From a grand MMA perspective, Hawaii’s Ilima-Lei Macfarlane may not be the biggest name on Bellator 279‘s star-studded card, but she will still likely be the event’s biggest draw.

On Saturday, the Punahou alumna and Oahu native will kick off the main card of Bellator 279 with a flyweight bout against Justine Kish, which begins at 4:30 p.m. at the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena.

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Saturday will be Macfarlane’s first fight since losing the Bellator women’s flyweight belt to Juliana Velasquez at Bellator 254 on Dec. 10, 2020. It was her first professional loss, dropping her career record to 11-1.

When Macfarlane takes the cage on Saturday to face Kish, it will be her first fight in 499 days. But it’s a point she almost didn’t reach. Lingering knee injuries caused her to contemplate retirement. After rest and rehabilitation, Macfarlane is ready to again stake her claim as Bellator’s best.

“Once I got back into training camp, once I got that date and when they told me it was going to be back in Hawaii, I was like, ‘Gosh, what was I thinking?’ I was crazy thinking I was going to retire,” Macfarlane told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “How could I give this up? So, yeah, it’s definitely not on the books in the near future for me and again, being able to come here to Hawaii, I’m like, ‘Man if I could fight in Hawaii for the rest of my career, let’s do it. Let’s make it happen.'”

Bellator will hold two fight cards on consecutive days on Friday and Saturday, marking the organization’s first foray to the islands since December 2019. A bevy of local talent will be on display over the weekend, an opportunity provided by Macfarlane’s rise in the Bellator ranks, which culminated in the organization holding a card in Hawaii for the first time in 2018. When Macfarlane’s career comes to an eventual end, she knows bringing high-level MMA to the islands will be a part of her legacy.

“The day is going to come when you’re going to have to pass the torch and that day is coming pretty soon,” Macfarlane said. “I knew that Bellator would have made it to the island eventually, it was going to happen, but it’s pretty cool to say that I was the first. It was just the perfect storm, the perfect timing for everything and I’m glad to have been able to accelerate the process and put more eyes on our incredible local talent that we have here.”