When April 22nd comes around, Bellator will once again return to the shores of Oahu for their annual Hawaii event. Their first in the post-pandemic world. The first night will be a military appreciation event but on April 23, the Queen of Hawaii MMA makes her much-anticipated return to the cage.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, Hawaii’s most violent daughter takes on Justine Kish in her first bout in over a year. Coming off the first loss in her career, Macfarlane looks to make a statement as she climbs back towards the Bellator Women’s Flyweight World Championship. However, when Macfarlane steps inside the cage, she is fighting for more than her lost title. She fights for her family, for Hawaii, and for those who couldn’t fight back.
Her Return Home
Hawaii’s MMA history is proud and long. Dating back to the days beyond Dan Severn, the Neil Blaisdell Center served as home to Hawaii’s fighting lineage and the famous Superbrawl. However mainstream organizations like Pride or UFC wouldn’t dare touch Hawaii for a variety of reasons.
The state which helped the sport navigate the dark ages remained without the highest level of the sport it loves so much. In December of 2018, that all changed when Bellator announced a two-night Hawaiian event culminating with the title defense of native daughter Ilima-Lei Macfarlane.
Macfarlane would make her second title defense against UFC veteran Valerie Letourneau. Macfarlane would easily defend her title with a third-round triangle choke victory, however, her impact was made before she entered the ring. With four men dressed in traditional Native Hawaiian garb, they chanted while holding four Hawaiian flags in one of the most culturally significant and goosebump-inducing displays of all time in MMA. It would be an easy night with a crowd sent home happy.
One Year Later
Macfarlane would return one year later to Hawaii where she defended her title against Kate Jackson. I was in attendance for this fight and amongst the excited, nervous, and severely hammered Hawaii crowd, we all waited for what Ilima-Lei was gonna do next. When it came time for her to enter the cage, Iliam-Lei alongside her fellow Hawaiian women took the stage to offer a shocking performance and statement made on national television. Mana Wahine which translates to Powerful Women used their voice and dance to protest the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on top of Mauna Kea (The tallest peak in the world from Sea Level). Dressed in Haku crowns and leis, the Mana Wahine sent a message to the world. “We reject TMT” and that they are the protectors of the Mountain. Ku Kia’i Mauna.
Backed by a Native American woman who I believe was a representative of the Sioux tribe, representing their struggle against the Keystone XL pipeline, Macfarlane delivered her finest performance yet. As she walked to the cage as she’s done so previously, to Dennis Pavao’s All Hawaii Stand Together, she was greeted by a sold-out crowd singing along. Kate Jackson lost before the fight started. Trust me when I say the singing went on long after Macfarlane returned to the locker room.
Come April 2022, though it will be Macfarlane’s first MMA bout in Hawaii post-pandemic, it won’t be her first fight. Not only does she continue to fight for Native Hawaiians and their rights, but Ilima-Lei and her sister Mahina also filed a lawsuit against her former high school, the prestigious Punahou. Punahou is one of the oldest educational institutions in America with famous alumni Barack Obama and Steve Case (founder of AOL).
Macfarlane claims an athletics coach engaged in sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and distribution of pornographic materials to minors during her time there. She also claims Punahou officials were notified and swept the matter under the rug. To add fuel to the fire, her father Walter was unexpectedly fired from his position as a proctor for the school not long after Macfarlane made such accusations. Both the Macfarlane sisters, University of Hawaii basketball star Shawna-Lei Kuehu, and two others reached a settlement as Punahou offered a public acceptance and apology for what happened.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is a champion both inside and outside the cage, however that glorious title remains out of her hands. As she begins her first step towards the title and the next step in her career, only one thing is certain. Win or lose come April 23, there has always been more at stake for Macfarlane and she has always come through.
Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images