Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is known almost as much for her memorable arena entrances as she is for her world-class submission game.
The undefeated Bellator flyweight champion has put together elaborate routines for her biggest fights, based on her indigenous Hawaiian heritage and usually including legendary coach Manolo Hernandez. Her entrances at Bellator events in Honolulu in front of adoring hometown crowds, in particular, have been among the most memorable moments in Bellator history.
But the COVID-19 era has meant for major changes in the way mixed martial arts is presented. Bellator recently returned after an absence of nearly five months, and has followed the blueprint set by other combat sports promotions: empty arenas, social distancing, and a minimal of histrionics.
So that means big productions are out for now, but Macfarlane (11-0 MMA, 10-0 BMMA) recently let MMA Junkie Radio in on a little secret: She doesn’t mind.
“I’m actually really looking forward to not having a crowd at my next fight,” Macfarlane said. “That saves me so much energy and time and money when nobody can come watch. Because I, when it’s a big fight week for me, I’m getting hotel rooms for my family, I’m getting ready, I’m getting all of the extra things, so I’m actually looking forward to not having a crowd there.
“Although, yes, I do put on these elaborate walkouts, again, it still takes time and energy that goes into it,” she continued. “So now I’m actually stoked to have a much smaller scale, just get in there, get the job done. I’m excited about that.”
So don’t expect a big presentation next time Macfarlane, who does not yet have a fight lined up, steps into the cage.
But don’t worry. Macfarlane assures this isn’t going to be a permanent thing, and the big entrances will return when the time is right.
“For sure, don’t worry I have a lot of things in mind for future fights,” she said. “But it will be nice to take a little break.”