While his UFC debut against Callan Potter did not go according to plan at Melbourne’s UFC 243 in October, Hawaiian Welterweight Maki Pitolo will not be letting a decision loss be a hindrance when his MMA journey reaches UFC Fight Night: Auckland in 12 day’s time (February 23). Rather, the loss has had the opposite effect as Pitolo has gained a wealth of experience from his first UFC bout.
“It was definitely an experience that I felt kinda played in my favour – to go in there and debut in front of 60 000 people plus. To go three rounds inside of there, it was nothing but experience on my side and I know I won’t be in that predicament ever again. Everything I’m going to be doing from now on is going to be with ease”, he reflected.
In fact, the fighter known as “Coconut Bombz” will not be taking a backward step in an effort to entertain the fans in New Zealand.
“I like to push the pace in my fights. I like the action. I don’t like to just sit around and kinda have a boring fight. I wanna be a crowd-pleaser, entertainer at the end of the day”, he told.
Pitolo will take on Japan’s Takashi Sato (15-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC) who is also looking to rebound from a loss, after being submitted by Belal Muhammad at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi last September. Despite his debut loss, Pitolo is confident that he will be able to dictate the contest and get the better of Sato, whether the fight stays standing or ends up on the ground.
“I’ve studied some tape on him when he’s fought Ben Saunders and Belal Muhammad and from what I’ve seen I know if I get him on his back foot it’ll be a good night for me”, Pitolo said.
“I feel like I’m a bit quicker in the stand-up range and I know I can take him wherever the fight goes. I know I can capitalise on anything. I’ve been really working on putting together my ground game with my stand up so that everything can just flow as one.”
Not only is the prospect of putting on a show for the fans in Auckland something that interests Pitolo, the opportunity to fight again in Polynesia and in a region where Polynesian fighters like MMA icon and South Auckland’s Mark Hunt, as well as recent UFC 247 winner Justin Tafa have made headlines is exciting for the 29-year-old.
“It’s going to be something to go in there and put on in the same city that all these other legends were able to put on in. I’m not a heavyweight, but I do pack a punch like a heavyweight”, Pitolo said, raising his fists and boasting a huge smile.
It will be the second time in which he has fought in Polynesia for a major MMA promotion, having defeated Chris Cisneros by submission at Bellator 213 in his native Hawaii in December 2018. Fighting on the card headlined by fellow Hawaiian and Bellator Flyweight Champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is an experience that has not been lost on Pitolo. The event has inspired him in his fighting career since his hand was raised on that night.
“Hawaii came out, they showed out. The crowd was unbelievable, Ilima was crazy, she brought the performance of a lifetime for the first major card to come to Hawaii. She really put on a good performance and for all of us local boys, it just gave us that standard to build to”, he remembers.
While there is a close-knit group of Hawaiian fighters within his circle, one of those “local boys” referred to is fellow UFC fighter Yancy Medeiros, a person with whom Pitolo has developed a relationship that he considers closer than that of friends and training partners. Instead, the pair see each other as family.
“That’s like my older brother, he’s taught me so much in my career and he’s showed me the roads to go down and the roads not to go down. I have nothing but respect for my brother, I love him”, he said.
Indeed, it is clear that representing Hawaii and his people, friends and family holds a great deal of significance for Maki Pitolo as he strives to create a legacy on one of the biggest stages in the sport.
“This is my people, this is my Island. You know, this is what we do, we’re warriors out here. We just wanna represent on the biggest stage and if we can do that for our little tiny Island around the world, it means a lot for us. When one of us make it, we all make it”, he proudly told.
None of this is to suggest that the Hawaiian is getting ahead of himself though. Rather, he keeps a level head and stays grounded. After all, the journey to even get the opportunity to fight for a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019 was a long one that spanned 14 professional fights across major regional organisations such as Victory FC and Cage Fury Fighting Championships. Pitolo is well aware of where he has come from and where he has been as he looks towards his upcoming bout.
“I had to do what I had to do, took the long road, the hard road. Sometimes that’s the road that some guys have to take in this MMA career…I had to earn my shots and I can say that I’m blessed to be where I’m at right now with the experience that I have”, he told, before adding that ‘now it’s all about being the best that I can be and now I can create a legacy for myself.’
However, Maki was quick to remind me of what his intentions are come February 23rd: “I’m pushing for a finish anywhere in the fight; first, second, third round – I’m just gonna go out there and do my thing, take my time, let the finish present itself and hit him on the head with a Cocount Bomb”, he said, before closing with a statement that shows Auckland’s fight fans and those watching around the world that they do not want to miss this potential fight of the night bout.
“I’m just making sure I’m prepped in all areas of my game so I can go in there 100 percent sure of myself and be able to put on the show of a lifetime. Every fight I go in there to kill or be killed.”
Follow Maki Pitolo on Social Media: @Coconut_bombz on Twitter and @coconut_bombz on Instagram
UFC Fight Night – Auckland: Felder v Hooker takes place on Sunday February 23: Prelims 8am AEDT, Main Card 11am AEDT