Bellator women’s flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane knows exactly what she’s stepping into Saturday night.
She will headline the second of two events that Bellator will hold in her home state of Hawaii this weekend and the magnitude of this moment isn’t lost on here.
While numerous fight promotions have held cards in Hawaii in the past, in the modern era of mixed martial arts, neither the UFC or Bellator have managed to put on a show in the Aloha state until now.
That means Hawaiian icons like B.J. Penn never had the chance to headline a UFC card in his home state and the same could be said for reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway, who has been begging UFC president Dana White to take an event to Hawaii.
“Believe me, I totally know how big of a deal it is,” Macfarlane said about her fight at Bellator 213. “I’m trying not to think about it because I’ll freak myself out about it. I totally understand how big this is, not just to me and not to Bellator but to all the fighters who have come before me and all the fighters who are active now and the fighters still to come.
“This is such a huge opportunity being able to show the world our local pool of talent here in Hawaii. I get it. I’m just trying not to freak myself out before the fight.”
Funny enough, Macfarlane grew up in Hawaii but didn’t actually discover mixed martial arts until years later after she had moved to the mainland to attend college in California.
Still, Macfarlane knows exactly what it means when the words ‘fight culture’ are used to describe her home state, which yet another reason why this event means so much to her.
“There is a huge fight culture in Hawaii. It’s part of our blood. It’s in our DNA,” Macfarlane explained. “The ancient Hawaiians were warriors so I think it’s something that has just carried on with us. Growing up in Hawaii, I wasn’t a fighter at all and we always joke about it because I was a private school girl. There was a zero tolerance policy for violence plus my dad was a teacher there so I never fought.
“But with that said, Hawaii just loves their fighters and in my opinion, they are the most supportive community when it comes to their fighters. It doesn’t matter win, lose or draw, they have their fighters’ backs until the end.”
If there’s a negative to fighting at home it’s that the weight of the world is definitely on Macfarlane’s shoulders going into arguably her toughest test to date as she takes on former UFC title challenger Valerie Leteourneau.
As much as Macfarlane promises to enjoy the moment with her fight at home, she knows there’s still work to be done inside the cage and that’s where her focus has to remain until after she defends her title.
“Regardless of all the emotion that’s going to be involved in this and the pride of fighting in my hometown, it’s muscle memory,” Macfarlane explained. “It’s a fight that I’ve prepared for and I’ve done a bunch of times before. Valerie and I are going to have fun punching each other in the face.
“It’s pretty easy to shut off the emotion once I get into the cage. Because it’s going to be emotional but once I step in that cage I can shut it down and I’m there to do a job.”
Even with that demeanor going into Saturday night, Macfarlane knows this is the rarest of opportunities in front of her and she’s not about to blow it.
“I always say this is the biggest fight of my life but this truly, truly is the biggest fight of my life,” Macfarlane stated. “It’s what I think is the pinnacle of my career.”