July 3, 2018

Ilima-Lei MacFarlane Is A Budding Star Bellator Can Build Around

By Raphael Garcia

It’s been well documented that big personalities are becoming more important in mixed martial arts. Greater opportunities and bigger paydays await those fighters who are willing to speak them into existence. And while the majority of the star power in the sport resides within the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bellator MMA is doing a good job of developing homegrown talent into stars in the making. One of those is Ilima-Lei MacFarlane. The Hawaiian-born fighter is starting to carve out a place for herself as a budding star, and more people are starting to pay attention.

At Bellator 201 this past Friday night, MacFarlane successfully defended her Bellator flyweight title when she defeated Alejandra Lara via submission in the third round of their main event bout. This was her first title defense and pushed her professional record to 8-0.

Some may remember MacFarlane from the “Soccer Mom" controversy, when she took on the aforementioned soccer mom Katie Castro back at Xplode Fight Series in 2015, knocking her out in only 10 seconds.
When she first signed to Bellator, she faced many questions around that bout, but Macfarlane's performances in the promotion not only answered those questions, but turned them into distant memories. Her run has shown that she has the ability to finish opponents, dominate them over the length of a complete fight, and overcome adversity when she needs to. She has also tested herself in grappling events like EBI. MacFarlane continues to develop as a fighter, but she’s especially developing as a personality that the promotion and division can build around.

For example, consider her Instagram profile. Her 45,000 followers truly get an inside look into her life, not only as an athlete, but as a person, alongside the people that are closest to her. She takes jabs at herself having stomach issues before a fight, or comments about just how much she was looking forward to drinking after her Bellator 201 bout. She’s a relatable individual in a sport where many are beginning to feel manufactured.

With her native Hawaii seemingly the last untapped bastion of MMA fandom in America, Macfarlane has begun angling for the opportunity to anchor an event there. UFC Legend BJ Penn and UFC Featherweight Champion Max Holloway call the islands home, and promoters have been looking to stage an event there to satiate some of the most hardcore of fans in the entire sport. It would be interesting to see Bellator land on the island before the UFC, and according to a recent post-fight interview, Macfarlane is hopeful:

“I’ve talked to some of the staff at Bellator, and of course everyone wants to go to Hawaii. I think it just comes down to logistics. Everyone wants to figure it out. The tourism bureau is giving problems. The UFC tried doing it, so I think it just comes down to the logistics. There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone wants to do a Bellator Hawaii, so we’ve just got to find a way to make it happen.”

Bellator President Scott Coker echoed her sentiments:

“We always wanted to go there, it’s just the timeframe that is challenging. You’ve got it on a Friday, and now you have to promote it at 3 o’clock in the afternoon – that makes it tough. If there’s a way to do it, we will find a way to do it.”

Given the logistical difficulties of running such an event, the fact that Bellator is open to the conversation at this time demonstrates just how much potential MacFarlane has, and just how confident the organization is in her. There aren’t many stars that Bellator can leverage as hometown attractions, but MacFarlane certainly has the cachet and connections in Hawaii to fill that role. It will be intriguing to see whether Bellator can capitalize on that opportunity before the UFC can make its own trip.

Ilima-Lei MacFarlane has the kind of crossover appeal that is welcomed in MMA. She has continued to excel in the cage, and interacts well with the public on social media. Bellator is in the hunt for new faces with star potential, and the promotion's flyweight champion fits the bill. She is a budding star to watch.

Bellator 201
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane vs. Alejandra Lara (Women's FlW Championship): Ilima-Lei Macfarlane def. Alejandra Lara via submission (armbar) at 3:54 of Round 3.

Bellator 201: Macfarlane vs. Lara took place June 29, 2018 at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, California.

Click HERE for more Bellator 201 Post-Fight Analysis

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