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Bellator 220: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane bloodies Arteaga to retain women’s flyweight title

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Robert Cartagena/SFBay
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane answers questions during the Bellator 220 post-fight press conference at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on April 27, 2019.

Bellator Women’s Flyweight Champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane made her third successful title defense against Veta Arteaga Saturday night inside the SAP Center – but not in the manner she may have expected.

Macfarlane (10-0) retained her title via third-round TKO in the Bellator 220 co-main event after she landed a takedown and delivered an elbow to Arteaga’s forehead that produced excessive bleeding.

Referee Jason Herzog called off the bout upon suggestion from the cageside physician after examining the severity of Arteaga’s wound.

Macfarlane told SFBay post-fight that she heard what sounded like bone cracking when her elbow connected against Arteaga’s forehead and only noticed the bleeding after they got back up to their feet.

She also acknowledged the crowd’s disappointment following the stoppage:

“I know that they wanted to see more and I totally agree with them, so I totally understand the crowd’s frustration. Nobody wants to get a doctor’s stoppage in a championship fight, especially somebody like Veta who’s just a warrior. She would have fought with a cracked skull, she would have kept going.”       

Arteaga was unavailable for comment after being taken to the hospital.

Macfarlane said that while she wasn’t able to speak to her after the fight, she told Arteaga (5-3) before the result was announced that she is next in line for a rematch.

She also said she believes a rematch in her birthplace of Hawaii would be monumental:

“Hawaii would love this. They love their scrappers, so I know Veta would be popular. I know the crowd would love it, the fans would love it. So I think that’s actually perfect. I almost feel like this was meant to happen because Veta and I were supposed to see each other in an atmosphere like Hawaii.”   

Judges Brandon Saucedo and Marcos Rosales scored the bout 19-19 at the time of the stoppage while Wade Vierra had Arteaga winning 20-18.

SFBay also had the fight even heading into the third round.

Known for her fierce striking, Arteaga, 123.8, displayed strong wrestling defense which made it difficult for Macfarlane to land her patented takedowns early on.

The challenger also successfully landed some knees to Macfarlane’s head to prevent another takedown attempt towards the end of the first round.

But the champion controlled a good portion of the second round on the ground from the full mount position. Despite a bloody nose and what appeared to be some bleeding from the right side of her head, Macfarlane, 124.8, finished the round strong with a left leg kick followed by a straight right hand.

Macfarlane acknowledges herself as a slow starter and said that despite being aware she was behind on the scorecards, she was confident she would secure a stoppage in the third round – the same round she previously stopped challengers Valérie Létourneau and Alejandra Lara last year:

“I knew what was going on and I was just waiting for my moment. I knew it would happen, it’s always about waiting for that moment and capitalizing on it. That was literally the one strike that I threw in her guard – it was that one elbow. So it was just make the most of it.”

Despite the disappointing finish, Macfarlane, who previously visited San Jose in September for Bellator 206, said competing inside the SAP Center was amazing and she would not only love to fight there again, but could also potentially see the Bay Area becoming a second home:

“While it might not be in Southern California, it’s just as good because it’s one plane ride away from Hawaii. My family can come up here and I actually have lots of family up here, lots of cousins. So yeah, it’s nice. Even though it’s like an eight-hour drive, people can still make it. So that would be really cool.”

The San Diego resident made quite a splash in her professional MMA debut in January 2015, disposing of Katie Castro in only 10 seconds.

She has racked up nine consecutive victories (including Saturday’s Arteaga stoppage) since signing with Bellator that same year.  

Among those victories is a fifth-round submission of Emily Ducote to become Bellator’s inaugural female flyweight champion and the aforementioned defenses against Lara and Létourneau.

Macfarlane acknowledges great fighters like Holly Holm, Michelle Waterson and Rose Namajunas for being influential to her career and reminding her of the importance of becoming a positive role model to younger and older women:

“I do want to show women and little girls that you can be genuine, you can be yourself in this sport and still find success. You don’t need to sell out, you don’t need to get fake boobs, you don’t need to do any of this stuff. You can be genuine and true to yourself and be a world champion. You can freaking become a homeowner without the help of a man.”

While still an undefeated champion, Macfarlane said she doesn’t want to be remembered for her unblemished record and championship accolades, but rather how she carried herself inside and outside the cage:

“You’ve been seeing a lot of negative stories in the headlines about fighters, and you don’t have to be an asshole to be a champion. You can actually use your platform to do better and just make this world not such a shitty place. That’s the legacy I want to leave behind – for people to not remember me for my fight career and my MMA career, but to remember me for how I made them feel and what I did for the world.”

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