Neil S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu. The judges awarded Chandler a clean sweep on the scorecards: 50-45, 50-45 and 50-45.
Primus -- who had beaten “Iron Mike” in June 2017 -- never seemed comfortable outside of a second-round exchange in which he advanced to the back and threatened to cinch a rear-naked choke. Chandler executed takedowns in the first, third, fourth and fifth rounds, maintained advantageous positions for minutes at a time and applied his ground-and-pound whenever possible. By the time it was over, there was little doubt regarding the outcome.
Meanwhile, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane kept her perfect professional record intact and retained the women’s flyweight championship in stirring fashion, as she submitted Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Valerie Letourneau with a triangle choke in the third round of their Bellator 213 main event on Saturday at the Neil S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu. Letourneau tapped 3:19 into Round 3, submitting for the first time in her 17-fight career.
In the aftermath of Bellator 212 and Bellator 213, here are four matches that ought to be made:
Michael Chandler vs. Patricio Freire: Despite running hot and cold from time to time, Chandler remains a pillar of the Bellator organization. The 32-year-old High Ridge, Missouri, native recorded his third consecutive victory and captured the undisputed Bellator lightweight championship for a third time in his five-round decision against Primus. Since suffering three straight defeats between Nov. 2, 2013 and Nov. 15, 2014, Chandler has compiled a stellar 7-1 record and emerged once again as one of the sport’s premier lightweights. Freire, Bellator’s reigning featherweight champion, has been involved in a cold war with Chandler for two-plus years -- their feud born out of the latter’s first-round knockout of the Brazilian’s older brother, Patricky Freire, in June 2016. All signs point to a champion-versus-champion superfight in the not-too-distant future.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane vs. Juliana Velasquez: Macfarlane detractors are becoming harder and harder to find. The affable Hawaiian moved to 9-0 with her triangle choke submission on Letourneau, with seven of those nine wins coming by knockout, technical knockout or submission. There can be no discounting Macfarlane as one of the top 125-pound fighters on the planet, and Bellator clearly recognizes her as someone around which it can build and cultivate its women’s flyweight division. Team Nogueira’s Velasquez improved to 8-0 with a split decision over Alejandra Lara at Bellator 212. The Brazilian judoka entered the cage on the heels of back-to-back finishes against Rebecca Ruth and Na Liang.
Lyoto Machida vs. Gegard Mousasi-Rafael Lovato Jr. winner: Competing outside the UFC for the first time since July 22, 2006, Machida took a successful first plunge in the Bellator MMA pool and eked out a split decision over former middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho in the Bellator 213 co-main event. All three judges scored it 29-28, two of them siding with “The Dragon.” Machida, who turns 41 in May, closed out his resurgent 2018 campaign on a three-fight winning streak. Mousasi will defend his middleweight championship against the undefeated Lovato at Bellator 214 on Jan. 26 and already made his desire for a rematch with Machida known. The two met at a UFC Fight Night event in 2014, with Machida walking away a unanimous decision winner.
A.J. McKee vs. Juan Archuleta: The sky appears to be the limit for the undefeated McKee. The 23-year-old Team Bodyshop prospect submitted Daniel Crawford with an anaconda choke in the first round of their featherweight feature at Bellator 212. A homegrown talent if there ever was one, McKee has spent his entire 13-fight career with the Bellator MMA organization and figures to be in line for big-game opportunities moving forward. Archuleta, 31, finds himself on a 16-fight winning streak that has upped his professional record to an eye-popping 21-1. The former King of the Cage champion last competed at Bellator 210, where he took a three-round unanimous decision from Jeremy Spoon on Nov. 30.