Despite being battered by Justin Eilers in a recent bout at the Blaisdell Arena, Super Brawl fighter Cabbage (left) won the match by decision.

Fighting for Respect

Super Brawl's creator
wants his sport to be
considered legitimate

Driving a car too fast, fishing, and treading water in unison with a partner are considered sports by segments of the American public.

Super Brawl

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Blaisdell Arena
>> Falaniko Vitale (12-2) vs. Justin Ellison (1-3)
>> Joe Jordan (5-3) vs. Kolo Koka (5-3)
>> David Yeung (2-2) vs. Eddie Yagin (6-2)
>> Tiki Ghosen (5-3) vs. Ronald Jhun (18-10-2)
>> Travis Fulton (127-32-8) vs. Ray Seraille (2-4)
>> Jay Martinez (3-1) vs. Kaipo Kalama (2-1-1)
>> Sydney Silva (1-0) vs. Anthony Torres (1-0)
>> Eldrick Pajoras (0-0) vs. Harvey (0-0)

Why not a good old-fashioned street fight?

At Super Brawl XXX last June 13, Dennis Kang experienced his greatest high and lowest low as a modern-day Philo Beddo. Kang beat local boy Kaipo Kalama by majority decision to earn a chance at the middleweight title later that night, but was told to shower up because he had suffered a dislocated knee.

He would be replaced by a man he had forced to quit with an arm-bar after just 2 minutes and 22 seconds. Kang was the second fighter in the eight-man tournament to win but not be allowed to advance because of an injury, and he wasn't happy about it. But that is Super Brawl.

Super Brawl is either a sport or a street fight, depending on your perspective. The official line is that it is a mix of tae kwon do, boxing, wrestling and judo, but the reality is that it involves a pair of very skilled athletes seeing who can inflict the most damage on the other. It is an endeavor in which there is no greater glory than being powerful enough to force a man to make a choice between a broken limb or broken pride. But those who face that choice wouldn't have it any other way, believing that the rules are set up right at the line between safety and barbarity.

"I know that I'm not going to die in there," Egan Inoue said. "Even though I'm willing to die in there, (Super Brawl promoter T. Jay Thompson) won't let me. You will see more injuries in a single football game than in a year of Super Brawls, but people don't want to believe that."

Inoue was supposed to headline Super Brawl XXXI this Saturday night at the Blaisdell Arena, but may not compete because of injury. Falaniko Vitale, who knocked out Olympic wrestler Matt Lindland in Las Vegas over the summer, will take on Justin Ellison in the main event if Inoue can't go. Local fighters Eddie Yagin and "Ice Cold" Kolo Koka will also be on the card. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and tickets start at $15.

JUST AS PEOPLE can argue for hours over whether a bear would win in a fight with an alligator, people used to argue over whose martial art was truly superior. It was all just that -- a debate -- until Royce Gracie decided to test his Brazilian jiu jitsu against other forms of martial arts. And he got the answer he wanted, taking on and beating all comers until the world caught up and came up with what is now known as ultimate fighting.

But just as the fighters have evolved, so has the sport.

T. Jay Thompson, owner of Super Brawl, has built the business into the third-largest outlet for mixed martial arts fans in the world.

In its infancy, ultimate fighting was little more than a human cockfight, pitting disciplines against each other in a glorified street brawl where the only thing saving an unprepared fighter from serious injury or worse was his attacker's compassion. That version of the sport still exists across the nation in fight clubs and sanctioned events called Toughman, but is frowned upon by those who love mixed martial arts as well as those who hate it.

"I won't even watch it," Thompson said. "It is just dragging the everyday Joe off the bar stool to fight, which couldn't be more dangerous. In Hawaii people seem to understand that we are not Toughman, but people in the rest of the country aren't so sophisticated."

Thompson, who owns Super Brawl and has built it into the third-largest outlet for mixed martial arts fans in the world despite being based on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, started the phenomenon with blood on his hands. He would get to wondering who would win in a fight between local tough guys like Kawika Paaluhi and Wayne Fisher and do more than wonder. He would actually get them together at Gussie Lamour's and find out.

But even that got old for the man who got into the sport for the same reason as the politicians who want to outlaw it. Thompson, who trains as a fighter but saves his finishing moves for the courtroom, likes a good old-fashioned row as much as anyone else. But Thompson knew that if his hobby was going to survive the knee-jerk reactions of politicians, it would have to develop weight classes and rules outlawing groin strikes, head butts and strikes to the spine. He basically wanted to find out who the best fighters were, not the dirtiest fighters.

Joe Doerksen knocked Brendan Seguin to the mat during a Super Brawl XXX bout on June 13 at the Blaisdell Arena.

WHEN A 30-year-old mother of two died in a Toughman exhibition in Sarasota, Fla., the day after Super Brawl XXX, the Hawaii State Boxing Commission began unofficial talks about expanding its influence to include regulating ultimate fighting. The problem is, nobody's sure exactly what ultimate fighting is.

"I watched that fight where Egan got knocked out and thought, 'Gee, this is just brutal,' " Hawaii State Boxing Commissioner Willes Lee said. "But I was probably just biased rooting for the local guy. It would have to start with a study of some sort to determine if it is dangerous at all. We don't even know if boxing is safer -- if it is safer -- because it is regulated or because it is boxing. It is not far enough along for anyone on the commission to even comment on it."

Rule 440D-1 in the Hawaii Revised Statutes explicitly outlaws "No rules combat, extreme or ultimate fighting or similar contests," but does allow contests "involving the exclusive use of boxing, wrestling, kickboxing or martial arts."

Avoiding the law to put on a show is as simple as changing what you call your product, or getting a letter straight from the governor allowing it, as Thompson says he has done. When the law was drawn up, Thompson simply changed the description of his event, calling it an exclusive martial art known as pancreation, which dates back to the first Olympics.

Florida does not regulate Toughman or mixed martial arts events, only boxing. Hawaii is the same, but mixed martial arts have been legalized and are thriving in Nevada and New Jersey. The Washington Times counted four deaths in Toughman events in the past nine months, while not being able to find a fatality in mixed martial arts.

Thompson will not hide from the fact that his sport is "inherently dangerous," and says he welcomes regulation as long as it is regulated by people who have taken the time to educate themselves on the sport. He believes what he is doing is as legitimate as any other sport and would like the credibility that comes with regulation.

"We are still a full-contact sport that has inherent dangers and accept anyone who is proactive for fighters' safety," Thompson said. "But mixed martial arts is so different from boxing I would be concerned about the boxing commission's ability to come up to speed with the safety needs and govern it."

Cabbage tied up Justin Eilers with a bear hug during a bout at the Blaisdell Arena.

IN A WAY, Super Brawl is already regulated. An official from the state's Regulated Industries Complaints Office attends each event, and Thompson is served a subpoena afterward. He has defended himself so many times, countering the blood an official sees with the lengths he goes to ensure a fighter's safety, that it has become little more than a formality.

Thompson and his stable of athletes are ever striving toward legitimacy, not wanting to rest until they get a TV deal and are afforded the respect given to boxing, whether pugilism deserves it or not. No conversation about the issue of safety is complete until it is compared with boxing.

Ultimate fighters and boxers generally respect each other and admire each others' craft. But it still bothers Thompson when he turns on his TV and the only mixed martial arts he sees are infomercials he has produced. Thompson is a boxing fan, but has gone all this time trying to get his sport perceived as an equal.

When traffic stopped on Ward Avenue three hours before Inoue's fight with Masanori Suda at Super Brawl XXIX, an event that came 350 people short of selling out the Blaisdell Arena, Thompson thought that day might be nearing.

"We have felt like the red-headed stepson for the longest time," Thompson said. "Now the stepson has grown into a champion."


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