An unexpected journey: Macfarlane’s rapid rise to MMA stardom surprised everyone, even herself

An unexpected journey: Macfarlane’s rapid rise to MMA stardom surprised everyone, even herself

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s been quite the rise for Hawaii’s Ilima-Lei Macfarlane.

Just five years ago she was just a college student at San Diego State University. A longtime athlete, she decided she needed a creative outlet to work out while getting back into shape.

What happened next, however, changed the outlook of her life completely.

Macfarlane stumbled upon 10th planet Jiu-Jitsu, an elite and evolutionary form of the famed martial art. As he continued to show up, Macfarlane soon realized she had an aptitude for the sport.

"We have this joke here at the Gym that I'm the accidental champion," Macfarlane said. "It really did kind of happen on accident, I walked into this gym wanting to lose weight,I said I want to do something fun instead of running on a treadmill."

Training in mixed martial arts started out as a hobby but quickly turned into an obsession.

She began training day and night. Her head coach Manolo Hernandez remembers seeing his pupil for the first time.

"Ilima-Lei came in here on the first day; tough girl," Hernandez said. "But she was just so exhausted that first day she got tired during the warm-up. But I knew she was going to do well. She just had a different kind of spark to her."

Manolo Fernandez has cornered Macfarlane since she began fighting.

Hernandez is a veteran of the fight game and knows talent when he sees it, early on he knew Macfarlane could be destined for greatness.

"I have a sense, you know. I have worked with people at the highest level," he said. "I can see who got it right away. I just have a good sense about those things and I knew Ilima was going to be great."

In just a short time, she has gone from a rising prospect to Bellator champion.

Macfarlane is an island girl who chased her dreams, even if they took her far away from the comforts of home.

Her dreams have now brought her back to the islands this weekend and she hopes to inspire other local girls to chase theirs.

"Native women and girls actually face the highest rates of violence," she said. "I want to show them that you can be a strong female you can have a voice you can be a strong woman you don't need to fit society's expectations you can go be whatever you want."

Macfarlane will make her second defense of the Bellator women’s flyweight title this Saturday at Bellator 213, taking place at the Blaisdell arena. Main card begins at 5 p.m. H.T

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