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After a bit of uncertainty clouded flyweight up and comer Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s first year in MMA, 2016 ended up being solidifying, as it gave her the confidence to move forward in the sport knowing it was the right choice to pursue it.

Wins in all three of her bouts, including two finishes, really helped Macfarlane see this was the path she wanted to take.

“I think you can see from my first fight in January to my third fight in December how much I grew as a fighter,” Macfarlane told MMAWeekly.com. “I think 2016 was a turning point for me in whether or not I wanted to do this; whether I can see myself fighting. It was definitely a pivotal year for me.”

It is her mindset more so than any technical skill that Macfarlane feels benefited most from 2016.

“I think the biggest change for me was my confidence in myself and my abilities,” she said. “I never really fully accepted myself in fighting because it was never my plan to become a fighter. I didn’t know if it was for me.

Ilima-Lei Macfarlane - Bellator 141 weigh“I thought I might have been a fraud because I didn’t have that burning desire to be a fighter. But last year I gained confidence in my abilities and knew I could do this and be a fighter.”

While her outlook on fighting was the biggest change for Macfarlane, she does feel she was able to improve the skillset she had the least amount of experience in prior to turning to MMA.

“I’m always looking to improve, especially with my striking game,” said Macfarlane. “I had a wrestling background, so I gravitated towards grappling, but it’s striking that I really needed to start thinking about.”

On Friday in Uncasville, Conn., Macfarlane (5-0) will look to retain her perfect record when she takes on fellow undefeated fighter Jessica Middleton (2-0) in a main card 125-pound bout.

“She’s the longest, tallest fighter that I’ve ever fought against,” Macfarlane said of Middleton. “She’s also the first Muay Thai practitioner that I’ve fought against. So we’re expecting a lot of kicks and a lot of spinning stuff.

“Even though because I’m very comfortable off my back, that’s not the best situation for the situation like (Middleton) because she can be in your guard and still rain down strikes on you ecause of her length. With someone like her I definitely have to stay on top.”

After Bellator crowned its first 145-pound female champion earlier this year, Macfarlane is looking to become the first woman to hold the promotion’s 125-pound title in 2017.

“The overall goal is to fight for the belt,” said Macfarlane. “Not looking past this fight (vs Middleton) at all, but I would like to fight for the belt this year and win it.”

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