K.J. Noons is no haole boy.
The beautiful sands and beaches are familiar to the native Hawaiian.
Now the EliteXC lightweight champion, who combines mixed martial arts with boxing skills, returns home to the Hawaiian Islands to defend his title against the formidable Yves Edwards (33-13-1) at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu. The fight card will be televised on Showtime at 10 p.m on Saturday night.
For a time, Noons was fighting both MMA and boxing professionally, but he’s dispensed with boxing while he defends his world title captured last year against Nick Diaz.
“As soon as I’m done with this fight, I’d like to pursue my boxing career,” says Noons, who has a 7-1 record as a boxer. “I’m just concentrating on this promotion.
Noons (6-2 in MMA) features powerful and straight punches combined with a mixed martial arts bag of tricks that has rocketed him to the title and made him the poster boy for the entire fight card.
It wasn’t by accident.
Hawaii has long been a breeding ground for fighters in combat sports from jiu-jitsu to street fighting. The islanders just love their fights. Maybe it comes from protecting their beach turf.
“This is where my father used to fight 20 years ago in the late ‘70s,” said Noons about his Hawaiian fighting roots. “He fought professionally at the Blaisdell Arena.”
Hundreds of Hawaiians participate in MMA, motivated by the example set by natives like BJ Penn and now Noons. The hard-punching Noons, who also lives in Southern California and Texas, takes pride in his ability to crisscross between MMA and boxing. More than a few other MMA fighters are also accepting the challenge.
But the differences in the two disciplines can lead to disaster.
When an MMA fighter steps towards his opponent, footwork is crucial. He can’t have his front foot too far forward lest he be taken down like a football dummy. Or he can suffer a series of debilitating kicks.
MMA fighters need to be squared up more with a wider stance and less wary of the punches than the kicks coming at full force. They also need to be razor quick in avoiding takedowns from a diving opponent by using the MMA sprawl. That’s where the wide stance comes in.
In boxing the squared up stance is a no-no. It makes it easier for an opponent to pierce his guard and offers a much slower punch. In fact, it leads to the “telegraphed punch” that can be more easily avoided than someone who has his front foot pronouncedly forward. It also allows a fighter to slip under a punch and counter in one fluid motion. But it’s useless in MMA when someone can either take you down or deliver a knee at a ducking head.
Ask Muhsin Corbbrey, who also dabbles in boxing.
“A lot of things work from boxing and a lot of things don’t,” said Corbbrey who is also on the fight card and faces Nick Diaz. “You can’t duck under a punch with a Wanderlei Silva; you’ll end up getting hit with a knee.”
Noons, who began in boxing and trains at San Diego’s City Boxing Club, journeyed into MMA in 2002 and won his first bout, but lost his second by a heel hook. He didn’t return to MMA until 2005 when he fought and won four bouts. In 2007, after signing with EliteXC, he lost by knockout to Charlie “Crazy Horse” Bennett. Then he returned to beat powerful Edson Berto with a knee in the third round and followed that effort by beating the well-respected Nick Diaz due to a cut suffered from blows. That victory made Noons the first EliteXC lightweight champ.
As Noons returns to his native roots, he’ll fight another well-respected veteran in Edwards who has been around the sport since 1997.
Though only 31, Edwards has amassed 48 fights including wins over Hermes Franca, Josh Thomson, Rich Clementi and recently Berto. The Bahamian’s style of fighting has evolved and he’s still in winning form.
Edwards, nonetheless, is wary of Noons.
“He beat up Nick Diaz, so that’s a guy I have to fear for,” said Edwards, who has also fought UFC fighters Matt Serra, Joe Stevenson and Nate Marquardt. “It’s a whole lot of fun fighting for the islanders.”
Lately, Noons has focused almost exclusively on MMA instead of jumping back and forth with boxing. But some of the skills developed in that sport have also helped him and many other MMA fighters in recent bouts. It’s just one more weapon in a sport that benefits a fighter with more armament than the others.
HDNet Strikeforce preview
A behind-the-scenes look at lightweights Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez and his upcoming opponent Josh “The Punk” Thomson will be featured in a preview telecast on HDNet on Friday June 13 at 9 p.m.
Melendez (14-1) is considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters and faces Thompson (14-2), a cagey veteran who’s captured six consecutive victories.
Their fight takes place on June 27 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose for Melendez’s Strikeforce lightweight title
Fights coming up
Fri. June 13 – King of the Cage: Settlement at Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. (888) 732-4537
Fri. June 13 – Ring of Fire 32: Respect at Broomfield Event Center in Broomfield, Colorado. (303) 410-0700.
Sat. June 14 – Cage Extreme Fighting: Uprising in Upland at the Upland Sports Arena in Upland, California. (949) 716-2557.
Sat. June 14 – Adrenaline MMA at Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. (847) 649-2270.
Sat. June 14 – EliteXC: Return of the King at Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii. (808) 591-2211.
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
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