Though her fifth-round submission victory over Emily Ducote at Bellator 186 in November to claim the promotion’s 125-pound championship didn’t go as smoothly as she would have liked, Ilima-Lei MacFarlane feels the win was an essential lesson to learn in her MMA career.
In having to nearly go the distance against Ducote, MacFarlane was able to showcase a wider range of her skills and was able to prove she can go the full length of a championship fight.
“I think it wasn’t a perfect fight, but it was the perfect fight for me,” MacFarlane told MMAWeekly.com. “I think I needed to go all five rounds just to prove to myself I can strike and I have the gas tank to go all five rounds. I was very happy with the fight, even though there are obviously things I could work on.
“I thought (Ducote) was going to come super aggressive to avenge her loss (to me in 2016). I imagined her training hard – if not harder – to avenge her loss. I think that played a factor, but on the flipside I knew I beat her already and I could beat her again. It was very back and forth.”
Now that she’s a champion, MacFarlane is being given the opportunity to headline shows. But rather than see her new status as added pressure, she views it as additional motivation.
“I don’t feel pressured,” said MacFarlane. “I feel excited. It’s awesome to see people posting the flyers and you see my face in the background. The other day Snoop Dogg posted the flyer on (social media) because he is rooting for Joey Davis, so I got my face, indirectly, on Snoop Dogg’s page. It just makes everything more exciting.”
For her first defense, MacFarlane (7-0) will face Alejandra Lara (7-1) in the 125-pound championship main event of Bellator 201 on June 29 in Temecula, Calif.
“I think that it’s going to be interesting stylistically,” MacFarlane said. “I’ve never faced anybody with Alejandra’s style. She’s extremely flexible and athletic. Her ground game looks really good. Her stand-up game looks like a Karate style with all the kicks and stuff.
“Physically, I’ve had opponents who were taller and longer than me, but none fought like her. It’ll be interesting to see where the fight goes. I feel confident everywhere the fight goes and I have a slight edge no matter where we end up.”
Having not initially begun fighting to make a career of it, MacFarlane is looking to use MMA to help build her life outside the cage as she moves forward in the sport.
“It’s possible to make a real career out of this and provide stability for my future family, and I think that’s what’s going to drive me from now on,” said MacFarlane. “It will allow me to get closer to buying a house. It will allow me to get closer to starting a family. That’s what I’ve wanted to do all along.”