By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The last time Unorthodox Industries Championships promoter Russell Strong hosted a mixed martial arts card in Hilo, he offered $10 tickets and free admission to youngsters, and Hilo Civic was packed beyond packed like a Tokyo rush-hour train.
Strong was told his seating capacity was 3,700, with chairs covering every inch of the floor. It was standing-room only, and even at fight time the lines outside the building snaked down to Aunty Sally’s Luau House.
His goal is to always top the previous card. He’s offering $10 tickets again and free admission to children 10 years old and under. Those are nice attractions in a tight economy.
But the kicker is really eye-catching. Strong’s latest innovation is matching his UIC champion against another promotion’s champion in three bouts. It’s best of the best, basically, an appealing lure for action-starved, local fight fans.
There are three champion vs. champion bouts on the card: UIC 155-pound lightweight champ Miles Campbell vs. Triple Threat Fights champ Kawika “Tips” Martin; UIC 170 welterweight champ Pono Kuikahi vs. Destiny (Oahu) champ Nathan Harris; and Just Scrap 135 bantamweight champ Riquo Abadilla vs. Bone Pali, UIC 145 featherweight. Abadilla and Pali will fight for the vacant UIC 135 belt.
The main event should be a nice draw, too. It’s Hilo’s Toby Misech, who still holds three amateur belts, against Kona’s Tyler Kahihikolo, who has the Up-and-Up title, in a pro 145-pound featherweight battle.
“I think it’s a super good card,” Strong said. “The $10 ticket plays a big factor and the free admission for 10 and under. It’s cheaper to come to the fight with you and your wife and your kids than going to the movies.”
In February, his 18-bout card featured two title fights. Kuikahi got a referee stoppage due to strikes in the first round over Shayne Nozaki for the UIC welterweight title. In the UIC lightweight bout, Campbell defended his belt with a decision over Nue Kahele.
The fight that stole the show was the 185-pound middleweight grudge match between Kaiah Petrie and Eddie Rodrigues, two rivals from Honokaa who never got along since childhood. Petrie got a submission and finally a friendly handshake.
But what Strong remembers most is the massive amount of people trying to squeeze into Hilo Civic. The front door’s line was so long he opened the back door for the patrons with tickets. But that did little to ease the congestion.
“We sold out and the lines were ridiculous,” he said. “I remember the doors opening at 6 p.m. and the gate guys said we had to open the back. The lines were unbelievable and my phone was ringing nonstop. The line was going down to Aunty Sally’s.
“Funny, maybe I got lucky the first time with that $10 ticket. But every show we want to add something new. We usually put on a good show. I always want to get quality fights and match up fighters evenly. But the price is the No. 1 thing, though.”
Well, not quite.
Three months later, Toughman promoter Wally Carvalho Jr. held his first-ever $10 ticket kickboxing tournament, “King of the Rings,” featuring former K-1 fighter Deutsch Pu‘u against local product Dylan Rush at Edith Kanaka’ole Multipurpose Stadium.
The attendance was less than 1,000.
Then one month later in June, Triple Threat Fights promoter Neri Moevao put on his first MMA show at Edith Kanaka’ole, relying on the $10 ticket attraction and two pro bouts.
The attendance was less than 1,000.
BJPenn.com’s Just Scrap has been flying to Maui to host galas. The promotion’s last Hilo event was in January, highlighted by local product Chad Thomas.
The attendance was less than 1,000 at Hilo Civic.
Rush won and so did Thomas, in fights that were pretty good, but the fans didn’t exactly pack the joint.
So, what’s the reason for Strong’s success?
“I think sometimes people think the more fights on a card the better. But it’s the opposite,” he said. “It’s quality not quantity. I go by what (UFC honcho) Dana White said, ‘If one person comes to a show, I expect two more to come to the next one, him and a friend. You’ve got to make sure that the shows are good.”
Only the UIC belts are on the line. However, there’s one huge extra piece of motivation with a champion vs. champion fight: pride. The UIC champs obviously don’t want to lose their titles. And the other promotion champs don’t want their belts or status regarded in a lesser light, especially from local message boards, should a lopsided loss occur.
“I don’t think other promotions do that (champ vs. champ),” Strong said. “If their champ loses, they’re probably thinking the other guy is a better champion. But for me, it’s a win-win. If my champ wins, I get the better champion. If my champion loses, then the new guy is my champion.
“I’m sure that’s what fans want to see, two champions fighting against each other. I go back to the UFC vs. Pride days. Back then what Pride did was really interesting. I’m doing what they did, make the best matchups.”
A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Kamalu Kabalis, who suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident in March, and Palema Amone, a local MMA fighter who was recently paralyzed in an accident.
Kabalis is the son of UH-Hilo and NAIA volleyball Hall of Famer Carla Carpenter-Kabalis and Sodie Kabalis, who works at Kilauea Rehab and helps train fighters.
Kabalis has two young children and no medical insurance.
Mixed martial arts
What: Unorthodox Industries Championships
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday; doors open 5:30 p.m.
Where: Hilo Civic
Main event: Toby Misech vs. Tyler Kahihikolo, pro 145 pounds
Champ vs. champ: Miles Campbell vs. Kawika “Tips” Martin, 155; Pono Kuikahi vs. Nathan Harris, 170; Riquo Abadilla vs. Bone Pali, 135
Tickets: $10 and available at CD Wizard, Big Island Surf, Hilo Fight Company, and C-Thru Tinting in Kona. Free admission for children 10 years old and under
Charity: Portion of proceeds benefit Kamalu Kabalis (head injury) and Palema Amone (paralyzed)