For Bellator champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, gravity of Hawaii headliner 'totally' understood

It was no secret that, after successfully defending her Bellator title for the first time, women’s flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane wanted a chance to perform in her native Hawaii.

On Wednesday, Macfarlane’s wish officially came true. She’ll compete Dec. 15 at Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, in what will be not only Bellator’s first trip to Hawaii – but also the first time a major MMA promotion has landed there since 2008.

Just how big a deal this is, that’s not lost on Macfarlane (8-0 MMA, 7-0 BMMA), who’ll get to headline the card against Valerie Letourneau (10-6 MMA, 2-0 BMMA). So, upon finding out it was happening, the champ reacted accordingly.

“I started crying when I started thinking about what this meant or what this means,” Macfarlane told MMAjunkie shortly after news of the DAZN-srteamed event broke. “I started imagining my walk-out. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, if I fight in Hawaii, I’m going to have to have an amazing walk-out.’ And I started thinking about all the songs I could potentially come out to, and that’s when I started getting really emotional.

“I was on the airplane, at the time, and it was funny because I just had the silent tears rolling down my face, and I’m pretty sure people sitting next to me were like, ‘Are you OK?’”

As for what, exactly, this means? Macfarlane realizes the significance of bringing MMA back to Hawaii. But, for Bellator’s inaugural women’s flyweight champion, there’s also an added factor that makes her second title defense a special one.

“I almost feel as if not only am I a pioneer to revitalize this MMA movement in Hawaii – but also for women, too, it’s crazy that I’m the headline fight,” Mcfarlane said.” Which means it’s a women’s fight, on arguably one of the biggest cards of the year. I just think that’s incredible, that not only is it back home, but they’re having females headline it. So, yeah, I totally understand the gravity of everything and how important this event is going to be.”

Macfarlane says Bellator did a good job of surprising her. While she did have a feeling something was in the works, she was kept in the dark throughout the process and only find out officially a few days ago. Then, it was up to her to keep the secret – even from her family.

It wasn’t easy, but it was worth the wait.

“I kind of gave them a hint,” Macfarlane said. “Like, ‘Hey, guys, you might not want to book any trips around this time, just stay put.”

Getting a chance to headline a card at home is something most fighters yearn for. But it’s also the kind of thing that comes with its own set of challenges – from the sheer weight of being the center of attention to the distractions that come with being so close to family and friends throughout fight week.

Macfarlane is also aware of that. So, with a couple of months to go, she’s already taking steps to make sure her preparation doesn’t suffer amid the fight’s special circumstances.

“One of the bigger things that I always worry about, with all of my fights, is the weight cut,” Macfarlane said. “And I think that’s just a natural thing for me. Even though I never missed weight, I never had an issue, I just always get anxiety about it. So, it’s really cool because now my weight is – I’ve been walking around lighter than I’ve ever been.

“Even when I’m in camp, I’m normally heavier than I am now. So, that’s already … I’m really focused with my diet and the weight cut and my camp hasn’t even started yet. So that’s something that I can kind of cross off the list of things to worry about.”

The cameras, media obligations and extra attention made for an intense lead-up to Macfarlane’s Bellator 201 meeting with Alejandra Lara, which represented both her first title defense and first headliner. It was “insane,” Macfarlane recalls – and she estimates Hawaii will be about 10 times worse. But, again, Macfarlane is taking precautions to preserve her energy.

“I actually hired my cousin. She does my hair for all of my fights,” Macfarlane said. “She lives in California, so I’m flying her down. Because she’s been through every single one of my fights. So she knows the deal. She knows the drill. She knows who I want around me, what kind of food I like. I’ve told her, ‘I’m flying you out to Hawaii because you’re going to be my assistant, and you’re going to deal with whatever I need to deal with.”

While there’s still a couple of months to hash out details, Macfarlane has already started thinking about some things, from possible walkout songs to how she might be able to incorporate her family into it. She’s also visualized crying on the way out to the cage, too.

So, yes, you can say that Macfarlane is expecting her second title defense to be an emotional moment. But thankfully, as she’s learned on her way here, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I know that I’ll be OK because I get emotional before a lot of my fights,” Macfarlane said. “And kind of have a little moment backstage where I kind of let it all out, let my emotions out. This last fight, I was tearing up when I was walking out to the cage, also. It’s kind of part of my routine at this point. So I’m not super worried about it.”

For more on Bellator’s upcoming schedule, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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