Australia. Finland. Morocco. Poland. It’s been a personal "Amazing Race" for Samalia "Lia" Berger-Mata‘afa this year. She has chased her dream around the globe while waiting for the sport of MMA to catch up with her and the other female fighters.
Her passport stamps match the number of medals won, the last coming at November’s Senior World Grappling, Pankration & Amateur MMA World Championships in Krakow, Poland. Representing American Samoa, she won the female amateur MMA World Championship title at 145 pounds, running her amateur record to 4-0.
"There aren’t that many opportunities out there for women to fight," the 32-year-old Berger-Mata‘afa said. "The competition in New York in February that’s in conjunction with the World MMA Expo will only have one weight class for women.
"I do feel I’ve been ahead of it, just like in high school. Clarissa (Chun), Stephany (Lee) and I helped pave the way for girls wrestling."
Berger-Mata‘afa (Lahainaluna), along with U.S. Olympic wrestling team selections Chun (Roosevelt) and Lee (Moanalua), were among the pioneers of girls wrestling in Hawaii in the late 1990s. Berger-Mata‘afa won the 140-pound class in the inaugural HHSAA girls state wrestling championship in 1998.
Berger-Mata‘afa took a long break from the mat to attend Boston University on a full academic scholarship. She discovered rugby — "more of a hobby," she said — while finishing her degree in political science and international relations.
Upon returning to Hawaii she revisited wrestling and, two years ago, moved to MMA.
"I decided to train for fun and exercise," she said. "I loved it. I’m very competitive. I wanted to fight."
She’s no stranger to the dedication and training the sport requires. Berger-Mata‘afa works out five times a week, often starting with a morning cardio workout that includes the Koko Crater Trail and its 1,200-foot climb in elevation. (Her best time is 18 minutes, 30 seconds).
"Training is my second job," said the bartender at RB Sports Bar & Grill near the University of Hawaii. "I’m lucky that I’ve had such great support from family and friends, and from my very understanding boss.
"I’ve always been a fan of combat sports and the workouts. I do a lot of different things, mix it up. I do wrestling and I love the MMA classes at the (BJ Penn UFC) gym. You’re working ever muscle in your body."
Her training for February’s competition includes dropping about 10 pounds, back down to her high school wrestling weight. Her high-protein diet has an exotic twist: she’s become a big fan of buffalo meat.
"I was a little afraid to try it," she said. "I like it now. It tastes like beef."
Berger-Mata‘afa said that being the oldest of seven children helped her become independent as well as adventurous. She traveled to Europe alone, without a coach or training partner; and she rode a camel in Morocco.
Still, it has been hard to fight gender and cultural biases when also fighting in the ring.
"I’m very proud of being Samoan, but women and wrestling aren’t part of our culture," she said. "I’m hoping that girls will look at me and see where this has taken me."
In February, it will be to the FILA North American Invitational as one of eight females in the tournament. In April, it will be Guam for the Oceania Games, where she will compete in several disciplines, including MMA and wrestling. In June, there is an MMA competition in Ontario, Canada.
"After that, I want to turn pro," she said. "My goal is to win a UFC world title. That’s the ultimate.
"And when I retire? Probably train the next generation of girls."
The Olympics are still on the table, however. If she so chooses, she will again compete for American Samoa in the Olympic wrestling trials for 2016. Berger-Mata‘afa placed fifth at the Africa-Oceania Olympic qualifier earlier this year.
"American Samoa will support me if I go for 2016," she said. "But right now, I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and I’m ready to go for it.
"What I would tell young women who are interested is that it takes a lot of heart. You’re going to get beat up on some days but on other days, it will be your day. I know that I learn more when I get submitted in the cage during practice than when I win. You can’t get discouraged. You have to keep pushing."
442nd Combat Team honored at AJA
The Oahu AJA Baseball Association will pay tribute to veterans of the 442 Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion, Military Intelligence Service and 1399 Engineer Construction Battalion during its opening day ceremony on Sunday at Central Oahu Regional Park.
All attending veterans will throw a ceremonial first pitch, which begins at 12:45 p.m. The players will wear a specially designed patch for the 70th anniversary of the 442nd RCT.
For information, call Gwen Fujie 691-9693, Wally Izumigawa at 630-7327 or Eddie Hayashi at 595-6935 or 295-2360.
Boxing distinction to Galdones
Chavez Galdones of Flipside Boxing Club was named the outstanding boxer of last weekend’s inaugural Hawaii Silver Gloves championship at Wahiawa District Park gym.
Galdones defeated Asa Stevens of Waianae Boxing Club in the 90-pound bout of the 12- to 13-year-old division. Competition was in 8-9 through 14-15 age groups.
The outstanding bout of the competition went to the 12-13 95-pound fight won by TNT’s Nicholas Siordia over Waianae’s Nyllen Kukahiko.
Galdones and Siordia are among the 14 champions in the three age groups who advance to the Region VII Championships, Jan. 3-6, in Pasadena, Calif.
Autocross at stadium Sunday
Autocross, a solo competitive driving skills event, will be held Sunday at Aloha Stadium.
Sponsored by the Hawaii Region Sports Car Club of America, the event offers more than 30 divisions with drivers competing for best times over four separate laps. Drivers also can qualify for the championship run-off in April.
Gates open at 7 a.m. with heats beginning at 9:30 a.m. Walk-up registration is from 7 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. For information, contact Jennifer Parker at JL24@hawaii.com.
IT&B sponsors food drive
The fourth Island Triathlon & Bike Food Drive will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the IT&B shop on Kapahulu Avenue.
Those donating a dozen or more cans will receive a free bike tuneup. An IT&B jersey will go to the person donating the most cans and cycling shorts will go to the second-most cans. A reservation for the tuneup is suggested by calling 732-7227.
Game management clinic Saturday
HISOA Basketball coordinator/rules interprater Mason Souza is the featured clinician at Saturday’s game management session at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.
The event runs from 8:30 until 11:30 a.m. and is open to all high school basketball officials and coaches. For information, contact Souza at 443-8881.
Island BMX: Registration, 4 p.m.; racing, 5 p.m. Sandbox track, Sand Island.islandbmx.org.
Honolulu Lawn Bowls Club: 10 a.m., HLBC Clubhouse, Ala Moana Park. honolululawnbowls.com.
20th Cold Pack Classic: 9:30 a.m., Lanikai Beach, Kai ‘Olena right-of-way. Registration: 7:30 a.m., Lanikai Community Park. OC1, OC2, SUP, surf ski. 524-6677.
Honolulu Cricket Club: Inter-club match, 10:30 a.m., Kapiolani Park. honolulucricketclub.org.
Wailupe Loop: 6 miles. Meet, 8 a.m., Iolani Palace. htmclub.org.
Homeward Bound 5K: 7 a.m., Manoa Valley District Park. homewardbound5K.blogspot.com.
31st Hawaiian Christmas Looong Distance Double Roughwater Invitational: 4.33 miles, 8 a.m., Kaimana Beach. waikikiswimclub.org.
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AAU Tryouts and clinics: Through Open Court Basketball. Sundays starting Jan. 6, Palama Settlement Gym. Boys and girls, ages 8-15. Information: Geremy Robinson, 757-1714. opencourthawaii.com.
Winter Shootout Tournament: 5-on-5 grass tournament, youth, adult coed, adult open and adult premier divisions, Dec. 30, Central Oahu Regional Park. $1,000 cash prize for adult premier division. hawaiistreetsoccer.com.
PGA Tour of Champions: Volunteers needed for Jan. 3-7 event at Kapalua Resorts. http://events.trustevent.com/index.cfm?eid=1101.
Diamond Head Classic: 11 a.m. Dec. 30, Kaimana Beach to Hilton Pier, 2.4 miles. pseresults.com.
Hapalua Half Marathon: 13.1 miles, 6 a.m., March 10, Kapiolani Park. Online registration open for runners, walkers, relay teams. thehapalua.com.
I Got Skills Clinic Series: Eight-week program begins Jan. 7. Boys and girls, ages 6-14. Igotskillscamps.com.
Honolulu RipTide Girls 12-U Team: Looking for players. Experience preferred but not necessary: Information: 375-7733.
Lil’ Spikers Volleyball Academy: Registration open for clinics for boys and girls, ages 5-10. Information: 561-2239. llilspikers.com.