Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Bellator 186’s Ilima-Lei Macfarlane: What Do You Fight For?

Respect can often get lost in combat sports. Call it part of the show, but the rampant disrespect has only been magnified with the rise of Conor McGregor. It may be great for selling entertainment, but it’s one ugly aspect of MMA. When a fighter faces an opponent who works just as hard, eats just as clean, and makes the same sacrifices, a certain level of respect needs to be maintained.

Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is relatively young in MMA. She’s 27 years old and has only been fighting for a few years. However, she is a mature, respectful realist.

Macfarlane did not get into MMA to be a badass. She didn’t have some extensive background in combat sports. She was just a college kid who wanted to shed some pounds. She walked into a gym, worked her ass off and got addicted. Before she knew it, she breezed through five amateur opponents in about eight months of 2014.


“Fighting was nothing I intended on doing,” Macfarlane told Combat Press. “I actually wanted to be a teacher. When I finished my degree is actually when Bellator called. I just thought I would try it out for a little bit and see how it goes.

“Now, my reasons have changed. Before, I was always doubting myself. I was always nervous, like, ‘Is this really for me?’ I now 100 percent know that I was meant to do this. I have so much that I’m fighting for. I want to bring honor to my team and my gym. They are the ones that have guided me this entire way. I’ve only been with them, which I guess is kind of rare. I’ve only been with this one gym from the moment I walked in. They are the only ones I’ve trained with and fought for.”

Macfarlane trains at the San Diego Combat Academy, which is also a 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu affiliate and home to Team Hurricane Awesome. Her coaches include Manolo Hernandez, Bill Crawford and Richie “Boogeyman” Martinez. She is currently in the last days of the camp for her shot at the inaugural Bellator women’s flyweight title.

Since turning pro in January 2015, Macfarlane has remained undefeated. She currently sits at 6-0, with five of those wins coming in Bellator. She is the top-ranked flyweight in the promotion. On Friday night, at Bellator 186, she faces an old foe in Emily Ducote. Last December, the two went to a decision in their first meeting. Macfarlane took the win, but she knew they would meet again.

“Out of all the ladies in the division, she was active and she was winning,” Macfarlane said. “She won her next two fights after ours, and she has, also, always stayed professional. She stayed close to her fighting weight. She never said no to a fight. She’s also stepped up on late notice.

“I felt she was the best candidate, really, and I’ve beat her before, but it was a very close fight and it went to the judges. I wasn’t surprised when I heard it was her, and I was actually really excited. She totally deserves this shot. Me and Emily are really cool, and I totally respect her as a fighter and a person. I’m just excited to share the cage with her again.”

One can be sure that if Nate Diaz and the aforementioned McGregor were ever to meet for a trilogy, neither would say they are “really cool” until, maybe, after the show. Macfarlane and Ducote are cut from a different cloth. They aren’t thugs. They aren’t trash-talkers.

“Me and Emily are very similar,” Macfarlane said. “We’re not very vengeful, and we don’t talk shit. Obviously, she wants it back. Who doesn’t want a loss back? I don’t think there’s any bad blood going into this fight at all. Even though I beat her — and that’s a mental edge in my mind — it also lit a fire under her ass. This is her opportunity to not only get that loss back, but to also be a world champion.”

Macfarlane is in what she describes as unusually “high spirits” going into Bellator 186. Instead of being worn down from a camp and dieting, she is chomping at the bit to get the strap.

“It’s a wild-card fight,” said Macfarlane. “I’m honestly confident in all parts of the game. I feel so good on my feet. I’ve been focusing on striking this whole camp, and I feel really good on my feet. A lot of people don’t get to see me on my feet. They know me as a grappler. I just want to show people that I actually do have some hands — little baby hands, but I can strike. I’m not going to fish for moves. I don’t have a big ego. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

“Ideally, I would like to get the finish within the first two rounds. I do not want it to go to the judges again. Realistically, my style and Emily’s are so similar. We’re so well rounded, and we have good conditioning. We could go all five rounds. It’s going to be a good fight, regardless. People should watch.”

Even with the previous win and her seat at the top of the division, Macfarlane has a tremendous amount of respect for her sport, her craft and her opponent. On Friday night, Macfarlane will enter the Bellator cage for the sixth time in a co-headliner that could easily be considered the main event of the evening. Once the door closes, it will be time to get dirty.

“I want to bring this belt back home for [my team],” said Macfarlane. “I also want to bring it home to Hawaii and be one of the great fighters to come out of Hawaii. Everyone in Hawaii loves their fighters. They all get behind them, so, if I win this belt, it’s like the whole state won. There are numerous things I fight for now.”

Macfarlane would like to thank all of her coaches and training partners at 10th Planet Freaks, San Diego Combat Academy, Mean Girls, and Team Hurricane Awesome. She would also like to thank her family, friends, fans and sponsors, without whom she would not be able to do what she loves. Follow Ilima-Lei on Twitter: @ilimanator