It was 500 days between fights come Saturday night at Bellator 279 for Ilima-Lei Macfarlane.
500 days, counting the day of, since she’d lost her women’s flyweight title. Since she had last competed. That’s a lot of time away from any job, but for fighting, where careers often come and go inside of a decade, it was a chunk of Macfarlane’s prime eaten up.
Welcoming “The Iliminator” back to the cage on Saturday in Honolulu, Hawaii was UFC alum Justine Kish. Also welcoming her, a raucous Hawaiian crowd, treating Macfarlane like royalty.
Kish, however, was eager to rain on the Hawaiian’s parade. And she did just that.
Macfarlane got right to work on Saturday, jabbing her way inside and changing levels for a takedown. Justine Kish, who had openly wondered whether the promotion had seen her as a tomato can in booking the fight, had other ideas. She reversed, and when the pair did go to the ground, it was Kish on top.
A scramble moments later, however, and they were back to their feet. Macfarlane, again, hunted for a takedown but couldn’t find it. Instead they reset at center. Macfarlane led the dance, with Kish playing the counter game, circling on the outside. They’d exchange, briefly, when Macfarlane cut off the cage and had Kish trapped; she’d escape, and soon fought off another takedown attempt.
Come the end of the round, one thing was clear: if Justine Kish had been positioned as a stepping stone of any sort, she certainly wasn’t going to go quietly.
That was reiterated early in the second. When Macfarlane moved in for a takedown, Kish latched on with an arm-in guillotine. Macfarlane fell to her back, Kish on top of her, still holding on to the choke. Macfarlane would gut it out, then grab on with a heel hook. Kish fought that off, and they’d get back to the feet after a frankly thrilling sequence.
Macfarlane would next catch a kick, driving Kish back to the fence. Kish reversed, and landed a throw takedown moments later. Macfarlane, off her back, kept her guard high, perhaps thinking about a triangle. But Kish stayed on her like glue, forgoing strikes and even improving her position in favor of just getting some control time. When Kish postured up, Macfarlane was there to threaten submissions; Kish was soon right back on her, but finally opted to back off and let the Hawaiian up.
Heading to the third, as cliche as it might sound, it was still anyone’s fight. Kish stayed mobile on the outside early on, and took some decent swings when Macfarlane moved in. Kish fired a kick to the body, mixing things up a bit, but it was her hands doing most of the work. Despite the winner-take-all nature of the round, however, the first half was a low-volume affair. Macfarlane then clipped Kish with a right hand, dropping her, but it was Kish getting on top afterward! Macfarlane looked for a buggy choke, but Kish freed herself and began landing shots to the body and head. Kish then moved to mount, but Macfarlane escaped out the back door — only to give up her arm! Kish went from arm-bar to omoplata, but Macfarlane scrambled free and took the back in the final seconds!
Both @JustineKish and @ilimanator leaving it all in the cage.#Bellator279 is LIVE on @SHOsports pic.twitter.com/EDWAfr75oN
— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) April 24, 2022
It was Kish raising her hands in victory at the bell, however, with Macfarlane walking to her corner, looking dejected. She clearly knew what the judges would later confirm: Kish had flipped the script and played spoiler.
Official Result: Justine Kish def. Ilima-Lei Macfarlane by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)