MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Falaniko Vitale kicked Jason Miller in the face during the main event on Friday night.
Vitale caught up in Mayhem
Hawaii’s former champion is unsure whether he will fight again after losing to Jason Miller
Jason Miller made it a clean sweep of local fighters Friday night, and in the process, may have ended the run of one of Hawaii's greatest fighters.
"Mayhem" earned a shot at Robbie Lawler and the Icon middleweight championship in February by defeating Falaniko Vitale by tapout in the main event of Friday's Icon Sport: Opposites Attract event.
While squashing Vitale's chance at a rematch with Lawler, Miller may have also stolen the local fighter's will to compete. Vitale announced his retirement after the fight but yesterday said that his words may have been a little premature.
"It's up in the air," Vitale said. "I know I said I retired (Friday) night but it was an emotional decision. I really don't know if I will fight again, but it will probably be a while if I do."
Miller also ended the career of local champion Egan Inoue when he beat him in 2002.
It has been a whirlwind year for Vitale, who defeated Masanori Suda in March for the middleweight championship. But after a stunning knockout loss to Lawler in July, Vitale left his family to train in Kirkland, Wash., under legendary coach Matt Hume for eight weeks in preparation for his fight against Mayhem.
It seemed the training paid off as Vitale dominated the first round both standing and on the ground.
Miller's style throughout his career has been a kind of brutal version of Muhammad Ali's famous "rope-a-dope," and Miller allowed Vitale to land numerous shots but refused to fall and quickly realized that Vitale was not going to burn himself out.
"Yeah, I was doing good till he started kicking my ass," Miller said. "I was like, damn, Falaniko is kicking my ass; I better do something."
Vitale still controlled the action, nearly submitting Miller by rear naked choke at the end of the first round. Niko believes he became the first man to force Miller to quit since 2002.
"I took his back at one point at the end of the round and I swear he tapped," Vitale said. "I don't know what the ref was watching, but everybody makes mistakes."
But as soon as the next round started, Mayhem went to his strength and quickly took the fight to the ground before he eventually locked a rear naked choke of his own on Vitale, forcing him to tap out at 2:41.
"I haven't seen the tape, but I remember him choking me out," Vitale said. "It is so strange, I have been in that situation so many times before but this is the time I quit. It is so strange."
The rivalry grew even more friendly following the fight, when both gladiators heaped praise on each other.
"Jason Miller (is) the baddest haole I've ever known," Vitale said. "I'm sure he'll compete at the highest level, whether it's Pride or the UFC."
"I pretty much growed up in this ring right here, always looked at Falaniko like a big brother," added Miller. "To win, it's a real honor to be here."
Vitale, 31, always told himself he would fight until he was 35 years old. But he also always knew he would be in the gym forever. He plans on returning to Washington at the end of the year to resume training even if there are no fights available for a man riding a two-match losing streak. His plan is to stay in shape and learn techniques he can bring back to the students at his gym.
"I'll miss being in the ring, just competing," Vitale said. "I really love this sport and just want to see other guys get a chance to step up and match my accomplishments. Hawaii has got a lot of good kids in the gyms."
The Miller vs. Lawler title fight is scheduled for Feb. 11 at the Blaisdell Arena.