Ilima-Lei MacFarlane is quickly emerging as one of Bellator’s biggest stars.
The current women’s flyweight champion is set to defend her title for the second time against Valerie Letourneau on December 15.
Not only is it a big fight for MacFarlane, but she will also be the main event. Being the main event is obviously exciting for her, but it became even better when she found out the event would take place in Hawaii.
“I did a media tour in Hawaii and I already signed the bout agreement. I knew my opponent was Valerie and I knew when the date was,” Ilima-Lei MacFarlane said to BJPENN.com. “They said the location was to be determined and all they told me was ‘hey, we need you to do a press conference during these dates, so make sure you keep that week open.’ So I’m like ‘okay, where am I going to go?’ and they wouldn’t tell me. It wasn’t until I received my itinerary the night before that I saw we were going to Hawaii. That is when I officially found out it was going to be Bellator Hawaii.”
As soon as she found out she would be fighting at home the excitement started. No major MMA promotion has gone to Hawaii in years.
“I mean I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions,” Ilima-Lei MacFarlane said. “I was obviously super excited and I just got really emotional and I started tearing up just thinking about coming back home and fighting in front of my family and friends. The walkout and just fighting in front of Hawaii. I got really emotional. I started tearing up. It was basically a flood of emotions when I found out.”
Headlining an event on home soil is exciting, but it also adds some extra pressure. McFarlane will be main eventing a card that features the likes of Lyoto Machida, Ed Ruth, among others.
“It is great. I’m always about girl power and the women’s movement and everything. I just think it is fantastic that Valerie and I are headlining over true MMA legends,” she said. “I just think that is great that Bellator is giving us this opportunity and we are going to make history. This historic event is being headlined by women. It is amazing. I just love that Bellator picked me to do this, and I am not going to let them down.”
However, fighting at home in Hawaii will have challenges for the champion. Ilima-Lei MacFarlane knows she will have added pressure during fight week and on fight night.
“F**k yeah,” MacFarlane said of if she thinks there will be pressure on her. “I already feel the pressure, not necessarily the pressure to win, because I feel that Hawaii supports their fighters and athletes no matter what. It doesn’t matter if we get knocked out in the first round they are not going to abandon us. They are true fans until the end.
“I don’t necessarily see the pressure to win, but I do feel pressure to represent. The whole world is going to be watching this,” Ilima-Lei MacFarlane continued. “This is going to be streamed live internationally. Everybody is going to be watching this. Other promotions, the UFC is going to be watching this, because this is a historic event. I feel more pressure to represent from Hawaiians and Hawaii. But then I feel more pressure from outside of Hawaii because I know Hawaii has my back no matter what. It is everyone else that is watching, that is the extra pressure.”
On top of the added pressure of headlining an event in her native Hawaii, McFarlane is also facing a very dangerous competitor. Valerie Letourneau is a very good fighter who has fought against some of the best fighters in both the UFC and Bellator. Many look at Letourneau’s record and think she is not worthy of a title shot, but Ilima-Lei MacFarlane isn’t buying any of that.
“First of all, I think Valerie is super underrated. A lot of people discredit her record but what people don’t know is she fought the best of the best,” the champion said. “She has been in the game for a long time, she has been doing this for like 20 years or something. Definitely a seasoned veteran. She went five rounds, toe-to-toe with Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the former champion. She was one of the first female fighters I ever watched when I started watching MMA. I think her experience alone is going to be to her advantage. I’m not going to overwhelm her or fluster her with anything because she has been there before already.
“I think it is going to be a very technical fight on her part. She is going to do anything to finally win a world championship and if that means out pointing me and keeping it technical and taking it to the judges then that is what she is going to do. I don’t necessarily see her being a finisher, she doesn’t have too many finishes,” Ilima-Lei MacFarlane continued. “Her last two fights with Bellator went to a decision, and I am a very hard person to finish. I don’t really see it going to a finish on her end. On the other hand, I look for the finish, I look for my submission game. I think it is going to be a finish on my end or go to the judges.”
Ultimately, MacFarlane is ready for the challenge and to finally fight in Hawaii. The pressure will be there and it is a tough opponent but MacFarlane is confident in her game that she can win the fight.
“Honestly, I am looking forward to feeling the energy. When I walk out and just feeling everyone’s energy,” she said. “It is actually my walkout that I am looking out the most. It is going to bring the crowd to their feet. I am looking forward to the walkout the most.”
Come December 15, Ilima-Lei MacFarlane will make the walk that her dreams are made of. For now, however, training camp is underway and the focus is on the fight and trying to defend her title once again.
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 11/16/2018