By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
No matter if it’s pro or amateur, title bouts always carry a lot of weight for aspiring mixed martial arts fighters, and the latest Just Scrap brings a handful to the table.
On the menu tonight are five amateur bouts for championship belts at Edith Kanaka’ole Multipurpose Stadium, where Hilo’s “Iron” Mike Aina (14-6-1-1; W-L-D-No Contest) headlines the main event against James Martinez, from Randy Couture’s gym in Las Vegas, in a 155-pound lightweight matchup.
In the only other pro bout at 135 pounds in the bantamweight class, Daniel Friend (5-1), from Boss MMA, takes on Maui’s Tyler Kahihikolo. They fight for money, but for the aspiring fighters, looking at a possible UFC shot, there’s something far more important: wins.
Pro records with winning marks are vital because that’s the first entry on a fighter’s resume. Pro records are also permanent. There’s no mulligan for a string of losses, a likely death sentence for a shot at the big time. That’s one reason trainers carefully gauge amateur fights before someone goes pro.
Kahihikolo should be recognizable to local MMA fans. The former Kailua-Kona resident submitted Donald Gonzalves at the Just Scrap in Kona last November.
Just Scrap president JD Penn thinks Friend, who bears a striking resemblance to actor Joaquin Phoenix, will do his best impersonation as a knockout artist. Friend is short, about 5 feet 6, but muscular and carries a lot of power in his compact frame.
“I think it’ll be explosive. Tyler comes really hard and fast for the kill,” Penn said. “Daniel is a scrapper, too. It’ll be scrapper vs. scrapper, two guys throwing down.”
In the 170-pound welterweight title fight for the vacant belt, Brandon Libao goes up against Scott Hao. Both fought and won at the Just Scrap in Kona.
Like Aina and Friend, Libao trains at Boss MMA, coached by Ross “The Boss” Ebanez and the stable of coaches at the Penn Fitness and Training Center. Libao, a former Waiakea High basketball standout, is adept in jujitsu.
Hao, out of Average Joes in Kona, is known as a striker, bringing a contrasting style into the octagon. He won his prior Just Scrap battle by decision while Libao pulled a submission. Somebody goes home with a losing streak and without a belt, good motivation for each.
In the 155-pound lightweight title battle, Honolulu’s Anthony Rivera, from the club Jesus is Lord, defends his title against Adam Collarile, another Boss MMA constituent. Rivera won his belt at the Kona event over Honokaa’s Kaeo Meyers.
“Jesus is Lord is one of the oldest fight teams in Hawaii,” Penn said. “They’ve got close to 20 years in the fight game. Rivera is one of the top prospects. Adam is good at jujitsu. He can also stand and fight. Rivera has good hands. It’ll be interesting. It’ll go to whoever gets on top and controls the pace will win the fight.”
In the 135-pound bantamweight title matchup for the vacant belt, Petey Vital takes on Kanoa Akau, from Monkey House, a fight club out of Honokaa.
Vital represents Pahoa Boxing, the gym in his hometown he runs with his dad Pete Vital Jr., who retired in 1975 as the No. 3 ranked lightweight contender. One of his training partners was Roberto Duran.
“They’ve got different sponsors for gloves, bags, and other stuff,” Penn said. “They’re doing good and pushing it hard. It sounds like a great cause to get kids off the street, training them and getting them to the next level.
“Petey has a much better stand-up game. Kanoa has punching power. In that fight, it’ll be whoever lands the first good punch.”
In the 125-pound flyweight title bout for the vacant belt, Boss MMA’s Russell Mizuguchi goes up against Maui Acantilado. Both pack a lot of muscle on their small frames. Acantilado, from Monkey House, brings momentum with a TKO win from the Kona event.
For the first time, Just Scrap is holding a female title fight at 125. Boss MMA sends out its best product in Keana Sebala against Monica Franco from Jesus is Lord.
“Title fights are always important because it’s about building a ranking system, when people are competing against each other,” Penn said. “They can say, ‘I beat this guy in the amateur division and won the championship.’ Then they can work their way up the rankings, put in their time before they turn pro. Being an amateur is sort of a checklist to mark off things before they turn pro.
“I think the UFC needs all these feeder shows, like Just Scrap, because they put on so many shows now. That’s a way to find talent. They have ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ 16 fighters. But that’s over three months.”
In 2011, the UFC signed a $700 million, seven-year deal with Fox, which is trying its best to turn UFC Fight Night into a routine of regular programming like watching a favorite TV series. However, the pay-per-view part is off-limits (Dana White & Co. pocket that money). There’s UFC Fight Night in different countries, including a stop in China on March 1.
Penn knows that’s all part of White’s plan to make the UFC a household name, like Kleenex.
“The UFC is moving into different markets. They’re in 175 countries,” Penn said. “It’s like when people thought about tissue paper 10 years ago. Now they think Kleenex. That’s a brand name and the UFC is pursuing that. They want people to say, UFC instead of MMA.
“It’s a global market, just like the movies. Smurfs was a horrible movie, but made a lot of money from around the world.”
There are local promotions like Just Scrap all over the country. There are more clubs than that and even more fighters. Everyone is fighting to be first in line when the UFC gets hungry and goes looking for new blood, even the diehards at Just Scrap.