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Ilima-Lei MacFarlane has added some nice non-soccer mom scalps to her collection, too


Ilima-Lei MacFarlane came out of the professional gates in a memorable way, laying waste to a fighter whose greatest strength in the cage seemed to be foolhardy willingness. It wasn’t her fault. Katie Castro, dubbed quickly the "Soccer Mom" as her helpless beat down in the Xplode Fight Series cage went viral, happened to be MacFarlane’s MMA debut. That’s just how things shook out. It was a 10-second ass kicking that everybody — including actual soccer moms, full in their powers of empathy — could watch in mock horror on YouTube.

Still, MacFarlane came out it with a name for dishing out such a resonating dose or reality. Since then she’s made good against better competition.

Her next fight was in a Bellator cage, where she stood with Maria Rios for three rounds, and got her arm raised. She followed that up in January against Amber Tackett, whom she submitted via armbar just a couple of minutes into the action.

So where does the 26-year-old flyweight MacFarlane stand as she heads into her Bellator 157 bout against Rebecca Ruth on Friday night in St. Louis? Well, we’re still awaiting the verdict on that.

But so far she looks like a lot more than a casual soccer mom slayer.

"Not to discredit my past opponents or anything, I think they were all valid opponents, but Rebecca Ruth is definitely going to be my toughest opponent to date," MacFarlane told MMA Fighting. "She’s just super-gritty and tough, and she doesn’t go down without a fight…or she doesn’t really go down at all. But yeah, this is going to show me where I am as a fighter."

MacFarlane is a Hawaiian fighter who has since relocated to Southern California. She has trained at the San Diego Combat Academy since before her amateur career began in 2014, which in itself was an about-face. She had just finished getting her master’s degree in liberal arts and sciences with a focus on indigenous issues from San Diego State when she decided to make a go as a professional cage fighter.

That was news to her parents, who’d expected her to enter not a cage but the world of working professionals.

"They were the first ones that I called and was like, hey, I know I just finished college and I should be getting a 9 to 5 job, but do you care if I start fighting instead?" she said. "They were the ones who like, ‘do it now while you’re young, and you can fall back on your degree after.’"

If she’s an oddity in a game with so many damaged souls, it’s that she came from the right side of the tracks. And she’s all about representing the well adjusted.

"To be honest, I just want to be respected as a fighter, and remembered — oh yeah, that chick, she could scrap," she says.

"Coming from Hawaii where, it’s just a hotbed of fighters…it’s funny, because I’m not your stereotypical fighter from Hawaii, I guess you could say. Because I went to private school my whole life. I grew up in a really nice neighborhood. Most of our fighters, and I’m cool with all of them, are from the hardest parts of the island. They’re all from the west side. So I’m kind of a black sheep in that sense, so I think it would be kind of cool to represent some of the private school kids who didn’t grow up fighting on the streets. I was a really good private school girl."

MacFarlane doesn’t see the Castro fight as the springboard spectacle that delivered her to Bellator. But she does understand that been given a bigger platform faster than most fighters starting out.

And so far, to her credit, she’s seized it.

"I am super-early on in my career, and I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities that other fighters haven’t," she says. "And I think that just the way my coach’s have handled my career and the connections we’ve made, everything has worked out for the best. In women’s MMA you have to strike while the iron is hot, so yeah, I feel like I’m at the right place at the right time. It’s kind of unheard of to be signed into a big promotion after just one fight."

In Ruth (6-1), MacFarlane will not only get an upgrade in competition, but she’ll draw the villain’s role as the interloper in the cage. Ruth is a native of Missouri, and should have a sizable fanbase at the Scottrade Center.

"I’m pretty sure her kids are going to be there, too, which is a crazy advantage," she says. "It’s actually kind of funny because my coach, when he found out I was going to be fighting in Missouri he was like, alright, this is going to be your first fight where you’re the enemy. And I was like actually, it’s pretty funny because I have a lot of cousins out in Missouri — random islanders that ended up in Missouri. So I’m going to actually have quite a few people there for me. I’m not too worried about it.

"She definitely has some heavy hands, though, and she’s just relentless," she says. "She just keeps coming forward with the pressure, even if she’s getting hit. She’ll just eat up those punches and keep coming forward. She shows a lot of heart in all of her fights. I think definitely that this chick is just super-tough and super-gritty."

MacFarlane says she has a loose goal to fight until she’s 30 years old, at which time she would like to start a family. Before then, as an undefeated prospect, she wants to see how far she can go. And the farther she goes, the farther she puts the Castro fight in her rear-view mirror.

Not that she hasn’t made peace with it.

"I’m totally fine with it, because I know that my friends and family, they were backing me up," she says. "Everybody that knows me was backing me up. It would have only been an issue if they were talking sh*t about me or something. The fact that everybody came together, and said this is what really happened, we all know Ilima, but kind of just taking it in stride. We think it’s funny, and we still crack jokes about it occasionally. It’s fine. I don’t really care about it anymore."

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