Bellator MMA heads to the Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, Calif., for Bellator 201.

In the evening’s headliner, women’s flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane defends her belt for the first time against Alejandra Lara. Macfarlane is 6-0 in her Bellator tenure and won the title last year in her second fight against Emily Ducote. Lara was successful in her Bellator debut in December, when she submitted Lena Ovchynnikova.

The co-main event takes place at a catchweight of 160 pounds between Saad Awad and Ryan Couture. Couture made the move up to welterweight for his last fight and was able to beat Haim Gozali by unanimous decision. Awad has seemingly found his footing after winning his last three fights. Awad took on JJ Ambrose in January and claimed the unanimous decision.

Juan Archuleta makes his second appearance for Bellator after a dominant run in King of the Cage. Archuleta takes on UFC veteran Robbie Peralta in a featherweight affair. The Bellator 201 main card also features a women’s flyweight battle between Valérie Létourneau and Kristina Williams.

The Bellator 201 preliminary card airs live on Bellator.com at 7 p.m. ET. The main card kicks off at 9 p.m. ET on the Paramount Network.

Ilima-Lei Macfarlane marched her way to the top of the Bellator women’s flyweight mountain and claimed the belt with a November win over Emily Ducote. Now, she’ll make her first title defense against Alejandra Lara, who only has one fight in a major promotion. Is Lara a serious threat to Macfarlane’s title reign?

Not yet.

Lara, who is just 23 years old, is getting a huge gift here with the title on the line in her second fight with the organization. Despite this gift match-up, Lara doesn’t have quite enough experience to really make a significant bid for the title. Her lone win with Bellator came against Lena Ovchynnikova, but Ovchynnikova, who has struggled to a 2-2 mark in the Bellator cage, is more hype than actual top talent. Lara doesn’t have any other big names in her win column.

The one thing going for Lara is that this will be a battle between two grapplers. Both fighters have seen a majority of their victories come by way of submission, and the trend should continue here. Macfarlane has the upper hand as the more well-rounded fighter, and she has a decent striking background if she wants to keep this on the feet. Macfarlane has all the tools — experience, striking and grappling — to get a win against Lara.

A couple of years down the road, this would be a nice fight. However, right now, both fighters are still early in their respective careers. This will be Macfarlane’s seventh Bellator fight, and she has earned a submission in four of those outings. Macfarlane has been tested since her split-decision victory against Maria Rios, and she hasn’t had a close fight since. Macfarlane continues her reign with a victory here over Lara.

Juan Archuleta is a multi-division King of the Cage champion who now holds one win inside the Bellator cage. He’s tasked with a featherweight outing against UFC veteran Robbie Peralta on this card. Will Archuleta win this fight? If he does, should Bellator put its full promotional weight between Archuleta?

Bellator should do a lot of things, but the organization seemingly puts its weight behind the most exciting fighters it can find and the fighters who have been under the promotion’s control for quite some time. This will be Archuleta’s 20th fight and, at age 30, he is a little older than average for someone (who wasn’t already a superstar in the UFC, anyway) that Bellator decides to throw its promotional weight behind.

Archuleta can definitely win this fight, but this is a different opponent than those to which he’s become accustomed. Peralta is a UFC veteran who has an experience edge that none of Archuleta’s previous opponents had. Peralta was never a world-beater with the UFC and only holds victories over lower-level UFC fighters, but it still counts as high-level experience. Luckily for Archuleta, though, Peralta has been on somewhat of a slide the past four years — he’s 1-4 in his last five fights and was finished three times in this span.

Archuleta has been killing it in King of the Cage. His lone loss came in a World Series of Fighting bout three years ago. The majority of Archuleta’s victories have come via knockout. He’s an exciting fighter to watch.

Peralta’s slide is certainly a sign of things to come. Some of his recent losses came against lesser talent than what he’ll face in Archuleta. This should be a big fight for Archuleta that puts him in range to climb the ladder and possibly get a title shot. Bellator won’t push him, but the company should — a multi-divisional champion talent like Archuleta has absolutely earned it. A victory over a UFC veteran should help push Archuleta up the ladder, but he’ll need a big victory over one of the Bellator featherweight veterans to really earn a dedicated promotional push.

Is this event more stacked than fans might realize?

It’s not necessarily a stacked card, but it is one that will definitely fly under the radar. The lineup boasts a lot of prospects and young fighters working their way through the beginning and middle stages of their careers. In a few years, we will most likely look back on this event and think of it as a stacked card. However, for now, it should be thought of simply as an underrated card.

The main event of the evening isn’t exactly a fight between two of the best fighters the Bellator roster has to offer. Lara has only fought once in Bellator, and she isn’t a big draw right now. Meanwhile, women’s flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, even with her numerous finishes on the way to the title, isn’t one of the top-billed fighters on the Bellator roster either. It should be a good scrap, however.

The future potential of this lineup extends down into the preliminary card, where we have a bunch of prospects on the way up. Tyrell Fortune, Joey Davis and Ed Ruth all remain undefeated and come from Bellator’s collegiate wrestler crop. They have kept their blue-chip prospect label intact and will look to build upon it with yet another victory at Bellator 201. All three fighters have the ability to rise to the level of champion in their respective weight class.

In a few years, fans will look back on this event as the beginning for most of these fighters

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Tyrell Fortune and Josue Lugo.

Fortune seems to be the answer to the lack of talent in the Bellator heavyweight division. Just looking at the current Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix — most of those guys are either past their prime or not true heavyweights. Fortune is still young, and he is definitely shaping up to be a future champion. His wrestling is top notch, and he is progressing more and more into a dangerous grappling game backed by his ground-and-pound skills.

This fight should be the first step into more steep competition for Fortune.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (Paramount Network, 9 p.m. ET)
Women’s FlyW Championship: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane vs. Alejandra Lara Macfarlane
Catchweight (160-pound): Ryan Couture vs. Saad Awad Couture
Women’s FlyW: Valérie Létourneau vs. Kristina Williams Létourneau
FW: Juan Archuleta vs. Robbie Peralta Archuleta
Preliminary Card (Bellator.com, 7 p.m. ET)
WW: Joey Davis vs. Craig Plaskett Davis
WW: Ed Ruth vs. Andy Murad Ruth
Women’s StrawW: Keri Melendez vs. Tiani Valle Melendez
HW: Tyrell Fortune vs. Josue Lugo Fortune
Women’s FlyW: Kristi Lopez vs. Paola Ramirez Lopez
LHW: Jordan Young vs. Jamal Pogues Young
LW: Jacob Rosales vs. Joshua Jones Jones
FW: Jay Jay Wilson vs. David Conte Wilson
BW: Ricky Furar vs. Victor Rosas Furar

About The Author

Sal DeRose
Staff Writer

Sal DeRose hails from New Jersey and is currently training for his first MMA fight. He hopes to use his knowledge and insight to generate articles that interest and entertain readers. Prior to joining Combat Press, his work appeared on The MMA Corner and Bleacher Report MMA. Outside of MMA, Sal is a big fan of every other sport. He's a die-hard New York sports fan, with the exception of cheering for the Green Bay Packers.

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