Bellator to crown first female flyweight champ Nov. 3

Bellator MMA will crown its first female flyweight champion on Nov. 3 at Bellator 186 on the campus of Penn State University.

Undefeated flyweight Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (6-0) will face Emily Ducote (6-2) in the inaugural 125-pound title fight. It will mark the first time a major U.S. promotion crowns a female champion in that weight class.

It's also the second time this year Bellator will introduce a female championship belt. The promotion created a 145-pound featherweight title in March, which is currently held by Julia Budd.

"We have a very strong commitment to building a respectable female division," said Bellator president Scott Coker. "We think Ilima has turned into a pretty big star for us and she had a really good fight with Emily back at Bellator 167. This is the right time and the right fight to crown a champion."

Bellator's focus on the 125-pound division has been pretty clear in recent years. The UFC has not historically promoted this weight class, but is in the process of opening it now. A UFC flyweight champ will be crowned in December.

The emergence of a flyweight division has been big for female MMA as a whole, as so many fighters had been faced with the decision of cutting to the 115-pound strawweight division or challenging bigger opponents at the 135-pound bantamweight limit.

Bellator has been aggressively signing 125-pound flyweights the past two years, with the 27-year-old Macfarlane emerging as one of the best.

"Bellator has done an amazing job signing fighters who weren't really well known and developing us," Macfarlane said. "As the division started growing, they added Valerie Letourneau [a former UFC strawweight title challenger] and world champion boxers like Heather Hardy and Ana Julaton.

"I think this division has shined a light on Bellator, and honestly, the UFC felt kind of threatened by that momentum. It's all great for women's MMA."

Macfarlane defeated Ducote via unanimous decision in December 2016. Macfarlane, of Honolulu, is 5-0 in the Bellator cage. Ducote, who fights out of Oklahoma City, is 4-1 with three submission finishes.

"The first time I fought Ilima, I hadn't fought anybody like her," Ducote said. "That was the first time I said, 'This girl is good and she has the media hype behind her.' It was a big step for me. I lost a close fight, but I learned a lot from it. I'm looking forward to the rematch."

It's been a significant year in terms of the major promotions adding female weight classes. By the end of 2017, both Bellator and UFC will have crowned two new female champions.

For Coker in particular, the developments aren't surprising -- considering his history with female MMA. Coker's previous promotion, Strikeforce, was instrumental in the rise of female fighters such as Gina Carano, Cris "Cyborg" Justino, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate.

"We were a promotion that gave a platform for women to shine on," Coker said. "We put females in main events on national television. I grew up in martial arts schools and trained with females and never understood why they couldn't fight and be promoted in MMA.

"I think we've always been a strong supporter of women, and we're going to continue that with this flyweight championship."

Bellator 186 takes place at Bryce Jordan Center and airs on Spike TV.