Let’s face it. MMA in Hawaii is dead on its legs.
The sport itself remains popular here. You just wouldn’t know it from the lack of big crowds at the last few local events. Sad, since this was one of the emerging sport’s hotbeds in the ’90s and ’00s, and is home to one of its biggest stars, B.J. Penn.
Its status here reminds me of boxing in the 1980s: There was a great local tradition in the sport and interest was still high — just not in what the local promotion had to offer.
There’s plenty of decent young talent, and there’s an iconic veteran in Niko Vitale, who defends his X-1 middleweight championship tomorrow at the Blaisdell against a beefed up Dylan Clay.
Vitale and Clay have colorful backgrounds; Vitale as a former UH football player, and Clay as a fellow who tried his hand at culinary school and modeling before bringing his jujitsu training into the cage.
But neither is what you’d call flamboyant and neither talks trash, and that doesn’t help fill the arena.
In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be necessary. Their skill, discipline and courage as fighters would be enough to draw a crowd.
Clay, who at 32 is four years younger than Vitale, is old enough to remember how boxing cards were hyped by over-the-top fighters and managers willing to throw taunts and even blows at prematch press conferences and weigh-ins. You rarely see that kind of lead-in color in MMA, especially in Hawaii, and especially since Mayhem Miller left the island scene.
Maybe that signals a substance-over-style aspect (that ought to draw the ire of the AARP set). But, as Clay said, "All that hype helps sell tickets. But I’m just not that kind of guy."
Clay agreed another factor is MMA is based in fighting styles emphasizing humility and respect for the opponent more than boxing does. There was nary a stink-eye at yesterday’s presser, just a lot of talk about how everyone loves and respects each other.
It will be interesting to see if tomorrow’s card can match the 2,500 reportedly in attendance for Vitale’s victory over Kala Hose last September.
» For those disgusted by Hawaii playing in one of the little sock hops because it didn’t make it to the Big Dance, I have just one question: What’s it to you?
As long as UH athletic director Jim Donovan did his due diligence and figured this would be at least a break-even proposition financially, why not?
I hesitate in this case to call it postseason, though. Consider it preseason for 2011-12. As with football bowl games, one of the bonuses in playing on is that you get to keep practicing together as a team. That’s an invaluable investment for the future for a young squad like the Rainbows.
» Forward Luke Sikma averages double figures in points and rebounds for the team that plays UH on Tuesday.
Recalling the great rivalry between the Sonics and TrailBlazers, it’s ironic that Jack Sikma’s son would play for any team named Portland.
» The recreational softball community suffered a big loss with the death of Ben Naki at age 60 last week. "Uncle Ben," as he was known by many players, was Oahu’s foremost league and tournament organizer.
He headed the Family Stones Softball Club that was especially known for its alumni tournaments.
"Though he was ‘Family Stones’ he never took credit for anything he did," said his good friend, Stan Mahelona. "It was always the people who helped him make things happen that he talked about."
Mahelona reminds us that basketball was Naki’s first love, and he played guard on one of Hawaii’s greatest high school teams, the Saint Louis squad featuring big men Jim Nicholson and Howie Dunnam.
Services are set for March 29, 5-9 p.m. at Mililani Mortuary’s mauka chapel.
» Something to ponder, but not for too long. If you think about it, this is a good question from the uninitiated: If Sharla Kliebenstein is a left-handed catcher, why does she wear a glove on her right hand?