[ SUPER BRAWL 36 ]
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kolo Koka sparred with Brandon Wolff in a small private gym in Enchanted Lakes last night.
A tournament win might be the
only thing to keep him from retiring
SOME fighters are into mixed martial arts for the money and some are in it for the fame.
Super Brawl 36
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
Where: Blaisdell Arena
>> Niko Vitale (17-3) vs. Yushin Okami (8-1)
Super Brawl/Extreme Challenge 155-pound tournament -- first round
>> Bart Palaszewski (8-3) vs. Kolo Koka (8-5)
>> Roger Huerta (9-0-1) vs. Harris Sarmiento (10-7)
>> Justin James (6-4) vs. Dain Agbayani (4-4)
>> Ryan Schultz (6-2) vs. Mike Aina (1-0)
But a few of them, like Kolo Koka of Kahaluu, are in it for the simple joy of fighting without waking up in either a hospital or a jail.
"If I was fighting for the money I wouldn't do it," Koka said. "I have a good job, but I just like being out there beating up people in a safe environment without going to jail."
Koka will be one of eight men, and one of four from Hawaii, who will participate in a single-elimination tournament on the under card of Super Brawl 36 tomorrow night at the Blaisdell Arena.
While the main draw, Niko Vitale, will be fighting Japan's Yushin Okami to open up doors to places other than the Ultimate Fighting Championships, Koka and his opponents will be trying to follow Vitale into the UFC. The winner of the tournament is guaranteed a fight on the country's biggest stage in the sport.
For the rest of the contenders, winning would set them up with a chance of a lifetime. For Koka, winning may be the only thing to keep him going.
Koka works construction at Dunwood Engineering and may even have to work tomorrow before the tournament as well as the day after the fights. But a full day of work followed by a full night of training doesn't leave much time for a family and can wear down the strongest of men.
The seemingly invincible Koka, 29, is close to wearing down and settling down with his wife and three children.
"I actually promised my kids and my wife I was going to stop after this fight." Koka said. "The training takes a lot of time away from my kids and I miss them as much as they miss me."
Koka would certainly go on to fight in the UFC if given the opportunity, his road to the top of his game has been too rough not to. Until he found mixed martial arts, Koka was a man searching for his special talent. Extremely athletic, Koka tried football at Kalaheo but never excelled. He fared much better at wrestling for the school -- even reaching the state tournament -- until, he says, he bodyslammed an opponent "WWF Style" and was kicked off the team.
He was a regular voice in the crowd at Super Brawl events, but it wasn't until he saw Vitale training at a local gym that he found his true calling. He set out to earn a spot on a Super Brawl card and it quickly turned into a possible spot in the UFC.
Koka's transition from ringside to ring went smoothly enough, as he shook off a loss in his debut -- almost everyone in the sport seems to lose his debut -- to win four of his next five and draw the interest of UFC President Dana White. White was watching very closely when the man he asked to drop from 170 to 155 pounds almost kicked his entire fighting career away.
Last year, hours after welding at home without a protective hood to the point where he says he was blind when he hit the ring, Koka responded to a tough fight from Joe Jordan by kicking the man in the head.
Super Brawl doesn't have many rules, but violating the ones that are on the books is serious business. Koka was suspended for six months during what was supposed to be his prime and may have been closer to being blackballed than he will ever know. As it is, he served the longest suspension Super Brawl president T. Jay Thompson has ever handed out.
"It came really close to ruining him," Thompson said. "I was actually tougher on Kolo than I would have been on anyone else because I expect so much from him and I thought he should have known better."
Koka says that it was an act of frustration and that he is wise enough that he can promise it will never happen again. Get him past the severity of the infraction, though, and Koka shows the grin that he is becoming famous for around the island fight scene.
"People sometimes say when you get frustrated you lose your head," Koka said. "Well, sometimes you get kicked in the head. And we both got kicked in the head."
Just as the sport almost lost Koka because he wasn't thinking things through, the sport might lose him because he is thinking things through. Koka may step down after this Super Brawl to spend more time with his family. He figures to be back on the scene whether he wants to or not, though, if his 3-year-old son, Maikalewa, has any say in it.
"He says 'I want to fight in Super Brawl like my daddy,' " Koka said. "He will probably play football. I won't push him into fighting, but if he wants to do it I will be there for him. Whatever the kids want to do, I plan on being there."