Vitale eager to rekindle 'vibe'
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Falaniko Vitale wants to revive two things tomorrow — his mixed martial arts career, and the sport of MMA in his home state of Hawai'i.
Vitale will fight in the main event of the X-1 World Events organization's "Champions II" card at the Blaisdell Center Arena. He will face Canada's Kalib Starnes for the X-1 middleweight (185 pounds) world championship.
"There was a vibe with MMA here before, and I think we lost the vibe," Vitale said. "I'm willing to do anything to spark up the sport again, so here I am."
Vitale, 35, will be fighting for the first time since October 3, 2008, when he lost a three-round decision to Frank Trigg.
"Retiring was never a thought," Vitale said. "It was more about making the time to train, that's why I haven't fought in the last year and a half. Before, I would take fights at the last minute and think I could be ready. I just want to make sure I train properly for every fight now."
Vitale, who has a record of 26-9, was one of the star attractions during MMA's heyday in Hawai'i during the early- to mid-2000s, when events were held almost every other month, and capacity crowds were the norm.
Tomorrow's card will be just the second professional MMA event staged at the Blaisdell Arena since the state started regulating the sport in July 2009.
"To be honest, if we don't get a turnout for this event, we probably won't get a turnout ever again, unless the UFC or some other big promotion comes out," Vitale said.
The main event will be a matchup of veteran fighters.
Starnes, who is 35 and from British Columbia, Canada, has a 14-4-1 record. He is best known as a former competitor on The Ultimate Fighter reality television series on Spike TV.
His performance on the reality show earned him five fights in the prestigious UFC organization, and he went 2-3 in those bouts.
Starnes said he and Vitale are "at the same kind of place" in their respective careers. In particular, both are hoping a victory can lead to a fight with a bigger organization.
"This fight makes a lot of sense for both of us," Starnes said. "We're both very experienced, and we both kind of need this win."
The card will feature three other X-1 world championship bouts:
• Richie Whitson of Alaska will face Harris Sarmiento of Kāne'ohe for the lightweight (155 pounds) title.
• Dave Moreno of the Big Island will face Kurrent Cockett of Maui for the featherweight (145) title.
• Bryson Hansen of O'ahu will face Riley Dutro of Maui for the bantamweight (135) title.