Vitale makes 1 last run to the top of MMA


POSTED: Saturday, March 20, 2010

After a 17-month absence, Niko Vitale is back for one last run.

The 35-year-old X-1 world middleweight champion will defend his title against UFC veteran Kalib Starnes in the main event of X-1: Champions II tonight at the Blaisdell Arena.

Vitale (26-9), who rivaled B.J. Penn in popularity five years ago, hopes to revitalize the local mixed martial arts scene that saw him selling out Blaisdell Arena for events as recently as 2006.

He's also looking to make one last push toward the big leagues after taking a long break from the ring to rejuvenate himself.

“;I'm just trying to finish my career strong,”; Vitale said yesterday after making weight for tonight's fight. “;I turned down fights over the year-and-a-half break to heal my body and correct some things.

“;I want to get back to fighting some of the top 185-pound guys in the world.”;






        When: Tonight, 7 p.m.


Where: Blaisdell Arena


Main Event: Niko Vitale (26-9) vs. Kalib Starnes (10-4-1)


Plus: Richie Whitson (6-0) vs. Harris Sarmiento (28-20); Kurrent Cockett (4-0) vs. Dave Moreno (7-7); Bryson Hansen (4-0) vs. Riley Dutro (2-0); Nine more undercard bouts




Starnes (10-4-1) crashed onto the UFC scene with seven straight wins to start his career. He finished 2-3 in the Octagon, but is most noted for his final fight in the UFC against Nate Quarry.

Starnes, who claims to have broken his foot at the start of the fight, spent the entire 15 minutes running away from Quarry, who mocked Starnes as the fight came to an end. Starnes was booed heavily and publicly chastised by UFC President Dana White, who immediately booted Starnes from the organization.

Since then, he is 2-1, including an armbar submission victory over Chris Cisneros, at a DESTINY event at Aloha Tower.

“;I didn't realize how many professional fights he had,”; Vitale said. “;He's beaten Chris Leben and I think he's done a heck of a job so far as far as his career goes.”;

A victory would set up Vitale for a possible fight against former EliteXC champion Murilo “;Ninja”; Rua. Vitale couldn't confirm online reports that he's working a deal to fight Rua, the brother of UFC star Mauricio “;Shogun”; Rua, but he did say he's “;got a big fight coming up on the mainland.”;

As for X-1, the organization is holding its first card at the Blaisdell Arena since the sport became regulated by the state last summer.

It's been holding events at Schofield Barracks, Palolo Hongwanji Temple and on neighbor islands, but returns to the Blaisdell hoping to bring back the crowds and excitement that were prevalent during MMA's heyday in the mid-2000s.

“;It's something that you want these young guys to experience,”; said Vitale, who fought the likes of Robbie Lawler and Jason “;Mayhem”; Miller in front of sold-out crowds. “;We haven't had a real big crowd for a long time and I'm hoping this is something that can start getting things back to where it used to be.”;

X-1 has done its part, putting together one of its deepest and most well-rounded cards.

Three other world-title matches in addition to Vitale's fight round out the main card.