By billy hull
While B.J. Penn has done amazing things promoting the state of Hawaii in his memorable UFC career, Niko Vitale has more than pulled his own weight.
Unlike Penn, who has only fought in Hawaii a couple of times, Vitale has been the staple of local MMA fights for a decade. From SuperBrawl to Icon Sport to X-1, Vitale has been the man more people have come out to see locally than anyone else. Over 20 times, he’s stepped into a ring or a cage in Hawaii to establish himself as one of the true local legends of the sport.
On Saturday night, Vitale added another win to his impressive resume, knocking out Dylan Clay in the first round of their X-1 main event fight in front of approximately 1,500 fans at the Blaisdell Arena. The big news came after the fight, when Vitale announced he would relinquish his 185-pound X-1 belt to give an opportunity to the younger up-and-coming fighters that aspire to be part of the next great wave of MMA fighters.
Don’t be fooled, Vitale isn’t going away forever.
Vitale has what likely will be his last chance at a run through major organizations, signing a two-fight deal with Bellator Fighting Championships. Vitale will face one of the best fighters not currently under the Zuffa banner in Hector Lombard. The fight will be shown on MTV in May.
I imagine before Vitale’s career is all said and done, he will fight at least one more time at the Blaisdell to give all the fans that have followed him a proper time and way to say goodbye. But as Vitale said after his knockout of Clay, he doesn’t feel he’s done yet, and beating a guy like Lombard would be the perfect statement that he’s ready for one final run against some of the best fighters in the world.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a fighter as nice and respectful as Vitale has been to me in the five or six years I’ve known him. Anytime you want an interview, he’ll talk, and he’ll answer every question you ask. If there’s anybody that deserves one last big run on the national stage, it’s Vitale, but to do it, he’s got to defeat Lombard, which will be an extremely tough task.
The fight is May 14 on MTV2. Don’t miss it.