Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei MacFarlane knew she was going to face a rush of emotions in her last title defense that took place in her native Hawaii.
Even before she walked out to the cage, MacFarlane already had tears streaming down her face from the joy she felt to finally compete in front of her friends and family at home.
“Obviously it was super emotional,” MacFarlane told MMANews ahead of her next fight at Bellator 220.”I was crying on my way out to the cage. I was crying afterwards. I was even crying in the locker room backstage before I even walked out. It was a very, very emotional week.
“I still cry every single time I watch, no joke. Emotional, that would be the way to describe it.”
It’s a special moment in her career that she will never forget but MacFarlane says she has no problem putting that behind her to focus on what’s next.
This Saturday night at Bellator 220, MacFarlane defends her title against Veta Artega in San Jose.
While Artega is not as high profile as MacFarlane’s last opponent Valerie Letourneau, she still brings an aggressive, fast-paced style that has allowed her to earn win four fights inside the Bellator cage with her only two losses coming by way of split decision.
Another potential landmine that MacFarlane will be forced to sidestep this weekend is avoiding the emotional hangover that comes from such a monumental occasion like what she celebrated with her last fight.
Like an NFL team who can’t quite duplicate the same success the season after winning a Super Bowl, MacFarlane knows the dangers that go along with celebrating a past accomplishment for so long that it affects what comes next.
“It was actually really easy for me to prepare for this fight. I think part of the reason is that I’m really excited for this one,” MacFarlane said. “It’s a completely different opponent and it creates a different challenge. Like I said earlier, even though I love Hawaii and fighting at home, I need to change it up and San Jose was a perfect opportunity.
“It was pretty easy for me because I never overlook any of my opponents, despite what it says on paper, I treat every, single opponent as if they are the most dangerous opponent I will ever face.”
MacFarlane will walk into the fight as a decided favorite to beat Artega but that’s another reason she’s taken this title defense so seriously.
MacFarlane knows that Artega has nothing to lose and so she can go for broke in her attempt to become the new Bellator flyweight champion. In many ways, MacFarlane says she has to adapt to that same attitude to maintain her composure and ultimately pull off the win on Saturday night.
“You can’t get complacent with any aspect of your training. You can’t get complacent,” MacFarlane urged. “Yes, sure, I feel more comfortable with my camps now because I know what’s expected of me but I know that my opponent is training their ass off and they have nothing to lose. I have everything to lose. So what’s going to stop them from trying to rip my head off. It’s almost like you have to keep that fire lit under you.
“You have to have that same mentality going in. It gets tough keeping the belt because the bullseye is on your back and everybody wants it. I definitely prepare myself mentally for every fight that there is a very, very real possibility that I could lose and as long as I accept that, I think it makes it easier to go balls to the wall.