Since taking over as Bellator MMA president in 2014, Scott Coker has done quite a nice job with his handling of the promotion. Whether it be improving the overall product or building the roster, Coke has undoubtedly taken Bellator to a new level.
In addition to signing big-name veterans, Coker has also brought in young talent. He’s worked endlessly to build up young fighters who have shown promise.
One fighter on the Bellator roster who seems to have all the makings of a future star is 29-year-old Ilima-Lei Macfarlane. After signing with the promotion in 2015, she became Bellator’s inaugural women’s flyweight champion.
She has since twice defended that title and will once again put it on the line in the co-main event of Bellator 220. That event is set for this Saturday, April 27 in San Jose, California.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane: Star in the Making
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii and now residing in San Deigo, California, Macfarlane began her amateur mixed martial arts career in 2014. Competing under the Xplode Fight Series banner, “The Ilimanator” quickly got to work.
In 2014 alone, she competed five times, finishing all but one of those bouts. With three of those victories coming by way of submission and one coming via T/KO, it became clear that she possessed talent.
What stood out the most, however, was her grappling acumen. She now holds a brown belt in 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu and has proven to be a well-versed finisher on the ground.
In fact, she owns a 2-0 record in combat jiu-jitsu. She also won the inaugural Eddie Bravo Invitational women’s flyweight championship in 2017 and her grappling skills have clearly transferred well over to MMA.
After putting together a 5-0 record, Macfarlane signed on with Bellator in 2015. Under a new banner, she continued to find success.
From 2015-17, “The Ilimanator” won five-straight fights with three of them ending in a submission victory. During that stretch, she picked up victories over the likes of Maria Rios, Amber Tackett, Rebecca Ruth, Emily Ducote, and Jessica Middleton.
With momentum on her side, Macfarlane was given the shot to challenge for the promotion’s inaugural flyweight title at Bellator 186. With this opportunity, she once again shined.
Taking on Ducote in a rematch, Macfarlane sunk in a fifth-round submission, becoming the champion and proving that she could compete under the bright lights.
Since then, she has defended her 125-pound title twice. At Bellator 201 in June 2018, she submitted Alejandra Lara via armbar in the third round. It was her last performance, however, that turned heads.
In her hometown of Honolulu at Bellator 213 last December, Macfarlane took on her toughest test to date in Valerie Letourneau. The Canadian is a proven commodity and a former UFC title challenger.
The fight wasn’t all that competitive though. Ultimately, the champion picked her shots wisely before locking in a fight-ending triangle choke in the third round.
Having her fight on a big card in her hometown was a smart move made by Bellator. We’ve seen many times in the past how bringing a fighter home can boost their star power. When given that chance, Macfarlane made the most of it.
What the Future Holds
Macfarlane will defend her title this weekend in the co-main event of Bellator 220 in San Jose. She’ll be taking on Veta Arteaga, who owns a 5-2 record and is coming off of back-to-back wins.
Once again, Bellator has made a smart decision by putting Macfarlane in a spot where many eyes will be on her. The card is set to be headlined by a welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and Jon Fitch. Because of that, it’s expected that fans will be tuning in.
In addition, this continued placement of Macfarlane shows that Bellator sees something in her – and they may just be right. It’s undeniable that the champion has a unique personality, a fan-friendly fighting style, and a noticeable killer instinct. That all appeals to fans and having Hawaii behind her certainly doesn’t hurt.
Should she put together another impressive performance and perhaps another finish, Macfarlane will take one more step towards becoming one of Bellator’s most recognizable names.
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