Hawaii and MMA go together like Apple Pie and Ice Cream. It just fits. Hawaii’s fighting history is as storied as MMA itself. Great champions such as BJ Penn and Max Holloway have found success both as champions and as beloved ambassadors for the sport.
Ilima Lei-Macfarlane continues to be a poster child for Bellator MMA and was a driving force in bringing the organization to the islands. Rachael Ostovich continues to make a name for herself on the bare knuckle scene, Ray Cooper III remains the PFL welterweight champion and Kendall Grove stands tall as Hawaii’s first ever winner of The Ultimate Fighter. Long story short, Hawaii likes to fight.
However the question that seems to linger remains simple, who’s next? Hawaii fighters haven’t had luck as of late. Punahele Soriano lost his last bout, both Maki Pitolo and Martin Day have been removed from UFC rosters and Nainoa Dung has failed to live up to expectations in Bellator. Across the Pacific, Christian Lee lost his ONE lightweight title in his last bout. Only his sister, Angela Lee (not KGB) is a non-tournament champion. As we all know, failure is not final and we should all expect big things from all the fighters listed above. Yet, who is next?
I had a distant relative embark on an MMA career in the early 2010s. One of the more notable names coming out of the islands around that time was Boston Salmon. A knockout machine from Waianae, Salmon possesses both fists of iron and a refined boxing background. In his youth, he competed and found success in Golden Gloves competitions where his talents eventually lined him up with an amateur bout versus boxing superstar Errol Spence Jr. Salmon would finish his amateur career at 3-0 with two knockouts.
The Big Leagues Come Calling
After six professional fights where Salmon amassed a record of 5-1 (loss was via split decision) with four KO/TKO wins, the UFC came calling. On Dana White’s Contender Series, Salmon dominated Ricky Turcios with a display of precision striking with violent intent. Dana White would offer him a contract that night.
A Turn in the Road
As everything fell into place, Salmon walked into UFC 236 destined to make a name for himself. Where his Waianae brethren Max Holloway was set to compete for the interim lightweight title against Dustin Poirier, Salmon looked to beat Khalid Taha, a fight for which he was the betting favorite. Dreams turned into nightmares as within the first minute, the fight was over.
After feeling each other out briefly, the orthodox Taha parried the right hand of the southpaw Salmon with his left, threw a right hook which parried Salmon’s left and finished with a clean advancing left hook. The shot put Salmon on the ground and in his attempted scramble, Taha finished the match with two shots to the head.
In his second fight, Salmon faced Randy Costa. The result was no better. The once touted “boxing expert” was outclassed on the feet in a way only few expected. Costa looked like he was on another level and Salmon looked like he started boxing lessons the week before. Salmon looked uncharacteristically sloppy. He was flat footed, hesitant and unable to defend himself from Costa’s long reach. Costa’s left hand kept finding home until he closed off the octagon and tattooed Salmon with devastating one-two combos. Costa would land a nasty right cross that ended both Salmon’s night and his first run in the UFC.
As shown with multiple fighters (most recently Brandon Moreno), getting cut from the UFC isn’t the end of the road. Boston Salmon would find himself another shot in the UFC’s feeder league, LFA. Against Shawn West, Salmon again found himself in first round trouble. A striking exchange gone wrong put a dazed Salmon on the ground. As West ran in to finish the job, he struck Salmon with an illegal knee to the head.
The strike knocked Salmon out cold in one of the most vicious and gut wrenching knockouts in the promotion’s history. Salmon, who had one knee and a hand on the ground, was a downed opponent when West hit him. It’s unknown if West thought he wasn’t down or if he thought Salmon was in the process of standing up. The strike was textbook illegal and Salmon was awarded the victory. A victory that came at a steep price as Boston Salmon suffered a crushed orbital bone, an injury so devastating he contemplated retirement.
A New Day For Boston Salmon
Salmon hasn’t fought since, but that isn’t his fault. Four scheduled bouts of his have been canceled for a variety of reasons. Now redemption has come calling and Salmon may have found it in the graces of the PFL. Scheduled to fight Do Gyeom Lee in the PFL contenders series on March 11th, Salmon looks to put himself in prime position to become MMA’s next millionaire like fellow Hawaiian Ray Cooper III.
At only 31, Boston Salmon has a lot of fighting in him left. With the adverse road he’s been on, he wouldn’t be fighting unless he truly believes he can compete. If he goes back to the basics and shows the patience that got him to the UFC, Salmon has every reason to ascend the MMA ladder. I have the utmost confidence in Salmon, you don’t get the hype he got by accident. Come March 11th, watch out as he takes the first step towards greatness.
Featured image credit to Embed from Getty Images