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Meet Alejandra Lara and the accidental journey that led her to fight for a Bellator world title

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Colombia may soon have it’s first world champion in a major international MMA organization.

On Friday night, the Antioqueña Alejandra Lara will challenge undefeated Bellator women’s flyweight champion Ilima Lei Macfarlane in the headlining bout of Bellator 201, which takes place at the Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, Calif.

Lara’s journey to fight for Bellator gold has been one shaped by hard work and dedication, but also coincidence.

“It was basically an accident,” Lara told MMA Fighting regarding her involvement in the sport. “I used to do karate and I competed for almost eight years representing Medellin and Antioquia in karate, mainly just on a national level.

“And in the process of competing, I started exploring other sports. I trained kung fu for a few months, I was invited, and I’d been competing in sanda, which is not only kickboxing, but it also involves some takedowns. So after winning a national torunament of sanda, someone invited me to do an MMA fight and it somewhat looked like what I was doing, so it was very natural to say yes. And that’s when I had my first professional fight, without having trained anything, I didn’t even know what was jiu-jitsu.”

Lara’s first professional MMA fight came at the age of 17, back in 2011. And although she had begun a career in cage fighting, Lara didn’t actually start training MMA formally for some time. At the time — and still somewhat true today — Colombia didn’t have many MMA gyms. There were schools that practiced individual martial arts, but none that put it all together.

It was a struggle to find adequate training, but Lara made it work, not really thinking about where MMA would one day lead her.

“I started competing and I began winning, but I’ll tell you that in my first fights, like in my first fight I didn’t even know how long the rounds were going to be,” Lara said with a laugh. “So that’s how I was taking it, I began saying, ‘Oh, I have to train wrestling, I have to train jiu-jitsu,’ but it was really something out my own initiative because I didn’t really have academies that offered everything.

“So through my own contacts, because I used to work at the Coliseum of Combat where there was several martial arts and contact sports, I began wrestling with a friend that invited me. I began working on techniques with her and I started training with her. From there, I was invited to train by other jiu-jitsu academies and that’s how it started.

“I never had the money to pay for an MMA academy or anything like that, but I was being invited, ‘Hey, come train with us and we’ll sponsor you,’ and that’s it.”

Lara continued to train and fight professionally, as she went to school at the University of Antioquia in Medellin and worked a regular job managing a company. Lara’s fighting career was just one thing of the many things she was juggling in her very busy life, and because of it she was competing barely once a year. However, Lara’s lack of focus on her MMA career took a detour when she fought current LFA women’s 125-pound champion and fellow paisa Sabina Mazo.

“That point came when I lost my first fight,” Lara recalled. “MMA was just one of my many hobbies and I was always doing all kinds of things, like always. Everyone that knows me, knows that I’m always doing a million different things, so that fight I simply lost it for just not being prepared enough.

“I had a million things on my mind. I was managing at a company that was growing. I was in college, so yeah, I took the fight and the fight was very rough. But even with having everything against me, I wasn’t tapped, I wasn’t knocked out, I wasn’t finished, I didn’t give up, and that’s when I thought, ‘Well, I think this is my thing.’ That’s when I started treating MMA as my career. I needed that.”

Following her first and lone professional MMA loss, Lara decided to drop her pursuit of a degree in dance, and focused her entire attention on fighting. Since, Lara moved her training to Guadalajara, Mexico, to train at Lobo Gym with the likes of Alexa Grasso and Irene Aldana — current ranked UFC fighters.

“Their female team is super strong,” Lara said. “It’s a huge motivation having women so strong training there. And it’s not that we only work with other women, we work a lot with men too, but the motivation of having them there and seeing them how they train and how skilled we all are it’s super motivating for all of us.

“We’re always working to get better by ripping each other’s head off with a lot of love.”

The connection with Lobo Gym was done through her manager Hector Castro, who met the trainers of Lobo Gym at a UFC event. Lara has been training in Guadalajara since 2015, and she has won three straight fights with them, including her Bellator debut against Lena Ovchynnikova, which Lara won with a third-round submission.

Although far away from Medellin, Lara has felt at home training with Lobo Gym. Lara says Mexico shares many things with Colombia, and that has made the process of living elsewhere a lot easier.

If successful on Friday night, the 23-year-old Lara will make history for Colombian MMA, becoming the first champion of a major international MMA organization. Lara is very aware of what’s at stake at Bellator 201.

“Up to this moment, this will be the most important thing I’ve done in my career,” Lara said. “So yeah, like you said, I can make history and I’m ready for it.

“I’ve always felt I was one of the first ones that started fighting professionally in my city and in my country,” Lara continued. “There is another Colombian that won a title at LFA, but I’m aware that this will be something very important for MMA in my country and it’s something that’s going to open more doors for me and others. So that’s what motivates me the most, the fact that I can be an example to many.”

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