Bellator champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane: Sharing cage with Valerie Letourneau ‘huge honor’

When Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Valerie Letourneau were first spotted amicably discussing a location for their title bout, the meeting was still a hypothetical scenario.

That, as we know, changed Wednesday, when it was announced that Mcfarlane (8-0 MMA, 7-0 BMMA) will defend Bellator’s flyweight title against Letourneau (10-6 MMA, 2-0 BMMA) on Dec. 15 at the promotion’s debut event in Hawaii.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is Hawaii’s own Macfarlane’s attitude toward her opponent.

“We’re really cool with each other,” Macfarlane told MMAjunkie. “I love how respectful she is and how game she is. It’s going to be a huge honor sharing the cage with a pioneer like her.”

Letourneau sealed her shot at the title on the same night that Macfarlane defended it for the first time, at Bellator 201. After “Trouble” outpointed Kristina Williams to earn her second Bellator win, Macfarlane submitted Alejandra Lara in the night’s headliner.

Both fighters expressed their desire to fight each other then. Both did it in a very respectful manner, as well. Letourneau praised Mcfarlane’s intelligence and ability to take the fight where she wanted, while the champ praised the challenger’s efforts against Williams and was thankful for the camaraderie and “girl power” they got to share that week as they cut weight for their bouts.

At the time, Macfarlane also acknowledged another key aspect of the bout: Letourneau’s experience. At 35, with a career that goes back further than a decade, the UFC veteran has had twice as many pro bouts as Macfarlane – including battles like a five-round UFC 193 title effort against then-undefeated champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

Not even four years into her pro MMA career, having had yet to meet someone with more than eight pro bouts, Macfarlane has no problem acknowledging she’s got her toughest foe yet in Letourneau.

“I don’t know exactly how long she’s been fighting, but that was way before I even gave MMA a thought,” Macfarlane said. “So I think just her and her experience, a veteran. Obviously, she’s a great striker – but the thing with Valerie is everyone thinks she’s a striker, which she is, but she also has a really solid ground game. Overall, her game is really well rounded and really solid. So, for sure, she’s going to be the hardest opponent I’ve had to date.”

But, with all the respect she has to offer ahead of their DAZN-streamed meeting at at Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, Macfarlane also knows where she has the edge. And, with one concern already addressed – her weight – the Hawaiian already has a strategy in place to go about her preparation.

“That’s what we’re working on this camp: lots of head movement,” Macfarlane said. “Honestly, I don’t think she’s going to want to go to the ground with me. I think I have the best ground game in the division. So, she’s probably going to want to strike, so we’re just all working head movement and movement, counter-striking.”

For more on Bellator in Hawaii, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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