By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Wesley “Cabbage” Correira proclaimed himself fit and ready to fight at the upcoming Just Scrap, the first mixed martial arts event of the New Year, marking his comeback to the Octagon.
It’s his first scheduled bout since he knocked out Eric “Butterbean” Esch in a K-1 fight in August, 2008, and after a year spent behind bars because of legal trouble stemming from his addiction to prescription pills.
Cabbage (33-12) will knock heads against Deutsch Pu‘u (4-2), a former K-1 fighter, looking to restart a career that included several memorable heavyweight fights in the UFC.
“I’m in good shape. I’m refocused and I’ve totally turned my life around,” said Cabbage, who was released in September and is on probation. “When I came out of jail, my children saw me as a different person and I liked that. I’ve implanted it in my head that I don’t want to go down that road again. I used to have choke kids look up to me, and I still want them to look up to me.
“Everybody has their ups and downs. It’s how you take it. All the judges say I’m looking good and the police officers say I’m doing good. That makes me feel good about myself. I know I have some doubters, but in my heart and mind none of that stuff will happen again.”
Cabbage was scheduled to fight Lolohea Mahe last October in a King of the Cage production on Oahu, but hurt his right wrist while training, tearing ligaments.
He said he was offered pain killers by his doctor, but took aspirin instead. It was a temptation he stepped over, and also a recollection to how he got hooked on prescription pills in the first place.
“It was from injuries and at first I took the prescribed amount,” Cabbage said. “I was taking a little more because I was not feeling it. Then I kept increasing and increasing. I never did meth, heroin or cocaine. I’ve seen those things destroy families. The route I took was not any better.
“I took judo as a small kid and got a brown belt. It taught me discipline, but with my addiction to pain pills I lost that discipline. But being back at BJ Penn’s gym I feel the love, and BJ and JD Penn see me as a different person. It feels like an extended family. My motivation is my kids and being a role model.”
Correira, 34, got his nickname for his resemblance to the Cabbage Patch doll as a youngster. The nickname stuck, even as he got bigger and older. He’s now carrying 295 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame, 30 pounds over the UFC’s heavyweight weight limit.
“It’s good weight. I’ve been lifting and working out and put on plenty of muscle,” he said. “I’ve been swimming, running and crosstraining at Boss MMA, lot of boxing and wrestling.
“When I came out of jail, I felt so great and felt strong. My mentality was there. People in jail were telling me I shouldn’t be in here, and I know people were wondering, ‘What happened to Cabbage?’ My fire has been lit. Hopefully, I can get back to the UFC, if I do a couple of big fights.”
Pu‘u is standing in the way. He’s got a reputation for a strong chin, like Cabbage, who has been sparring with fellow heavyweight Chad Thomas, set to fight Doug Hiu.
“I expect Pu‘u to be there and both of us will slug and punch each other in the face, and have some fun,” Cabbage said. “I’ll show that I’m more well-rounded. I might show my judo or jiu-jitsu skills. My chin is still intact. It’s still strong.”
His determination to make a difference as a role model is strong, too. He gives talks to youngsters at the Lokahi Treatment Center.
“I talk about making the right decisions and choices because they’re still young and can turn around their lives and do positive things,” Cabbage said. “I told the kids, ‘If you stay clean for four months, I’ll call my sponsors and give you clothes.’ Out of the five, four stayed clean. I gave them a whole bunch of clothes last month, T-shirts, sweaters. That felt good.
“Before I’d go to Shriners Hospital (on Oahu) and buy Teddy Bears for the kids with cancer. They were so happy. These little kids could be so strong and I would think, ‘Why can’t I be that strong?’ I hope to do that again, spend time with the kids at Shriners.”