The crazy part about the way it all ended up going down is that Ilima Macfarlane just wanted a fight.
She'd fought six times as an amateur. At Team Hurricane Awesome, Macfarlane's San Diego-based gym, there's a rule: You have to win six amateur fights before you're allowed to turn professional. Macfarlane kept up her end of the bargain, and last November, she decided to make the leap into the professional ranks in early 2015.
But ever since making the decision, fights were a little harder to come by. Her promoter, the San Diego-area Xplode Fight Series, had called on potential opponents from Los Angeles and the surrounding areas but didn't find any takers. McFarlane wanted to fight someone, but nobody wanted to fight her.
Finally, she had an opponent lined up for Xplode's January fight card. But then her scheduled opponent was injured, because of course she was, and Macfarlane was back to playing the guessing game. Her coaches decided to forge ahead with the training camp anyway, because Xplode had a knack for finding opponents at the last minute.
Of course, Xplode developed this knack by finding opponents of questionable skill level to help pad the records of fighters it was trying to build. A recent spreadsheet put together by Suzanne Davis—a must-follow on Twitter if there ever was one—demonstrates just how flawed and downright gross Xplode's matchmaking tendencies can be.
But again, Macfarlane just wanted to fight. So she proceeded with training, dutifully going to the gym each morning and putting in the work. And it wasn't until the day of the fight that she found out she'd be facing Katie Castro.
On the surface, Castro was sporting an 0-2 record at the time. She'd fought (and lost) to Kristi Lopez, who was now signed to the Invicta roster. And if you look at things on the surface, you might say, "Hey, Katie Castro has faced some decent talent. Perhaps this is a good replacement opponent for Macfarlane, a dedicated fighter who trains every day to be her absolute best." Perhaps you'd say, "Good job, Xplode."
Or perhaps not. Because then you see the video, and you see Castro wade out of her corner without a visible clue as to what she should be doing. You see Macfarlane destroy her standing, then knock her down and then out cold with a punch while Castro clumsily gets back to her knees. Then, you see Macfarlane walk back to her corner with something resembling regret flashing across her face.
You see the video go viral, approaching 1 million views on YouTube. "Soccer Mom vs. MMA Fighter" becomes a viral sensation, even though there's no real evidence Castro is, in fact, a soccer mom, outside of her obvious lack of anything resembling mixed martial arts skill.
"All I knew was that she had two fights. They were both against fighters signed to Invicta. I do remember seeing her fight against Lopez, because I was on that same card. She was aggressive. She pushed Kristi against the cage and held her there. And then Kristi was able to take her down to the ground and get a TKO," Macfarlane tells Bleacher Report.
"So I was like, OK, this chick may not be the most technical fighter. She's still aggressive. She's still physically strong. So I wasn't put off by the fact that she wasn't technically skilled."
The video didn't go viral until five months after the fight, which struck Macfarlane as a little weird. She began receiving a ton of requests for interviews but turned them all down; she was already in discussions for a contract with Bellator, and she didn't want the publicity to endanger a potential deal.
"But I also got really creepy messages," she says with a laugh. "It was crazy. I got this really creepy, sexual stuff online. It was just weird, but I thought it was funny."
Macfarlane's deal with Bellator was finalized. She'll make her debut Aug. 28 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino when she faces Maria Rios, who is, in fact, not a soccer mom. There is a lot riding on the fight for Macfarlane, far more than would normally be the case for a 1-0 professional fighter making her debut.
Because right now, she's known as "that woman who knocked out the soccer mom. Did you see that video, and wasn't it hilarious?" But the reality is that she puts in far too much work for that video, that 15 seconds of brutal fame, to be the defining moment of her career.
"People were wondering if I can really fight or if I'm a fraud. I feel like the pressure is on, but I totally welcome it," she says. "I want to prove to everybody that I'm a legitimate fighter. I belong here in Bellator. Come at me."
Jeremy Botter covers mixed martial arts for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.
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