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Ilima MacFarlane leans on Liz Carmouche as she copes with MMA’s fast pace

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Ilima MacFarlane Esther Lin photo

When Ilima MacFarlane first walked into the San Diego Combat Academy a couple years back, she hadn’t a clue about Liz Carmouche.

Anyone who has followed mixed martial arts awhile, of course, could tell you Carmouche is one of the sport’s true trailblazing fighters. Not only was the Iraq War Marine Corps vet the sport’s first openly LGBT competitor, but she also participated in the first women’s fight in UFC history, when she had a memorable bout against Ronda Rousey at UFC 157.

And Carmouche added to her list of firsts a few weeks back when she defeated Katlyn Chookagian in the opening match of UFC 205, making Carmouche the first MMA fighter of either gender to have their arm raised in victory at Madison Square Garden.

But no, when MacFarlane showed up at the school in San Diego’s Mission Valley neighborhood, she was just a recent college grad who wanted to get in better shape, no more and no less.

“I had no idea who Liz was,” MacFarlane said. “That’s how little I knew about MMA at the time. I just wanted to lose a little weight and get in better shape and this place caught my eye because I’d drive past there and it didn’t look like all the other gyms. One thing kind of led to another, I started taking classes and next thing you know I’m a fighter.”

Not only is MacFarlane a fighter, but she’s quickly turning into SDCA’s best prospect since Carmouche herself. The undefeated flyweight will look to improve her record to 5-0 on Saturday when she meets Emily Ducote (4-1) on the co-feature bout of Bellator 167 on Saturday night in Thackerville, Okla.

“It’s been kind of crazy seeing how fast this all came together,” MacFarlane said. “I know I’ve gotten opportunities faster than a lot of people who have put years and years of effort into this sport and I know others won’t get this chance. But at the same time, life comes at you pretty fast and when the opportunity is there you need to take advantage of it, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Indeed, MacFarlane has gained notoriety in the sport faster than most. It started with the infamous “soccer mom” video, in which she defeated an overmatched opponent via quick knockout in a video that went viral. MacFarlane was then signed by Bellator in the wake of the controversy. MacFarlane has justified Bellator’s move as something much more than just as publicity stunt, as she has gone on to prove legitimacy as a competitor with victories over opponents of steadily increasing quality.

Now, less than two years removed from the “soccer mom” fight, MacFarlane finds herself mentioned as a possible future Bellator flyweight champion. And for that, she’s grateful to have Carmouche in her corner.

“Liz has been there and done that,” said MacFarlane, who cornered Carmouche at UFC 205. “She went from no pro experience in MMA to going four rounds with Marloes Coenen [in a 2011 Strikeforce title fight] in a year. And then from there it was only a couple years to the Ronda Rousey fight. So, I mean, when I do find myself thinking about what a whirlwind it’s been, Liz is there with advice on how to handle it and how to stay focused on your goals.”

That long-term focus should come into play this weekend, as MacFarlane goes into Oklahoma and takes on an Oklahoman on her home turf in Ducote. After dropping her first career bout, Ducote has won four in a row, including submission victories in both of her Bellator fights.

With Bellator taking longer than expected on its plans to institute a women’s flyweight title, MacFarlane sees this as an unofficial championship match.

“She’s the most well-rounded fighter I’ve faced in my career,” said MacFarlane, who herself has a pair of submission wins to her credit. “I almost feel like I’m fighting a mirror image of myself skills-wise, so I need to show my skills are superior. The way I see this, this is the unofficial title fight, the chance to show Bellator I should be the champion. I’m going to make it so that when they do make the title, they’ll have no choice but to have me fight for it.”