Kai Kamaka III is a name to get to know. While yet to be confirmed, the UFC is putting together a stacked card on May 1st that will be headlined by Light Heavyweight Dominick Reyes and Jiri Prochazka.
In the prelims, featherweights Kai Kamaka III and TJ Brown will scrap, with both looking to get back in the win column. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kai Kamaka III as he prepares for his upcoming fight on May 1st.
Kai Kamaka III (8-3 overall, 1-1 in UFC) is looking to get back in the win column against TJ Brown. In his first fight in the UFC, Kamaka stepped in on short notice and defeated Tony Kelley in a fight that earned Fight of the Night honors. However, Kamaka suffered a loss in his second UFC contest, losing by TKO in round two against Jonathan Pearce. “The Fighting Hawaiian” likes to swarm his opponents, very reminiscent of Max Holloway.
TJ Brown (14-8 overall, 0-2 in UFC) is still searching for his first win with the promotion. After losing by a guillotine choke in his first fight against Jordan Griffin, Brown dropped his last fight in August to Danny Chavez. However, despite the back-to-back losses, Brown has a variety of submissions in his bag, with nine career finishes by submission throughout his career.
With both guys looking to get back in the win column, this should be an entertaining fight to watch.
Interview with Kai Kamaka III
First off, how has your training been affected by COVID and gyms shutting down? Has it affected your ability to train for your fights over the past year?
Kai Kamaka III: Honestly, COVID has changed my whole life as far as my landscape on MMA and what I had to do to move my career. Opportunities weren’t knocking in the beginning of the year. I fought in various spots in Texas last year, and then in 2020 I was supposed to fight in Texas, but the world got shut down. I got booked for LFA when MMA started moving again and after that fight I stayed in Vegas. I got my UFC debut, and then my wife and I considered the idea of staying in Vegas because financially it was way cheaper. 2020 screwed everyone up so after my UFC debut, about a month after she gave birth to our child, we decided to move out here. I took a last minute fight against Jonathan Pearce because I was out here in Vegas and looking for a spot. That fight put me right at home in terms of being in fight week.
Has it benefitted you being in Vegas, and being so close to the UFCPI where you can take more fight opportunities?
Kai Kamaka III: Maybe not fight opportunities, but certainly being in Vegas and training a lot more has helped. I have more training partners, and a good set of coaches that are there for me and help me grow as a fighter.
How did this fight with TJ Brown come together, and what have you been doing to train for the bout?
Kai Kamaka III: Honestly, it came together the day after I had cleared COVID and went back to the gym when I got the call to fight TJ Brown. They gave me another name in Jamey Simmons, but he was dropping weight so I accepted the fight with TJ. Since then, camp has been great and I haven’t done anything different from last time. It’s going to be a whole different me and I’ll have a lot more tools to use this fight. I wouldn’t even judge me off of my last fight because I took that fight on seven days’ notice. I had a lot going on in my life since I had just moved one week prior. There was a lot going on and I was advised not to take the fight, but I still took that one. Honestly, I don’t regret taking that fight at all because it helped me learn a lot of lessons. In this fight with TJ Brown, you’re going to be able to see my full arsenal.
I think one reason why fans love your game is because of how much you swarm guys with pressure. However, you only have one finish in your career. Is getting the finish something you want to make more of a priority as you advance in your career?
Kai Kamaka III: Honestly, I think that will come. To me, I approach fighting a bit differently in that I would prefer breaking their will. As far as getting finishes is concerned, I haven’t gotten many, but I have been able to break guys’ will, and I feel like I’m coming into my own now. I’m much more mature as far as my body and mentally, my power is much better, and it’s all coming together, so I think the finishes will start coming. I turned pro at a young age and dealt with a lot of injuries, so I wasn’t allowing myself to get finishes. I think it’s finally coming together and I think you will see a lot more finishes, but my number one goal is to break guys’ will.
There has been a big rise of Hawaiian fighters, including Max Holloway and Dan Ige. Does seeing fellow Hawaiian succeed at the highest level encourage you to want to follow them?
Kai Kamaka III: Yeah. In my division, we have a lot of success. I was raised to do this from a young age. Me and my cousin Ray Cooper, all we ever dreamed of was fighting at the biggest level against the best guys. Honestly, the thing that gets us up is just competition. Everything else is cool, but I want to just compete and we come from wrestling backgrounds. We were going to the biggest events in the 90s, just because we were born into fighting. The only thing that held me back was injuries.
I went to college and I feel like now that I’m in Vegas, I feel like I’m a lot more mature. I have three kids now, and the way that I approach it mentally is different. In this fight, it’s going to be a way better version of me. I’ve had 11 days total days combined notice in my last two fights, and I have 11 weeks for this fight. Fighting is fighting, but in terms of preparation, this will by far be the best for me.
It gives me drive to be successful by watching the guys that came before me, but I feel like I have been doing this for longer. When I grew up, Max Holloway and I fought on the same kickboxing card as kids, so I like him a lot as a peer and as a friend. Holloway’s a former training partner, I’ve helped him in camps with sparring. Dan Ige is one of my main guys now as well.
From watching your tape your game reminds me a ton of Max Holloway because of how much you swarm guys with pressure. Would you agree with this comparison?
Kai Kamaka III: Oh, for sure. You guys don’t really know this, but he’s played a big part in my life and how I approach training. I was his training partner for the Frankie Edgar camp and for a few other of his fights. I got to feel first hand how those guys like Jose Aldo felt, how Brian Ortega felt in being drowned by pressure. He played a big part in me maturing as an athlete and how important cardio is. I was always in shape, or I thought I was, up until I sparred with Max Holloway. It was different, Max opened my eyes to doing things differently in terms of cardio. I’m getting ready to do some cardio right now after this interview. He didn’t even have to tell me anything, but I’ve told him that he changed my mindset for training and doing cardio. I just believe that pressure wins fights, and I love pressuring guys, and trying to drown guys. My mindset on what it takes to to be a great fighter has completely changed because of Max Holloway.
How much of a difference does it make for you having a full camp this fight, versus stepping in on short notice in your previous two fights?
Kai Kamaka III: The only thing that really changes is the preparation and me being able to prepare for a specific date. Being able to gameplan for a specific camp and being able to let my coaches do what they gotta do has helped me prepare for that date.
You mentioned that you have been fighting since you were young. Did you begin doing MMA from the start or did you come from a different background?
Kai Kamaka III: We were always training and we were always in the gym from a young age, and we did everything. We wrestled, we boxed. I always wrestled; from middle school on, I took wrestling more seriously. In high school, I played football a little bit, but most of my focus was on wrestling. It was inevitable that MMA was what I was going to do, but it was just a matter of time.
So for my final question, if all goes well and you beat TJ Brown, how busy would you like to be in 2021?
Kai Kamaka III: I would like to fight three or four times this year. That’s always the goal, and I’m fully settled in on my living situation. With my coaches and team at Xtreme Couture as well, I’m all set. I’m excited and I want to be active especially since my cousin is back active now as well in the PFL. It was rough when I was traveling and I got injured, so it would be rough watching my cousin fight while I was on the sidelines. But if I’m healthy, I want to fight 2-4 times this year.
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