Bellator women’s flyweight Justine Kish returned to the win column in April, pulling off a huge upset against Ilima-Lei Macfarlane in the former champ’s native Hawaii.
Kish (8-5) now steps into the cage for the third time in 2022 against DeAnna Bennett later this month — a rematch of their February contest, which saw Bennett capture a unanimous decision victory.
For Kish, it’s a fight she began asking for almost immediately after the loss.
“I asked for this rematch. Heck I asked for a rematch against DeAnna after that fight. That same night,” Kish told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “I knew she dodged a bullet. DeAnna dodged a bullet that night that we fought, because I feel like, my complaint in the fight is like man, we never really got going. It felt like we were just sparring, and it felt like we were just kind of warming up. I didn’t understand what was happening. She was definitely dominating, for sure, with control and great grappling, but she did not experience any hits to the capacity that I wanted her to feel it.”
Kish would have fought DeAnna again the same night if it was allowed, she added. “Obviously they can’t do that, but I 100% would have fought her that same exact night again, and I think it would have been a different story.”
Now, Kish intends to show in the rematch “the real me, the real performer, the real fighter. And I’m really excited to showcase this, because I asked for it.”
The Macfarlane win came at both an opportune time for the 34-year old, while having an extremely fortuitous outcome. Kish went from an unranked fighter on a three-fight skid to a ranked flyweight with the biggest win of her career under her belt, over a former champion and promotional darling.
The feeling afterward, said Kish, “was relief, it was excitement, and it was a sense of, man, everything coming together the way I had planned and worked so hard for. I knew that was going to happen, just because the way the preparations went through camp, and how everything started coming together.”
Ring rust and surgery and family tragedy hampered her in previous bouts, but ahead of the Macfarlane fight, Kish added that she had the “right people” around her. Including Bellator women’s featherweight champ Cris Cyborg. Kish had actually reached out to Cyborg earlier in her career, but the Brazilian legend was working with Kish’s opponent at the time.
They reconnected later on. “After my third loss in a row, we started training like crazy together, and man, I really needed more aggressive females and that pressure, that competition pressure. That’s really what I needed,” Kish explained. “Cris really showed me the holes in my game in MMA, and what I needed to capitalize on.”
“I’m just so fortunate that she came into my life. Yeah maybe I could have used her help in the beginning of my MMA career, but everything happens for a reason, right? Heck even if I hadn’t had the losses I had lost, I wouldn’t have come across the people I’m with right now that are helping me make strides every single day towards my goals.”
Despite struggling through a rough patch between her exit from the UFC and first fight in Bellator, including the loss of her mother and multiple knee surgeries, there was never a though in Justine Kish’s mind that she wouldn’t fight again.
“It’s not in my character to give up, ever. I was a fighter at birth. I was abandoned at birth, I grew up in orphanages in St. Petersburg, Russia,” Kish stated. “All I’ve known is to fight, and to always do my best and to not give up. I know the kind of exit I would like to have in this career, and it’s not going to be because of a win or because of a loss, it’s going to be because the audience got to see me at my best at this. And when I feel like I can’t go anymore, I’m going to transition to something else. It’s not going to be based off wins, it’s not going to be based off losses. Hopefully, fingers crossed, it’s not going to be based off of injuries.”
Justine Kish meets DeAnna Bennett for the second time on Friday, August 12, 2022 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.