Expo to tap into growing sport
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
No world championships will be determined at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall this weekend, but it is still considered a big weekend for mixed martial arts in Hawai'i.
More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the International MMA Expo Hawai'i, which started yesterday and continues today and tomorrow.
"It's a pretty big deal because there's no other event where the entire MMA community can come together in one place like this," said Brittany Yap, co-publisher of Uproar Magazine.
Uproar is one of more than 60 businesses with an exhibit booth at the expo.
"It's mostly MMA, but we also have booths for fitness, health, wellness ... of course, the food booths," said expo director Javen Guzon. "I think it says a lot for a sport like MMA to be the main part of a big expo like this."
Unlike some other expos, this one offers non-stop entertainment.
A ring has been set up, and grappling competitions are scheduled to run all day today and tomorrow. There is also a bodybuilding contest, and autograph signings with MMA stars Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Clay Guida.
"A lot of expos are like revolving doors to buy merchandise," Guzon said. "We want people to stay in here and be entertained as well."
It is also a chance for many small businesses to compete side-by-side with national and international brands.
Andy Taam, owner of Hawaiian Fight Gear, had his display of fight gloves, shorts and T-shirts on display yesterday.
"This is definitely the fastest growing sport in the world, and Hawai'i is right there in the middle of it," Taam said. "I talked to people in the industry who said it was costing them a lot of extra money just to get equipment shipped from the Mainland. I thought, why not give the local fighters a chance to buy local gear."
Uproar Magazine has a similar approach. It is celebrating its one-year anniversary this month, and all of its previous issues have focused on Hawai'i fighters.
"I don't know of any other state that can have a magazine focusing only on fighters in that state," Yap said. "It says a lot about how big MMA is in Hawai'i."
Hawai'i's most popular MMA competitor — BJ Penn of Hilo — will not be attending the expo this weekend, but he has a good excuse. He is in California training for a UFC world championship bout Aug. 8.
But that doesn't mean he is not being represented. His mother, Lorraine Shin, will be selling BJ Penn merchandise at a vending booth today and tomorrow.
The Tandal family drove in from 'Ewa Beach last night to attend the expo. Kirstie Tandal said it was worth the traffic hassle because the prices at the expo are "cheaper than in the stores."
As Taam put it: "It's not so much about making money at this expo. You just want to see everybody get together and support the sport."