Charles Kipilii Jr. is a trainer, coaching up big name local boys like Max Holloway and Yancy Medeiros who have made it to the UFC.
"It trips me out," says Kipilii, "'cause I would'a thought that I probably would'a been dead by now."
Here's a little background on Charles: He was kicked out of Waianae and Leilehua High Schools. Back then his fights weren't in the octagon. They were on the streets. Kipilii remembers one particular night at a park in Waianae.
"A guy just shot out into the crowd and I got shot in my stomach right here," he says pointing to the spot. "And the bullet's still stuck in my hip."
That was in 2007. But it still wasn't the wake-up call he needed. Charles continued his life of partying, drugs, alcohol and brawls. Then three years ago Charles says, "I got into another fight. I got stabbed right here in my main artery in my arm. I almost died. I was in critical condition. "
Lying in bed, fighting for his life, Charles made a decision to go clean. And with the help of his friend Rylan Lizares from Gracie Technics and built a team of fighters: "Hawaii Elite." They've got up-and-comers and established stars, and Charles loves watching them excel.
"I don't need drugs for me so that's like my high," says Charles. "Watching them fight, watching them win. To me it's like the best feeling in the world."
The team features about 20 fighters. Some are pro. Some still waiting for their shot. They meet at Charles' gym six days a week for at least two hours a day.
"The thing I love about Charles is he's not the kind of guy to tell you oh you're doing a great job," says Russell Doane. "He's the guy to tell you, brah, suck it up, you not doing today I need you to come back tomorrow and work harder.
Lowen Tynanes says, "The dedication he gives us. He expects the same thing. You're not gonna find a coach that really puts his all, especially in this sport."
The team's success is undeniable.
The biggest star is Holloway, who has won eight in a row and is a contender for the UFC featherweight title. But Medeiros has won three of his last four UFC fights. And Tynanes is undefeated and could soon be getting a shot in the UFC.
Tynanes says Kipilii gets just as excited as his fighters.
"During the fight he's really composed," says Tynanes. "But once we won, he's just like me and we both celebrated like Ahhhhh!"
Charles has travelled to Thailand, Ireland and the Philippines with his fighters. But the lessons he's learned back home in Waianae are always with him.
"I just like show 'cause yeah Waianae get planny drugs, get planny fights, get planny crime," says Charles. "But I just like show people that people can change. Look at me I had one of the worst lifestyles period. Like drug abuse, alcohol abuse like one punk. You can change. It's all on the person."
Most importantly, Charles has been clean and sober for three years and three months now. He hopes to one day open a big MMA style gym in leeward Oahu.
The goal to help those who grew up like he did where he did take their fights off the streets.
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