Some fights are bigger than others. Much bigger. They involve the deeper soul.
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane retained her Bellator flyweight crown for the fourth time against the game British fighter Kate Jackson on Saturday night – by dominant physical shutout over twenty-five minutes – but after a huge family party Sunday, today, the reigning champ and a growing star of the ever-burgeoning fight league will head up the mountain on Monday for a greater fight with wider resonance than the mixed martial arts industry.
It is to the credit of the woman herself – educated at the same High School as former US President Barack Obama and the golfer Michelle Wie – and indeed the Bellator president Scott Coker, that the fighter has been given free reign to express her cultural and political views on the fight platform.
In short, Ilima – an extraordinary young woman, who lives and breathes her island of Hawaii – has been using her growing presence as a fighter to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her brothers and sisters protesting the construction of a Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.
There are several other telescopes up there, as many as eight, but it is displacing people who have been here for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It gives you chills when Ilima discusses it. She really is a warrior princess. A blatant disregard for culture a lack of respect for great elders.
“There are elders up there, there are people in their 50s and 60s, people in wheelchairs, there protesting for over 150 days, peacefully protesting, and I am going to join them,” she explained to Telegraph Sport as we travelled back to her hotel after she had won every one of the five rounds against Jackson, as sturdy a Brit as you will ever see in a combat arena.
“I’ve already made two trips to the big island since day one and I’m going to go up again after my fight. I’m still very passionate about it. In fact, my walkout was dedicated to what’s happening up on the the Mauna. It felt like I was fighting for a lot more than a world title. I’m fighting for an entire nation of my people, of native Hawaiians, of elders. And they are peaceful in their struggle.”
Coker, meanwhile, added his weight to Macfarlane’s cause. “We had no issue with Ilima projecting her beliefs on her walkout. She is a star in fight sports, the reason we brought Bellator to Hawaii, and she is someone who is unique and has placed herself amongst causes in life which concern her. How can we not allow her the right to put her beliefs out there,” explained the fight league leader who moves swiftly to Tokyo, Japan, next weekend for a battle between two MMA legends in Fedor Emelianenko and Rampage Jackson, two superstars of the fight firmament who never met in the heyday of combat sports in Japan.
Coker, like Macfarlane, is about expansionism, change and development. But in the right context. And at the right time. It is reflected in the way the fight athletes can express themselves.
Macfarlane used her walkout to reflect the issues being faced by native Hawaiians.
Mauna Kea, for example, is the most sacred mountain to the native Hawaiian people.
“Not only is it considered desecration that they are building the world’s largest telescope atop that mountain, even though we’ve resisted them at every step of the way, but that land is legally supposed to be used for the betterment of the Hawaiian people. It has not,” Macfarlane told one of the MMA websites, Blood Elbow, here in an interview last week.
“It has been mismanaged over decades and decades of audits. It’s degraded the environment up there. Mauna Kea is connected to the island’s aquasystem. The island’s water supply is in that mountain.”
“It’s a sacred place for Hawaiian people. If you know Hawaii’s history, it’s not just about a mountain. It’s not about science vs. culture. It’s about centuries of oppression and native Hawaiian lands being stolen,” MacFarlane continued.
“Our queen being illegally overthrown and being an illegally occupied state. It’s not just about a telescope anymore. Hawaiians are rising up right now and we’re saying everything else. We live on an island with finite resources and we keep having everything taken away from us.”
As Macfarlane explained – it was ‘Uncle Scott’ who brought her to Hawaii – there is “always a bigger picture than just fighting, because when the fight is over, we return to our lives”. Macfarlane, indeed, added that the objective, much as she has found a niche for her physicality, is to “improve not only as a fighter, but as a human being”.
While the bigger picture grows – and that also includes the prospect of Bellator creating a 125lb twelve-month women’s flyweight tournament in 2020 including Macfarlane and Jackson – another young tyro proved his mettle on Saturday night after a reckless start, when AJ McKee, a native of Los Angeles, submitted Derek Campos in a brilliant jiu jitsu twist to the tale in the third round to advance to the last eight of Bellator’s intriguing featherweight tournament.
It was a step towards winning the $1 million dollars for the winner, and another stage towards challenging featherweight crown currently held by Patricio Pitbull Friere.
It might have been MMA brilliance in an escape into victory from McKee, in a huge learning fight against a grizzled veteran, but not enough to top the resonance of the fighting journey being projected by Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, the warrior princess of Hawaii.
Bellator 236: Macfarlane vs. Jackson Main Card:
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (11-0) defeated Kate Jackson (11-4-1) via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-44, 50-44)
Photo Credit: LUCAS NOONAN/BELLATOR