Macfarlane: Champion of Life

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In MMA, just like in all of sports, everybody loves a champion. We like seeing the champion defend their title and we like seeing a new champion win the title away from the former champ. After all the training sessions and media obligations get finished, it all comes down to the fight itself.

Once the fight ends and the confetti is swept away from the cage, all that remains is the belt that the fighter has earned, symbolic of their effort on the evening. No matter how long the fighter holds the championship, he or she only holds the championship for a moment in time.

While having the championship is always great for the fighter, it’s what he or she does away from the cage that’s more important and holds more weight than the gold strap that they’ve won. One Bellator fighter is no longer the champion in the cage, but as far as her life goes, she’s always been undefeated.

Macfarlane a Winner in and Out of the Cage

Former Bellator MMA Women’s Flyweight Champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (13-3 MMA, 12-3 Bellator) was the youngest kid in her family. She also proved to be rather adept at athletics.  During her school days, she was a star on her basketball team.

Had it not been for Macfarlane getting injured, she could have been playing in the WNBA, something that she told Dave Meltzer in 2019.

“I wanted to go to college and play basketball,” Macfarlane said. “I tore my ACL. I had a few surgeries and I couldn’t play anymore. But I could still wrestle. After those knee surgeries, I gave up the dream to play basketball.”

After her basketball career ended, however, Macfarlane grappled with a secret.

Caution: The following section deals with subject matter of a sensitive nature. Discretion is advised.

Macfarlane Sisters Speak Out Against Coach

In April of 2020, almost 2 1/2 years removed from Ilima-Lei Macfarlane capturing the Bellator MMA Women’s Flyweight Championship with a fifth-round submission by way of triangle armbar versus Emily Ducote (13-8 MMA, 4-4 Bellator) during a rematch of a fight from the previous year in Bellator 186, she, alongside her sister and an unnamed third woman, filed a lawsuit against their alma mater, Punahou School and the institution’s former assistant girls’ basketball coach, Dwayne Yuen.

Yuen was accused of sexually assaulting the young women between 2003 and 2006, dating back to when Ilima-Lei Macfarlane was 12 and her sister, Mahina Macfarlane Sousa, was 14.

“He definitely groomed us,” Ilima-Lei Macfarlane told HawaiiNewsNow in 2020.  “I ended up losing my love for basketball, which was crazy. That’s what I wanted to do as a career. I wanted to play professional basketball in the WNBA.”

The suit brought on by the Macfarlanes against Punahou School was settled out of court in the summer of 2021. Subsequent to that, Dwayne Yuen was arrested by federal agents early last year after it was discovered that he possessed child pornography, with more charges added last fall after new victims spoke out.

Macfarlane A Champion in Her Community

Late last summer, the Hawaiian island of Maui and city of Lahaina  were hit by devastating wildfires. In times of crisis, like the one experienced in Maui back in August of 2023, it’s up to members of the community to come together to provide emotional and financial support to help one another survive tough times and to help rebuild their towns and lives.

When the wildfires struck, Macfarlane had yet to reveal that she’d be returning to the cage in an Oct. 7 battle for the Bellator MMA Women’s Flyweight Championship against Liz Carmouche (21-7 MMA, 7-0 Bellator MMA) during the landmark Bellator 300 in San Diego from Pechanga Arena on Showtime. In the aftermath of the wildfires, Macfarlane posted on her official Instagram page to ask for donations from the public to aide her community in the rebuilding process.

By early September, over $2.6 million had been raised for Maui and Lahaina. All too often, social media has been routinely used for negative purposes. When social media is used for the greater good, like it was last summer after the wildfires, the end result can be amazing.

Macfarlane the Scholar

While Ilima-Lei Macfarlane has proven herself to be an incredible athlete, her star shined just as bright when the time came to hit the books. Upon ending her high school career, the former Hawaii state champion in wrestling had the opportunity to enroll at Menlo College on scholarship.

San Diego State won out in the end, with Macfarlane matriculating in Cultural Anthropology at the university. Upon securing her Bachelors’ Degree in the field, she took on graduate school at San Diego State and gained a Masters’ in Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Ahead of the start of the grad school phase of her academic life, she initially discovered the sport of MMA. This led Macfarlane down the path toward claiming the championship in Bellator.

Final Thoughts

While sports are measured in simple metrics of wins and losses, in the game of life, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane remains undefeated. She’s a winner in every sense of the word.

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about combat sports since May of 2018, coming to MMASucka after stints at Overtime Heroics and Armchair All-Americans. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew is a charter member of the Youngstown Press Club. Prior to beginning his professional career, Drew was a sportswriter for YSU's student-run newspaper, The Jambar, where he supplied Press Box Perspective columns every week.

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