(Photo courtesy Bellator)
It was hero’s welcome as Bellator Champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane went down the escalator at the Pechenga Casino and Resort this past Friday in front of her crowd of family, friends, and fans.
The champ estimated a good sixth of the crowd was there to cheer her on in the first defense of her recently won title. Many women were wearing her signatire flower in their ears to show support. The live fans were not alone in their support, as Bellator announced nearly 800,000 people watched the fight from the comfort of their own homes.
The one fan that got to Macfarlane was MMA legend and Hawaiian B.J. Penn. This was the first time Macfarlane ever met the Hall of Famer and was a bit star struck. After her win, she got a solid nod from Penn, who told us she was phenomenal.
At the post fight scrum, Macfarlane was pushing for Bellator to go to Hawaii, a place with a huge MMA fan base and could see even bigger numbers if their hometown fighter is able to defend her title there. Bellator president Scott Coker stated he is working on it, as the Hawaiian Tourism Board has been hesitant to bring the mainland promotions to the islands.
Macfarlane feels the public has gotten over the stigma of the infamous “Soccer Mom” fight at the end her amateur career, and the undefeated champ is now a shiny example as champion. Besides being a great teammate to her San Diego Combat Sports Academy teammates, she has started a scholarship program for young girls.
From the website: The Ilimator scholarship is available Native American and Native Hawaiian adolescent female youth (ages 12-18) with an opportunity to access world-class indigenous education enrichment programs. Outdoor science, culture, wellness, and leadership enrichment is provided by InterTribal Youth, NativeLikeWater.org and an extended ohana, family, network of educators, mentors, and cultural leaders.
Macfarlane was in tears as she talked about her efforts. Two of the scholarship recipients were in attendance to watch the fight and accompanied her to the post fight scrum.
Macfarlane was also pushing for an all female main card in the future. This card had three female bouts; with a fourth being scrapped due to a weight issue. With a stacked flyweight division and developing featherweight division, it isn’t without reason; especially with the new about the ratings.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s post fight scrum courtesy MMA Junkie)
The featured bout of the night saw Valerie Letourneau face Kristina Williams in what was a hell of a fight in its own right. It was Letourneau who got the unanimous decision win, with the Canadian turned Floridian the obvious next contender for Macfarlane’s title. The champ concurred stating her next fight should be with her. Letourneau stated if she keeps winning he will stay in MMA, but hinted the time maybe near for her the hang up the gloves of her nearly 11 year career.
After two upset wins, Williams also proved to be a developing star for the promotion in the loss. She is an example of Bellator investing in the future of the division. Coker told us deals like the recent one with ShamrockFC (where the champions will get Bellator contracts) will be common. He is also looking internationally; citing BAMMA as a recent example.
The post-lims saw Kerry Vera return after injury to get her first ever submission win. Vera, who originally signed to fight at flyweight, fought at strawweight for this match and is pressing for Bellator to add the division. Coker stated he would have to think about it. He world also think about a female grand prix in the future. Macfarlane expressed she would rather defend her title, but would be all for a contenders tournament.
What is next for the promotion? Bellator 202 July 13th in Kansas City will see Julia Budd defend her featherweight title against the undefeated Talita Nogueira. Former flyweight title challenger Emily Ducote looks to snap a two fight skid against Veta Arteaga and Stephanie Geltmacher looks for her second Bellator win as she takes on promotional debutante Deborah Kouzmin.
Scott Coker Post Fight Scrum Courtesy MMA Junkie