MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Egan Inoue, left, laughed as his opponent tonight, Hans Marrero, faked a punch during a news conference this week.
‘Braddah’ comeback fight tonight
At this point, Ray "Braddah" Cooper is just glad he has someone to fight.
A veteran of Rumble on the Rock, Shooto and SuperBrawl events, to name just a few, Cooper will step back into the ring after a two-year hiatus to fight Richie Whitson of Canada for the vacant lightweight championship at "X-1: Legends," tonight at Blaisdell Arena.
Cooper (14-8) was originally scheduled to fight Hilo's "Sugar" Shane Nelson for the title, but Nelson, the reigning champion, pulled out of the fight last Friday for undisclosed reasons.
Cooper was informed of a new opponent that night, but that only lasted three days. It wasn't until Monday evening that Cooper was told he would fight Whitson, who is just nine days removed from a third-round TKO victory in Canada.
"It plays a little bit on your mind," Cooper said of his revolving door of opponents. "In MMA, you train everything, so you have to be ready for anything. I'm just glad it's still a championship fight."
X-1 officials stripped Nelson of the belt and the fight will be for the vacant title.
Whitson is undefeated (3-0) in MMA, but has been training for just over a year and seemed somewhat wide-eyed at Wednesday's press conference.
"If you could see during my interview up there, I kind of froze," Whitson said. "I haven't fought in anything like this. It's a big step up."
Cooper holds notable wins over Hermes Franca and Jake Shields, but hasn't fought since stopping Koji Yoshida at a Rumble on the Rock event in April 2006.
"I think the layoff made me a little more nervous, but I feel pretty good," Cooper said. "The two years I took care of a lot of injuries and got them all healed up. I feel better than my last fight."
Cooper became one of Hawaii's biggest names after opening his career with five straight wins in Hawaii in 1999.
His 14 career victories have all come while training as a part-time fighter.
During Cooper's heyday fighters weren't getting paid the money they are now, and "Braddah" always had to fit fighting around his full-time work schedule as a construction worker.
"Twelve-hour days get rough," Cooper said. "I've got to cram all my running, weightlifting, wrestling and boxing all into one evening session. That's why I took off for so long. It started to take a toll."
Cooper's return to the sport comes at a time money is being thrown around like never before.
The possibility of one day being a full-time fighter intrigues Cooper and is something he hopes to achieve with a win tonight.
"That's the goal right now, to hopefully pick up a good contract that I can quit my job and train full-time," Cooper said. "I get paid good money, so it has to compensate that, but if it works out that way, I'd take a year off and try to make it work."
Cooper's just one of the fighters making a comeback in the appropriately named "Legends" event.
The main event features the return of 42-year-old Egan Inoue, who will step foot in a ring for the first time since suffering a TKO loss at the hands of Jason "Mayhem" Miller in 2003.
Inoue faces young upstart Hans Marrero, of Arizona, who calls Inoue one of his MMA idols.
Inoue is taking his comeback one fight at a time, and says his first priority was avenging his last loss in front of the hometown crowd.
"My last fight was in Hawaii, (so) I wanted to make sure my comeback fight was in Hawaii," Inoue said. "In a perfect world, according to the way I have it planned, somewhere in the second round it ends by knockout."
Doors open at 7 p.m. and the opening fight is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
The event will be the first shown live on Oceanic PPV.
The card also includes a welterweight title fight between Chad Reiner and Brandon Wolff, a flyweight title match between Kana Hyatt and Albert Manners, and fights including Ron Jhun, Kolo Koka and Michael Brightmon.