Pro MMA cards have become a rarity
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Professional mixed martial arts events have become a rarity in Hawai'i, so the fighters on tonight's Champions II card at the Blaisdell Center Arena want to make the most of the opportunity.
Riley Dutro of Maui, for example, will be fighting in the Blaisdell Arena for the first time in his career when he faces Bryson Hansen for the X-1 bantamweight (135 pounds) world championship.
"There's a lot of little shows that I did before this, but this is the biggest fight of my life," said Dutro, 22. "When I was growing up, I used to hear about all the SuperBrawl shows (at the Blaisdell), but there's hardly any big shows now. I definitely will cherish this moment."
The Champions II card is the first professional MMA event in Hawai'i for 2010. It will feature 12 professional fights, including four X-1 world championship bouts.
Hawai'i's Falaniko Vitale will take on Canada's Kalib Starnes for the middleweight (185 pounds) world title in the main event.
"The MMA community is still here," Vitale said. "We got fighters everywhere, we got schools everywhere. We just need more shows so these younger guys get a chance."
The dearth of professional MMA shows in Hawai'i coincided with the introduction of state regulations last July. Since the state regulations were put in place, only one professional MMA show has been conducted at the Blaisdell Arena.
Tonight will be the second.
Maui's Kendall Grove, a successful fighter in the prestigious UFC organization, said the lack of exposure for up-and-coming fighters in Hawai'i makes tonight's event all the more important.
"You might not ever get an opportunity like this again," Grove said. "This is big for a lot of these guys."
Grove will be serving as a coach for several of the fighters, including Dutro and Kurrent Cockett.
Cockett will face Dave Moreno of the Big Island in what should be an entertaining bout for the X-1 featherweight (145 pounds) championship.
"It's pretty difficult to be a fighter right now," said Cockett, 24. "There's so many guys here trying to do it, but not that many shows. You just have to take it one step at a time and hope it works out."
Moreno, 31, has already shifted his future plans. Realizing that his chances of making it to the UFC are slim, Moreno said he treats MMA as his hobby.
"I install solar panels and windows, that's my main job," he said. "And I'm about to start an organic farm on the Big Island with my cousin. Don't get me wrong, when I'm in there to fight, I'll fight. But there's no money in fighting over here, so it makes sense to look at other things in life."
Still, Moreno is a crowd favorite because of his antics in and out of the cage.
"That's my personality," he said. "I like to have fun with this, but that's all it is to me, fun."
Hawai'i's Harris Sarmiento will face Richie Whitson of Alaska for the lightweight (155 pounds) world title. Whitson is a former contestant on The Ultimate Fighter reality television series.
Vitale weighed 185.6 pounds at the official weigh-in; Starnes was 184.8. Fighters are allowed to go one pound over the limit.
Japan's Satoshi Ishii will face Hawai'i's Sasae Paogofie in a heavyweight exhibition match. Ishii won a gold medal in judo at the 2008 Olympics.
The X-1 organization purchased a new cage for tonight's bouts.