By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Once not long ago, actually in January of last year, Lavelle Brown weighed 246 pounds, far too much weight on his 5-foot-7 frame, a situation not good for his state of mind. He’s changed a lot since then.
Now, he’s down to 165 pounds, turning himself into a lean, hard-kicking machine for a Toughman Hawaii King of the Rings welterweight grudge match Saturday at Edith Kanaka’ole Multipurpose Stadium against Johnavan Visante, a name local fight fans know well.
In one of the best knockouts in Toughman’s kickboxing history, Chris Cisneros clocked him with an overhand right and the fighter from Waianae, Oahu, fell face first, like a chopped-down tree, to the warm embrace of the canvas in April of 2011.
For those who tune in to “The Ultimate Fighter” for their television-viewing pleasure, Visante was submitted on a rear-naked choke and tapped out to Michael Chiesa, failing in his quest in March to join the big boys of the UFC, the major leagues of mixed martial arts.
There’s no love lost between Brown, who attends church in Kurtistown and teaches Polynesian art and music at Mountain View Elementary, and Visante, once an owner of seven belts of various weight classes.
“Lavelle said, ‘I fight for the kids and God.’ And Visante said, ‘I don’t care who you fight for. Nobody is going to be there to save you when you get in the ring with me.’ It’s a grudge match between them,” Toughman promoter Wally Carvalho said.
There’s nothing like a grudge match, actually one of several on the 14-bout card, and $10 tickets to pack the house. That’s sort of the formula needed to fill the joint.
Unorthodox Industries Championship promoter Russell Strong introduced the $10 ticket at his MMA event in February, and Hilo Civic turned into a sardine can.
That fight had one primo grudge match between Eddie Rodrigues and Kaiah Petrie, who won on a first-round rear-naked choke.
The Toughman is a kickboxing gala, which means takedowns are not allowed — no ground-and-pound and no rolling around the floor in bearhugs, either.
To add a little extra spice, the Brown-Visante head-banger will be under Muay Thai rules. Clinching and firing knees and using elbows will be allowed.
Carvalho caught the moons just right while scheduling opponents for his lineup because he’s got three fights with peeved-off bumble bees.
Besides Brown-Visante, other love fests include a rematch for the 120-pound flyweight title between Tyler Leopoldino and Theodore Brown, and a tattoo-inspired rematch between Petey Vital and Micah Abreu-Laybon.
In March, Leopoldino hammered Brown good and flushed a flying knee to the Waianae champion’s face, getting a second-round surrender for a TKO. But Leopoldino didn’t earn the belt because he was two pounds overweight.
The Toughman in January was highlighted by the banana-crazy cracks Vital and Abreu-Laybon were delivering to each other’s coconut. They kept whacking each other, got warned four times by the referee, and the fight was called a no contest.
Carvalho, speaking with enthusiasm in his best Dana White impersonation, thinks he’s got a whale of a spectacle with his three grudge matches, pointing out that Vital and Abreu-Laybon won’t be sending flowers to each other any time soon.
“They got disqualified for rough-housing,” he said. “There was no winner or loser. Now they get to settle it. Micah is from Waianae and originally from East Los Angeles. Vital is from East Los Angeles and now lives in Puna. They’ve got tattoos all over their bodies.
“Something clicked at the weigh-in before their fight. They looked at each and didn’t like each other. I’m not sure if it was the battle of the tattoos or what. They just didn’t like each other from the start. That’s why they’re front and center on the poster.”
Growing up in Waianae, Brown (7-0 in MMA; 0-1 in kickboxing) engaged in his share of street fights as a youth. He’s got a six-inch scar running down his forehead, courtesy of a baseball bat in a street fight.
He said he never initiated fights, but didn’t back down from one either, especially if he came to a friend in need. However, eventually he gave his mom enough grief and was kicked out the house.
“I would try to stop a fight and someone would say, ‘What, you like some?’ I wouldn’t stick my nose in other people’s business, but I had a lot of family in Makaha,” he said. “My mom raised me up to have faith and believe in Jesus. She took me back home and it reminded me how much God loves me. I had to do something right.
“I want to become a UFC champion. But more than anything, I want a safe haven for keiki, like BJ Penn’s place. But I want to run a school and have it family-oriented, a place where parents can work out and then take their kids home.”
Asked about Visante’s throw-down insult, Brown’s temperature didn’t hit the roof.
“That makes me feel better. It shows how truly humble I am,” he said. “Stuff like that doesn’t bother me at all. I fight so passive-aggressive that a lot of people think they can talk crap to me.
“After I lost to L. John Borges in the last Toughman, it made me realize I can’t always be nice. I don’t want to lose again and I need to be a little more aggressive. I go in for the kids because if little, short, fat Lavelle can be competitive than anybody can do it.”