Don’t tell Alejandra Lara the odds.
The unheralded 23-year-old Colombian came into her Bellator MMA debut last December as the biggest underdog on the card, an unknown quantity for most fans and an apparent stepping stone for flyweight contender Lena Ovchynnikova to extend her two-fight winning streak. Lara (7-1) promptly flipped that expected narrative -- and Bellator’s flyweight division -- on its head by surviving a tough first round to defeat the 10-1 favorite Ovchynnikova via a decisive third-round rear-naked choke.
If Lara was not surprised by the outcome of her debut, she does admit to being surprised by the aftermath: Lara was named the next challenger for Bellator flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane. The two will face each other for MacFarlane’s belt at Bellator 201 on Friday, in what will also be Lara’s first fight in the United States. While Lara was not expecting her second fight for Bellator to be for a belt, she had already been operating with the mindset of a future title challenger.
“I was not expecting [the immediate title shot], but I feel prepared,” Lara told Sherdog.com. “Even at the end of my fight with Lena, I was thinking ‘OK, I could do two more rounds right now.’ This is a great opportunity, and I am prepared. If this is the time, then this is the perfect moment.”
That preparation has taken place mostly in Guadalajara, Mexico, where Lara has lived on and off for the last two years while training. Working at Lobo Gym with Team Grasso, Lara has enjoyed the benefits of having multiple training partners of similar size, including Ultimate Fighting Championship strawweight prospect Alexa Grasso.
“I’ve been here for this whole camp,” Lara said. “I feel that I have all I need here. We have a really strong [women’s] team, with Alexa Grasso and Irene Aldana from the UFC, Karina Rodriguez from Invicta Fighting Championships [and] girls who have been on TUF Latin America. It’s a strong team and also feels like a family.”
Going into her bout with the 7-0 MacFarlane, who went undefeated as an amateur as well, Lara understands she is a sizable underdog once more. However, Lara believes that in her quest to hand the champ her first loss, what matters most is being prepared for any scenario the fight offers. While her win over Ovchynnikova was characterized by two rounds of dominant top-position grappling, Lara is making sure all of her tools are sharp and expects to show the world some elements of her game that she did not have the chance to display in her debut.
“I’ll feel comfortable in any situation,” Lara said. “I want to make sure my striking stays nice and clean. If we go to the ground, I want to keep control. I’ve always said that I’m [primarily] a ground-and-pounder. I feel really powerful right now, and I think [at Bellator 201] people will take note.”