Bellator Flyweight champion Ilima-lei Macfarlane will have a hero’s welcome when she faces Valerie Létourneau in her native Hawaii at Bellator 213 on Saturday night.
Similar to her Hawaiian neighbor Max Holloway, Ilima “The Ilimanator” Macfarlane is a perfect example of fighter development paying off. She began her Bellator career at a green 1-0 and has turned away seven consecutive opponents since then, including winning and defending the inaugural flyweight title. At a time when Bellator is enjoying the tidal wave of free agents over the last two years, Macfarlane has won over fans with her affable demeanor and become one of the most recognizable faces in the company. Her fight against Alejandra Lara stands as one of the highest rated cards for Bellator this year with numbers that broke 700,000.
Outside the cage, Macfarlane has taken full advantage of her platform. While endorsements have made their way to her, she has also worked on giving back in the form of the “The Ilimanator Inaugural Scholarship” which helps young indigenous women. After her title defense against Lara in Temecula, Macfarlane introduced several recipients and brought awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Movement while speaking to the media.
But while Macfarlane is the woman of the moment, Valérie “Trouble” Létourneau is intent on having her day in the sun before her career is over. Létourneau is best known for her stint in the UFC, specifically for battling then strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk in a five round effort just minutes before the historic upset of Ronda Rousey by Holly Holm.
However, just as quickly as she rose to fighting in Australia against the best in the world, so too did her fortunes take a turn. Létourneau dropped back-to-back bouts after challenging for the title: getting stopped by Joanne Calderwood and then dropping a decision to unknown Viviane Pereira. She was released from the UFC in 2016 and did not fight again until her Bellator debut a year later.
In two fights, she’s had a resurgence in turning away developing contenders in Kate Jackson and Kristina Williams. Létourneau admitted after her fight with “Warhorse” that had she come up short, she very likely could have been done in the sport after her struggles to get into the win column. While there are many questions about where she is at in her career, she is unquestionably the most experienced opponent Macfarlane has ever faced.
Stylistically, the fight figures to pit Macfarlane’s wrestling against the striking of Létourneau. The Canadian challenger must look to frustrate the champion with speed and variety. While there is a great threat of the takedown, she must incorporate kicks into her attack as the ability to hamper Macfarlane’s mobility in a five round contest will pay dividends down the stretch.
Macfarlane will carry the advantage of physicality. A natural flyweight, the champion should look to get in the face of Letourneau and initiate the clinch often. Against the fence, Macfarlane can force Létourneau to carry her weight while eliminating the threat of her striking. “The Ilimanator” will have her best route to success on the mat, maintaining a steady pace to break down the challenger with ground-and-pound and search for submission attempts.
A win for Macfarlane will bolster her star power, with opponents like Kristina Williams or the winner of Alejandra Lara vs Juliana Velasquez as possibilities for her. Létourneau may ride off into the sunset with a victory, but a rematch with Macfarlane while the rest of the division continues to develop could be another choice. Regardless, the pressure will be on for Macfarlane to deliver on the island, while the pressure will be on Létourneau to spoil her homecoming.