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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hawai'i, Japan will battle for honor

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer


What: Professional mixed martial arts

Who: Eric “Butterbean” Esch vs. Aaron Aguilera; semifinals and final of 175-pound championship tournament; Team Hawaiçi vs. Team Japan

When: Tomorrow, preliminaries start around 7:30 p.m.

Where: Blaisdell Center Arena

Tickets: $35 for upper level, $60 for loge level; floor level seats are $100, $200 or $300.

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Instead of championship belts, Hawai'i pride will be at stake on the undercard of tomorrow's Rumble on the Rock 9 mixed martial arts event at the Blaisdell Center Arena.

Team Hawai'i will take on Team Japan in five separate bouts on the undercard.

Members of Team Hawai'i are Ray "Braddah" Cooper of Waipahu, Wesley "Cabbage" Correira from Hilo, Scott Junk of Kailua, Renato "Charuto" Verissimo de Oliveira of Hono-lulu (via Brazil), and Brenton Wolff from Kailua.

"Hawai'i guys always fight with a strong sense of pride," Wolff said. "But to be put on a team with other Hawai'i guys and to get a chance to fight on what I think is the best MMA (organization) in Hawai'i, it just skyrockets the pride even more."

The main events of the card will be the semifinals and final of the world championship tournament for 175-pound fighters, and a "Super Fight" between super heavyweights Eric "Butterbean" Esch and Aaron Aguilera.

However, most of the local buzz has focused on the Team Hawai'i bouts. "It's like we're representing the islands," Junk said.

The bout between Verissimo de Oliveira and Kuniyoshi Hironaka is expected to be the best of the series.

Verissimo de Oliveira was in the quarterfinals of the world championship tournament for 175-pound fighters in January, but got upset by Carlos Condit.

"The worst feeling is to get knocked out in front of 10,000 people cheering for you," he said. "But it gives me more of a drive for this fight. I don't want to let the people down again."

Verissimo de Oliveira is 5-3; Hironaka is 9-2, and is considered one of Japan's rising stars in the sport.

"Hironaka is a complete fighter," Team Japan cornerman Gen Isomo said. "And he has the most experience on the team."

Heavyweights Correira and Junk have also been matched against quality opponents. Correira will face Kazuhiro Hamanaka, and Junk will take on Hideki Tadao.

"I know that the Japanese guys train hard and they train the right way," Junk said. "But this is our chance to show that we train just as hard, if not harder, than any of those guys."

According to Isomo, the Team Japan fighters are ready to play the role of spoilers.

"We would fight hard, the same way, if it was Team Japan or not Team Japan," he said. "We understand this job. We know everybody will boo us, but that is expected because we are in Hawai'i."

If the format is a success, Rumble on the Rock president Jay Dee Penn said he could bring in other countries or states to challenge Team Hawai'i on future cards.

"I think it's a good idea," Wolff said. "We'll be cheering for each other anyway, so we might as well make it a team thing."

Scheduled bouts:

Preliminary: Steve Byrnes vs. Matt Knaub.

Team Hawai'i vs. Team Japan: Brenton Wolff vs. Sotoyama Shinpei; Ray "Braddah" Cooper vs. Koji Yoshida; Renato "Charuto" Verissimo de Oliveira vs. Kuniyoshi Hironaka; Scott Junk vs. Hideki Tadao; Wesley "Cabbage" Correira vs. Kazuhiro Hamanaka.

Welterweight championship tournament semifinals: Jake Shields vs. Yushin Okami; Frank Trigg vs. Carlos Condit.

Welterweight championship tournament final: semifinal winners.

Welterweight championship tournament alternate bout: Brandon Wolff vs. Josh Macdonald.

Super Fight: Eric "Butterbean" Esch vs. Aaron Aguilera.

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.