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'My mind is right, my body is right': For Veta Arteaga, no better time to become a Bellator champion

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For most MMA fighters, it takes more than three years and seven pro bouts to earn a shot at a belt in one of the world’s leading promotions.

Clearly, Veta Artega’s trajectory isn’t like that of most fighters. But, as she prepares for her chance to take Bellator’s flyweight belt from Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s (9-0 MMA, 8-0 BMMA) hands on April 27, Arteaga (5-2 MMA, 4-2 BMMA) doesn’t think things are going too fast.

Or too slow, for that matter. As far as Arteaga is concerned, the timing leading up to Bellator 220’s co-headliner has been just perfect.

“This has been one of my best camps yet,” Arteaga told MMA Junkie. “And I’m excited for it. It’s so crazy, like – my mind is right, my body is right. I’m at the right place, at the right time. This is my time, this is my year. And that’s the cool and exciting part of it.

“It’s just knowing that I believe in myself and I’m ready. I’m ready to put Idaho on the map.”

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Arteaga had talked about the match-up in January, just weeks after finding out she’d be the next challenger for Macfarlane’s belt. Back then, Arteaga said she felt no pressure. Rather, she was filled with excitement, confidence and motivation for her first title bid.

A couple of months have passed, though. The meeting at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.,  is inching closer. And it’s often at around this point, when a fighter’s camp is almost done with, that the initial thrill of such a big opportunity can give way to nerves or anxiety.

But Arteaga?

“I think I’m more excited now,” Arteaga said. “At first, I didn’t want to get too excited about it, because there was a lot of time for me to peak at in my camp and also I was just kind of going in the preparation. But now that I know that it’s coming up, I’m more than excited.”

Like Arteaga, Macfarlane had a quick journey to the top. In fact, she was six pro fights and less than three years into her pro career when she earned the flyweight crown – which she’s defended twice since. They’re close in age, too; “The Ilimanator” is 29, while Arteaga is 31.

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Macfarlane, however, has yet to suffer a loss in a career that’s made up mostly of finishes. Whereas Arteaga has been through a couple of wars and suffered two split-decision losses, both in the Bellator cage, in a decision-rich record.

But Arteaga doesn’t see that as a weakness at all. “I’ve learned more from my losses than my wins,” Arteaga says, and she sees the fact that she’s been through adversity as an advantage over Macfarlane when they share the cage later this month.

Well, one of them, anyway.

“I feel like I have a couple of advantages over her,” Arteaga said. “I’m unpredictable with my jiu-jitsu and with my stand-up and, also, I fought in San Jose before. So I feel that works in my favor, too. I’ve been there before, I fought in SAP Center before, I’m familiar with the smell, I’m familiar with the gloves, I’m familiar with everything. I have nothing but good memories.”

Arteaga has a reason to have such positive recollections of SAP Center. That’s where she returned to the cage following a razor-think split-decision loss to Anastasia Yankova, and where she went on to bruise Brooke Mayo and force a doctor’s stoppage in the final seconds of a highly entertaining main card match.

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As she prepares to return to the venue, Arteaga has done a lot of visualizing. She’s visualized making that familiar walk to the cage. She’s visualized that familiar raise of her hand. But, this time, her vision comes with the twist of a belt being put around her waist.

“It gives me goosebumps just even talking about it,” Arteaga said with a laugh.

Arteaga’s confidence doesn’t come from a place of disrespect toward her opponent’s skills. First off, Arteaga respects everyone who goes in that cage with her. But she knows that in Macfarlane, specifically, she has a well-rounded opponent with a strong jiu-jitsu game.

Arteaga’s confidence comes, instead, from a place of trust in herself. Yes, she’s known to brawl on occasion – and, admittedly, it’s more her style to put that type of exciting, fan-friendly scrap. But Arteaga, a jiu-jitsu brown belt who’s coming off a submission win of her own, isn’t afraid of going where her opponent is strongest.

“I see myself just doing me,” Arteaga said. “And as long as I do me, the W will take care of itself. I trust myself. I trust myself standing up and I trust myself on the ground. I’m known more for my standing, as far as doing more damage, but I’m also awesome on the ground.”

One thing that Macfarlane has over Arteaga is the experience of going past a third round. And that’s why Arteaga made sure to make cardio a priority. “I want to finish her in the first, second, third” rounds, the challenger said, but she also wanted to make sure there’s enough on the gas tank should that chance only come by in the fifth.

Say Arteaga’s efforts pay off, all of her visualizations come true, and 2019 really is the year in which she gets to call herself a Bellator champion. What would that mean for the flyweight from Boise?

“I know (champion) is just a word, but I owe it to myself,” Arteaga said. “I owe it to the 12-year-old little girl me, being my own hero in my own story. And knowing that? Knowing that I connected from my past, and then being in the present and now my future? I’m ready. I’m ready for this.”

For more on Bellator 220, visit the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Gallery

Photos: Ilima-Lei Macfarlane through the years

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