The future of MMA - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

The future of MMA

Shannon Quevedo Shannon Quevedo
Shaedon Quevedo Shaedon Quevedo
Scott Junk Scott Junk

By Stephanie Lum - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A lot has changed since the first no-holds barred fight in Hawaii 15 years ago when fighters fought bare-fisted in a dive bar. Now, there are rules in place that make the sport safer.

MMA has become one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Ultimate fighting reality shows are shown on television every week, UFC fights are offered on pay-per-view almost every month, and you can't forget local boy BJ Penn; one of the biggest MMA stars who has no doubt boosted the popularity of the sport in the islands.

Today, more people aren't just watching MMA, they're learning it.

"I started when I was 23 and the kids are starting when they're 8 years old," said Jiu Jitsu instructor JD Penn.

Kids are training earlier than ever before, some with the hope of turning it into a career.

"According to Hillary, she wants to take it and become black belt and teach here at the academy," said Layne Luna, a parent of one of the students learning grappling.

Shaedon Quevedo wants to take it to the next level and fight professionally.

"Yeah, like BJ Penn," said Quevedo. "He won the world grappling championship and I want to do that one day. If I train hard enough, I think I can do it."

Quevedo is a state and national jiu jitsu champ. He has 28 medals and counting plus 6 samurai swords from the Naga Hawaii and Naga Vegas Grappling Championships.

At 12 years old, he's too young to learn MMA. Kids in this class at the Penn Fitness Center in Hilo only focus on the fundamentals of jiu jitsu. The martial art involves grappling submissions but no striking.

"We have all ranges of kids the youngest is 5 and all the way up to 14 and once they get to that age, we send them to the adult class," said jiu jitsu instructor Kaynen Kaku.

Fighters have to be 18 years old to participate in amateur MMA.

Quevedo's dad Shannon says then, he won't be too worried.

"Nah, I have no problem. It looks kind of dangerous, some parts and I worry for him if he gets hurt, but I think he can handle because he has good training," said Shannon Quevedo.

Safety is one thing but is the allure of fame, fortune and violence sending mixed messages to kids?

Dreams of becoming a star on the MMA scene may blind them to the harsh financial realities of just how tough the industry really is.

"You have millions and millions of kids trying to make it into the NFL. So, it's the same as this sport," said JD Penn.

"If you're fighting, you better fight two fights a month to make money to survive," said professional MMA fighter Scott Junk. "Some guys make peanuts on their first couple of fights, so you have to have a full time job."

"There's a very small percentage of fighters that are getting rich on fighting, there's another small percentage making a living fighting and a vast majority I would say 95 percent plus are not making a living fighting," said MMA promoter T. Jay Thompson.

It's a sore subject even BJ Penn spills the beans about in his new book "Why I Fight, the Belt is Just an Accessory". However, Penn said it didn't stop him from going after his dream.

Shaedon Quevedo has a long ways to go before he reaches his dream, but he isn't afraid of the challenges that lie ahead.

"I always remember what my coaches taught me," said Quevedo. "Stay calm and always stay on top."

"I am so sure when I am done with this, there's going to be so much world champions that come out of Hawaii. You know, I just see it," said UFC Champion BJ Penn.

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