By: King Eddie
Looking back on Friday night's "Man Up & Stand Up" card, this reporter is at no loss for words in describing the absolute awesomeness that was on display. The entire event was a testament to the direction of Hawaii's young up and coming fighters. From the all the kickboxing fights to the grappling match, the technique, skill, heart, and sportsmanship was overflowing. A promoter even got into the cage with a veteran fighter, in order to learn firsthand what he asks of fighters. This entire card was a shining example of how great the amateur fighting landscape is here on the islands.
To be completely fair, all of the matches on the card were exciting. The match ups were fantastic, and each fighter came out looking to finish the fight. Yet there were a few that stood out. One such fight was Julio Moreno of Bulls Pen, making his re-emergence into the fight game against a tough and game opponent, O2 MMA's Kainoa Cooke. The first round was controlled by the speed and pressure of Cooke. His accuracy and power proved to complicate things for the much shorter Moreno. But halfway through the second round, the Bulls Pen product scored a big overhand that shook things up a bit. Cooke held his composure and fought wisely, but it was clear that Moreno had found an opening. As the third round unfolded, neither fighter would relent. Punch for punch, flurry for flurry, kick for kick, Moreno and Cooke demonstrated exactly what it means to fight from bell to bell. There was no backing down in the ring. Though the fight was ruled a draw, I prefer to rule it a double win.
Chante Stafford was originally scheduled to fight a different opponent, but when the bout couldn't happen many thought it would be scrapped. Little did we know that on short notice, the one and only Joey "Balistic" Balai would step in to put on yet another jaw droppingly exciting affair. Stafford and Balai threw down in every round. The speed and evasive abilities of Stafford proved very troubling for Balai. But the power and pressure of Balai also challenged Stafford. The meeting was an exhibition, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that we'd love to see this match on the record.
Following a short break, fans returned to their seats with no shortage of action on hand. The fight on deck was a title bout between Anthony Reyes and Donald Peters. Both men are fairly well known on the kickboxing circuit, each having battled through many opponents. What unfolded in this particular meeting was incredible to watch. Peters unloaded from the start. His kicks proved to be trouble for Reyes from the start. But what could not be immediately seen was the determination of Reyes. Though the rounds were not resulting favorably for him, Anthony Reyes continued to battle on. Every time he hit the mat, he returned to his feet and took another swing at victory. Inevitably, Peters turned up the heat in the third and finished the fight with a TKO, but Anthony Reyes can easily consider himself respected for such a resilient performance.
In a fight that many would call the fight of the night, Robert "Cholo" Aguirre took on the O2 MMA product, Justin Dulay. We've all seen Cholo fighting through nearly every form of amateur fighting allowed here in Hawaii. He is definitely a veteran and a tough opponent for anyone. That too can be said of Justin Dulay. Time after time, Dulay delivers exciting fights and improving skills. The match started fast paced and remained as such. Cholo threw power whenever he could, but Dulay quite simply put on a clinic. His movement and speed caused several problems for Aguirre, and the placement of his shots did damage. Immediate damage to be honest. The exchanges were impressive but Dualy had the obvious edge. In the second round, a perfect opportunity arose for Dulay to take a risk and it gained him one hell of a reward. As Cholo backed away near the cage, Dulay took a leap, bounded off of the cage, and landed a rather fantastic "Showtime Kick" that ended the fight. Since the kick heard round the world took place on the final WEC event, fight fans have been subject to several attempts but very few finishes. This attempt was successful. The crowd arose, cheering and screaming, as Dulay walked away with the belt around his waist and his hand in the air.
In another exciting title bout, the promising up and comer, Brysen Blolohao took on Joeseph Hopps. Both fighters were really taking a risk in this fight. There was really no scenario in which it would be an easy night for either man. Hopps is a complex combination of Power and speed that can be amazing to watch yet impossible to contend against. Bolohao is part of the new wave of fighters who reinvent the word style. All three rounds really merge together as one in my mind considering how hard it was to award any one round to either man. In the end, it was Bolohao's defense that set up his scoring the victory. The young fighter's ability to move in and out of danger while scoring counter shots is mind blowing. Every fight, Bolohao progresses. A well deserved title now rests around his waist.
In the co-main event of the evening, and possibly the most anticipated fight of the card, SEC promoter, Andrew Garcia, took to the cage for his first fight. His opponent was the veteran kickboxer, Marc Kumai. Though many would not make their debut against such a traveled fighter, Garcia didn't hesitate. He said that it was his respect for Kumai that led him to the decision. Before the fight, Kumai spoke of how honored he was to be selected and how he would make the fight entertaining for all. The follow through was dead on. The bout opened with Garcia and Kumai meeting in the center of the cage. Both man throwing heavy leather, neither man showing damage. In an interesting turn, Garcia found himself in control as he backed Kumai against the cage with a flurry of purely power punches. But the composure of the veteran Kumai shined through. He weathered the storm and threw well placed body and leg kicks to disrupt the movement of Garcia. As the first round came to a close, Garcia had already done more than many could expect of a first time fighter taking on that level of competition. But for Garcia, he wanted the win. Charging into the second round Garcia stood him ground, but the skill and experience and skill of Kumai took control. The end came after a combination of kicks and knees to the body. When the count came to ten, the fighters hugged in a sign of respect. With the win, Kumai showed that he is not to be taken lightly, and Garcia proved that he is committed to following through. He stood by his word of taking on the challenge. Throughout the entire fight, the capacity crowd was on its toes. Both men should be proud of their performances.
SEC and Man Up & Stand Up put on quite a show for the local fans. They never disappoint! The platform that they provide has birthed some of the best and most elite fighters in fight sports today.