Constructing the Inaugural UFC Hawaii Card

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The UFC has long talked about bringing a UFC card to the state of Hawaii. To date, nothing past discussions have been made between the two sides. Bellator, meanwhile, has had four shows there. The Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu was becoming a spot the organization went to once a year, much like the UFC with Madison Square Garden, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic, though, the UFC has stuck to their UFC APEX facility in Las Vegas and Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Bellator, meanwhile, has mostly held events at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut (speaking of Mohegan Sun, be sure to go to Bet O’Clock to utilize the Mohegan Sun Bonus Code).

With the pandemic seeming to turn a corner, fans can once again begin reasonably thinking about potential new destinations for upcoming UFC cards. With Hawaii surely being one of the top-requested locations, here is what a potential UFC Hawaii card would look like.

UFC Hawaii Inaugural Card

Preliminary Card

Stephanie Geltmacher vs. Diana Belbita

Invicta FC veteran Stephanie Geltmacher would kick off the UFC Hawaii card at flyweight against Romanian “Warrior Princess” Diana Belbita. “Hold Fast” Geltmacher is currently 5-1, coming off of a knockout win in November. Her only loss is to current UFC flyweight Victoria Leonardo, so she is a prime candidate to earn a UFC contract regardless of if the UFC goes to her birth state or not. She would face Belbita, an experienced 24 year old who has dropped both UFC outings to date.

Johnny Parsons vs. Jacob Malkoun

The card’s second fight would feature another Hawaiian fighter not yet in the UFC. iKON Fighting Federation fan favorite Johnny Parsons is a potential candidate to be a contestant on the upcoming season of TUF 27 at middleweight, and is a heavy-handed brawler in the same vein of fellow Hawaiian middleweights Punahele Soriano and Maki Pitolo. He would face Jacob Malkoun, who was knocked out by Phil Hawes in his UFC debut.

Kai Kamaka III vs. Joshua Culibao

Kai Kamaka III made an impressive UFC debut last year, when he defeated Tony Kelley by unanimous decision. Although the “Fighting Hawaiian” dropped his last fight against Jonathan Pearce, he is looking to rebound against TJ Brown in May and remains a promising 26 year old featherweight prospect. Another fighter in a similar position is “Kuya” Joshua Culibao. Culibao, also 26, dropped his UFC debut up a weight class against Jalin Turner then fought to a draw against Charles Jourdain in October.

Maki Pitolo vs. Jack Marshman

“Coconut Bombz” Pitolo is a safe bet to bring it every night out. Although he has not had as good of a run in the UFC as desired, he has shown flashes of potential and is always in a scrap. The same can be said for Welshman “Hammer” Jack Marshman, who showed his toughness when he got pieced up by Sean Strickland in his last fight. Put them together in a barnburner of a matchup at UFC Hawaii, but the loser would likely be cut from the organization.

Louis Smolka vs. Andre Ewell

“Da Last Samurai” Louis Smolka has had an up-and-down MMA career. He went from the cusp of a UFC flyweight title shot to out of the UFC in just over a year’s span. However, he rode a three-fight win streak back to the organization in 2018, and has split wins and losses at bantamweight in his four fights since. Still only 29, Smolka still has a chance to make a run up the division. Andre Ewell would serve as a good test for him for that. “Mr. Highlight” has faced generally better competition at 135 than Smolka, albeit with mixed success.

Tyson Nam vs. Manel Kape

Tyson Nam finally got his shot in the UFC in 2019 after spending a long time grinding in other organizations. He is currently 2-3 in the UFC flyweight division, but has proven to be a tough out any time he fights. Nam should headline the UFC Hawaii preliminary card against former Rizin bantamweight champion Manel Kape, an exciting and athletic prospect who dropped his UFC debut earlier this month against Alexandre Pantoja.

Main Card

Punahele Soriano vs. Julian Marquez

Soriano has run roughshod through both UFC opponents to date following a dominant win to earn a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series. “Story Time” is quickly rising up the ranks as a result, and “The Cuban Missile Crisis” Julian Marquez should be next for him. Marquez recently returned from a long layoff to defeat Pitolo by submission in a Performance of the Night-winning showstopper. Soriano vs. Marquez is a step up in competition for both fighters, with the winner inching closer and closer to contention.

Andre Fili vs. Makwan Amirkhani

Team Alpha Male staple Andre Fili has been unable to build much momentum in the UFC, albeit with flashes of brilliance in between. Sporting one of the best nicknames in MMA, “Touchy” Fili has gone 9-7 in the organization since debuting in 2013. Still only 30, he can still contend if he can string together some wins and build on his prior successes.

“Mr. Finland” Makwan Amirkhani has also shown flashes of brilliance, especially showcased in his eight-second UFC debut win over Andy Ogle in 2015. He has only faltered against bonafide contenders in Arnold AllenShane Burgos, and Edson Barboza. Fili would be a great fight to truly prove where Amirkhani stands at 145 pounds in a non-stop action-packed fight that would be competitive wherever it goes.

Yancy Medeiros vs. Michael Johnson

It has been a tough go for Yancy Medeiros lately. He has dropped three straight fights, including two by finish. Nonetheless, he is a five-time post-fight award winner, a fan favorite, and as game as they come. The 33 year old can easily turn his troubles around with the right fight. The same can be said for Michael Johnson, who has lost four in a row at 34 years old. The explosive striker still shows the ability to shut anyone’s lights out, but a loss for him could spell the end for his career sooner rather than later. This is a do-or-die fight for both combatants, where anything can happen.

Brad Tavares vs. Makhmud Muradov

It is hard to believe that Brad Tavares has been fighting in the UFC for nearly 11 years at this point. He is consistently a fighter that flies under the radar, but is one of the most impressive middleweights around when he steps into the Octagon. At only 33 years old, Tavares should still have some good years ahead of him, too.

An intriguing matchup would be between him and hot prospect Makhmud Muradov. Muradov has looked extremely impressive since joining the UFC, including a pair of vicious knockouts against Trevor Smith and Andrew Sanchez. The fight would be a step up for “Mach” Muradov, while giving Tavares a chance to prove he still deserves to have a number next to his name in what should be a scintillating striking matchup at UFC Hawaii.

Dan Ige vs. Josh Emmett

It would be tough to find a fighter that exemplifies Hawaiian MMA more than “50k” Dan Ige. His combination of pressure, toughness, and skill with his hands makes him a prototypical Hawaiian fighter. This skillset has gotten him into the top ten of the UFC’s featherweight division, one of the most talent-filled divisions in the organization. Although he dropped a decision to Calvin Kattar in his last fight to snap a six-fight win streak, he is still one of the division’s top contenders. He will look to prove that against Gavin Tucker in a few weeks.

Assuming he gets by the short-notice replacement in Tucker, a matchup with Josh Emmett would be an excellent stand-up affair. Emmett’s power is second-to-none in the division, so it would be an interesting stylistic battle when combined with Ige’s skillset. This fight would be an excellent co-main event for UFC Hawaii.

Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez

There can not be a UFC Hawaii card without the “Blessed” one, Max Holloway. He has overtaken the legendary former UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn as the face of Hawaiian MMA, and has been one of the most outspoken proponents for bringing a card to the Island State.

In the proposed card’s main event, he should put up his self-proclaimed title of “best boxer in the UFC” against flashy striker Yair Rodriguez. Not only would it be a barnburner of a striking matchup between a lethal technician and a human highlight reel, it would also be a matchup of fighters from two of the world’s most prominent fighting cultures in Hawaii and Mexico. Interestingly, the fight would also mark the first time that Holloway faced someone younger than him since he fought Clay Collard way back in 2014.

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Nate Freeman is from Birmingham, AL, and has been an MMA fan since 2013 after buying UFC Undisputed 2009 for $2 from a second-hand electronics store.

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