Championships and friendships don’t often mix in mixed martial arts. The pursuit of glory has irreparably damaged some relationships. Other times, loyalty perseveres in exchange for missed opportunities. Liz Carmouche and Ilima-Lei Macfarlane are set to meet at Bellator 300 on Saturday in a rare instance of two best friends elevating each other en route to a world title fight.
Carmouche defends her Bellator women’s flyweight championship against former champion Macfarlane in San Diego. It’s a fight both women have campaigned for despite years of friendship and training together.
“This is a day that we knew, just coming up and training together all the time, was inevitable,” Carmouche told CBS Sports. “I feel like part of the reason why Bellator signed me is the storyline. So we certainly knew it was going to happen. I like the idea of submitting her gently and putting her to sleep — no harm, no foul — we can both smile afterwards rather than coming out battered and beaten. But knowing the two of us, we’re going to come out battered and beaten.
“Both of us wanted nothing but success for each other… If we’re in the same organization, it’s inevitable that we’re going to face each other.”
Check out the full interview with Liz Carmouche below.
The fight is so remarkably special to Macfarlane that she contemplated retiring afterwards. The Hawaiian told CBS Sports she’s decided to continue her career after Bellator 300. Not every relationship can weather such a high-stakes scenario. Jon Jones and Rashad Evans had a public falling out over the UFC light heavyweight championship. Merab Dvalishvili’s desire to pause his own title ambitions in support of Aljamain Sterling has soured him to UFC matchmakers. Carmouche and Macfarlane are unique in that they have both already won a world title. Their previous success takes a lot of pressure off the fight.
“She’s like my big sister,” Macfarlane said. “I think what also helps is that I have tasted victory. It’s not like everything is on the line in this fight. The world will go on regardless of who wins or loses. We’ve both reached gold. We’ve tasted gold. We’ve reached the top. My biggest hope is we emerge from this fight injury-free and healthy and that we don’t actually hurt each other.”
Check out the full interview with Ilima-Lei Macfarlane below.
It doesn’t hurt that Carmouche had a reputation for sparring particularly hard.
“Well, Liz would beat the shit out of me anyway in practice,” Macfarlane said with a chuckle.
Carmouche moved camps about two years ago in preparation for an eventual showdown against Macfarlane. Fighters are by nature ultra-competitive. A bruised ego sometimes takes longer to heal than physical injuries. Both women are mindful of awkward tensions after the fight, but that didn’t stop Macfarlane from inviting Carmouche to her post-fight taco party.
“I imagine whoever wins is going to bring the belt to the party,” Macfarlane said. “I always compare it to the movie ‘Love and Basketball.’ There is a scene where she plays her former college teammate professionally in Spain and they go out and have dinner afterwards. The girl is like, ‘Bitch, can you please take your trophy off the table?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, excuse me while I take my championship trophy off to make room.’ But they’re friends. So I imagine it would be similar to that. Whoever wins has bragging rights.”
“It’ll still be weird,” Carmouche said. “But we’ve actually hurt each other in training sessions. We still had to see each other the next day or we’re still going to hang out knowing that that black eye on their face is from you. So we have that benefit going into this. I think that for both of us we want success. We want what’s best for each other’s future. We can bring that knowing that we can offer a great show for the fans.”
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