By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Some big names will be back at Just Scrap, the first to the punch, not only putting on the first mixed martial arts card of the year, but also returning home after running events on Maui.
A year ago, Hilo’s Chad Thomas headlined the last BJPenn.com production at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, defeating Oahu’s Paea Paongo by technical knockout in the first round.
Thomas will get another Oahu challenger in Doug Hiu, from MMA Development. They’ll fight Saturday night in a heavyweight pro bout.
In the connect-the-dots category, Paongo defeated Hiu by first-round TKO two years ago. So Thomas completes the circle when he jumps into the octagon against Hiu in his second pro bout.
Thomas lost his pro debut to Lolohea Mahe by second-round TKO in a Just Scrap event last May on Maui.
“With Chad, he’s tough and always exciting,” promoter JD Penn said. “A lot of the fighters out of MMA Development are explosive and technical. They come with a lot of skills and are not one-dimensional. Hiu has good stand-up, good ground and a good wrestling game.
“Chad’s always working on honing his skills. You’ll see two big heavyweights be very explosive and come out to fight. You never see a boring fight with Chad. He goes in there with everything he has. He’s exciting no matter what. He’ll put his will on his opponent and go for it.”
The card also features the comeback attempt by Wesley “Cabbage” Correira, a former UFC heavyweight, who last fought in 2008, suffering a loss to Jeff Ford.
Correira takes on Deutsch Pu‘u, a former K-1 fighter. They were scheduled to fight six years ago. But Correira forfeited his match against Pu‘u in an X-1 MMA bout.
“About four months ago, Cabbage started talking to me about doing another run, especially with the UFC not having that many heavyweights,” Penn said. “He wants to see if has that push, to get fights in and get back to the UFC and see what he can do. He’s been working and training for that opportunity.
“Everybody loves heavyweights who stand up and fight. Pu‘u packs a punch and Cabbage is known for his iron chin and power in his hands. It’s going to be a barnburner and a crowd favorite with two big boys striking.”
Cabbage offered one of the most memorable quotes in MMA history after he took a barrage of punches to the head and lost to Tim Sylvia in UFC 39 in 2002, when he said, “My head is full of concrete and stuff.”
At least, Cabbage will have a good YouTube scouting report on Pu‘u, who lost to Alexandru Lungu at the K-1 SuperKombat World Grand Prix tourney last October in Romania. Lungu, who weighed in at 360 pounds, clocked Pu‘u, about 100 pounds less, with an overhand right for a second-round TKO.
Penn is hoping those big names attract a crowd. Also on the card are several well-known local fighters, including Oscar Van Penovaroff, Brandon Libao, Russell Mizuguchi and Joey Gomez, who will make his pro debut against Kawika Martin.
“I’m expecting a packed house,” Penn said. “I think too many people are putting out quantity not quality. People know quality now. Like anything, if you put two football teams out there that nobody cares about, the place won’t be packed. If you put out a quality event, people will come.”
The best way to pack Hilo Civic is to convince the most popular MMA fighter in Hawaii to star in his own show.
BJ Penn has made no announcement on a retirement or return to the fight game after his loss to Rory MacDonald in UFC on Fox 5 last month.
The Just Scrap promoter and older sibling pointed out that his brother is the ultimate fighter, always working on his MMA game like a champion.
“He didn’t say either way,” JD Penn said. “It’s been a little over a month. He’s taking it easy and relaxing right now. He started training again. We’ll see what happens.”
Heavyweight: Chad Thomas vs. Doug Hiu
Superheavyweight: Cabbage Correira vs. Deutsch Pu‘u
135 pounds: Van Oscar Penovaroff vs. Tony Rodrigues
170: Joey Gomez vs. Kawika Martin
170: Brandon Libao vs. Leo Sigra
130: Kuulei Estabilio vs. Arlena Cook
185: Bobbi Manners vs. Justin Smith
125: Russell Mizuguchi vs. Brennan Nash
160: Alex Bacdad vs. Kenue Mudon
135: Tyler Leopoldino vs. TBA
125: Ikaika Rodriguez vs. Stu Jones
190: Andrew Sanchis vs. Josh Sosa