Underdog Kate Jackson, the British mixed martial arts fighter who challenges for a world flyweight title, is regarded as “super under-rated” and “a sleeper” by local champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane who defends the belt for the second time in front of an adoring home crowd here in Honolulu tomorrow night. Yet Jackson will have to harness her doggedness here to make history.
Macfarlane insisted there will be not taking her eye off the ball for her fourth title defence, on this occasion against Jackson. “I’ve been studying her. I think she’s super underrated,” Macfarlane told The Daily Telegraph.
“She’s probably one of the most underrated fighters ever. She reminds me a lot of Valerie [Letourneau] in terms of experience and being composed. She’s well-rounded. She does have a tenacity when she gets into the cage. She doesn’t look like it, but she’s very psychologically strong. When she gets on top of you, there’s no escape. She’s a sleeper.”
In other words, a serious challenge to the Hawaiian’s supremacy atop the 125lb division. “I’ve been saying this… not only do I think she has the best ground game next to me in the division, but she also has a skill-set with her judoka background that I’ve never faced yet. I’ve faced karate, but not one that also has judoka.”
Macfarlane, who has risen, undefeated, to become a star on the Bellator roster and in the sport, consistently thematises her fights.
“The theme of this one is Hana Hou. That’s a Hawaiian word we yell, it’s like calling for an encore. You hear it at concerts. We’re bringing back Bellator Hawaii so it’s Hana Hou,” explained the 29-year-old who defended her crown against French Canadian Letourneau here last December.
“What we’re trying to do is recreate that atmosphere. It was such an epic night. We’re calling to do it again. Perhaps the same with my fight too, calling Hana Hou for a good fight and awesome finish,” said Ilima, who predicted to The Telegraph yesterday that she will complete a finish by submission – her speciality – towards the end of the five-round contest.
Macfarlane, though, admitted that she had taken her eye off the ball until training camp late in the summer. Macfarlane had been in London to watch Jackson win to earn her title shot. “It was crazy. I was travelling all over. My weight went up to 152lbs, which never happens. It wasn’t necessarily my intention.”
“I started getting commentary stints on television and was travelling to a lot of Bellator events. It was difficult to maintain that focus. But I’m not underestimating Kate at all. I’m very prepared for the defence.”
Macfarlane, a big favourite, is adored by the island population. “There’s no pressure. I definitely felt pressure last time because it was kind of the unknown. I didn’t know what to expect. The pressure is more trying to recreate the awesome walk out. But I don’t feel more pressure than last year.”
Waiting in the wings for her title shot, but also on this card, is Juliana Velasquez, arguably Macfarlane’s greatest challenge in the division outside Jackson, who faces Bruna Ellen.
“Whoever wins this title fight, I’ll be fighting them for the title, but I’m only focused on my next fight. That’s all I’m thinking about right now,” the undefeated Brazilian told Telegraph Sport this week.
“I think IIima-Lei will win by submission. I think it’ll be around the middle rounds. The champion must be considered the No 1 right now, not me, but I believe I beat Ilima.”
There have been suggestions that Bellator has been protecting Macfarlane from her, but Velasquez brushed that off. “I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. I’m going to be ready when the fight comes, it doesn’t matter who it is against. Everyone will see me as more motivated. I’m always improving and there’s been a lot of improvement in this camp. Everyday I grow a little. I’m chasing that No.1 spot.”