MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
UFC looking at Hawaii
'Prodigy' says it's time to get a world title
STORY SUMMARY »
Before the sudden rise in popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Dana White made many trips to the islands to watch local mixed martial arts shows.
Largest crowds reported for MMA events in Hawaii
7/05: BJ Penn vs. Renzo Gracie, Aloha Stadium, 12,000
5/03: Masanori Suda vs. Egan Inoue, Blaisdell Arena, 8,000
11/04: BJ Penn vs. Rodrigo Gracie, Blaisdell Arena, 8,000
10/05: Mayhem Miller vs. Niko Vitale, Blaisdell Arena, 7,000
5/05: Tank Abbott vs. Cabbage Correira, Blaisdell Arena, 7,000
Now, the man behind the biggest mixed martial arts organization in the world is planning on holding a UFC event at Aloha Stadium some time next year.
"I'm working on that right now as a matter of fact," White said in an exclusive interview with the Star-Bulletin. "I've wanted to bring one there for a long time and now that we have acquired PRIDE, I think it's the perfect time to do that big stadium because it would pull a lot of Americans and a lot of Japanese fans."
Japan's PRIDE Fighting Championships was recently purchased by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, the majority owners of the UFC. Notable PRIDE fighters, including Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop and Heath Herring, have already debuted in the UFC with more expected to come.
The Japanese interest in PRIDE, mixed with the recent rise to mainstream of the UFC in America, make now the time to hold an event in Hawaii.
"Next year, believe me," White said on when it would happen. "It will be our first outdoor fight. We've never done it before because it has always scared the (expletive) out of me."
Hilo's BJ Penn, who will face Sean Sherk for the UFC lightweight championship in November, and Maui's Kendall Grove, who fights next month, would be on the card barring unforeseen circumstances.
"I could fight there and then retire," Grove said. "To fight in the UFC in Hawaii in front of my people, it would be the best accomplishment of my life."
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Despite expressing interest in moving back to the welterweight division, Hilo's BJ Penn will fight champion Sean Sherk for the UFC lightweight title in November, according to UFC president Dana White.
Sherk (35-2-1) manhandled Hermes Franca a week ago in his first defense of the belt and will take on Penn (11-4-1), who tapped out Jens Pulver in his last fight. The title bout is tentatively scheduled for New Jersey, although an official announcement on the site has yet to be made.
"After the (Pulver) fight I sat down and thought about having the title and I was like you know I'm at 155 I might as well get it," Penn said. "I've already had two fights for the belt and now's the time to finally get it."
"The Prodigy" lost a split decision to Pulver in his first attempt at the belt and fought to a draw with Caol Uno in his second title shot a year later. Pulver, who forfeited the belt in 2002, was the last recognized lightweight titleholder until Sherk defeated Kenny Florian last October to be proclaimed champion.
Penn looked sharp in his first fight at 155 pounds in four years last month, dominating Pulver with a variety of submission attempts before choking him out in the second round. His win was so decisive that he was immediately given a title shot despite his recent inactivity at that weight class.
"BJ won in impressive fashion and this fight makes sense," White said. "But if (Sherk) beats BJ, then nobody is beating him."
Sherk's only two defeats in his career came to renowned welterweights Georges St.-Pierre and Matt Hughes, who both have also defeated Penn. Sherk is undefeated at 155 pounds, and is nicknamed the "Muscle Shark" for his physique and strength. He is also a cardio machine, and proved it by pressing the action in his title defense at an incredible pace for all 25 minutes of the fight. He was able to take down Franca at will, but more surprising was his ability to control the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt on the mat, repeatedly passing his guard and securing the much more favorable mount position.
"He looked good on the ground and is always in great shape and will keep coming at you," Penn said.
Penn will have the opportunity to join Randy Couture as the only men in UFC history to hold titles in two different weight classes.
The Hilo-born fighter isn't the only local fighter making noise in the UFC. Maui's Kendall Grove (10-3) will fight Patrick Cote at "UFC 74: Respect" on Aug. 25 in Las Vegas in a middleweight fight.
Grove, who prior to his stint on the "Ultimate Fighter" reality show called himself a "B-level fighter," has won back-to-back fights in the UFC by submission and has put himself in position to move into the upper tier of the division with a victory next month.
"Even more than Rashad (Evans), he is the most improved kid on that show," White said. "The change in that kid and how much he has learned and grown up as a fighter in just a small amount of time is phenomenal."
Cote has fought five times in the UFC, including a main event showdown with Tito Ortiz at UFC 50. Ortiz, who along with Ken Shamrock were the coaches during Grove's stint on the reality show, is the guy he credits with helping him improve the most. The show also opened doors for Grove to find top-level training partners for this fight, including Couture and Tyson Griffin.
"These guys have helped me improve and mature so much to become an A-level fighter," Grove said. "I can't guarantee anything, but as long as I'm up, I'm going to fight until the bitter end."
The 44-year-old Couture will defend the heavyweight title against Gabriel Gonzaga in the main event.