HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - UFC champion Max Holloway makes a living fighting.
But as the 26-year-old Waianae native continues to push for UFC Hawaii, he's stepping out of the combative mentality that helped him claim the featherweight title, and is instead asking for understanding from those who can help bring an event to the islands.
"I just hope HTA really understands our sport and especially our fighters from Hawaii. How we train, how we live, and how we treat each other -- it's about respect. It's about Hawaiian culture. It's about values," said Holloway, in an interview with Hawaii News Now on Thursday.
UFC Hawaii and Holloway landed back in the headlines earlier this week when he tweeted that, "The Hawaii Tourism Authority is concerned UFC Hawaii might attract problems outside the Octagon."
State Sen. Glenn Wakai, chair of the Economic Development, Tourism, and Technology Committee, then backed Holloway's claims.
Waikai said after meeting with the agency that HTA sees "that UFC fight fans are hooligans and kind of undesirables that we shouldn't be luring to Hawaii."
While Holloway disagrees with the negative image of MMA, he says he understands why some people think that way.
But he hopes that he and Hawaii's 11 other active fighters on UFC's current roster can help change that stereotype.
"If HTA, or anybody who doesn't really follow the sport everyday has a bad impression of MMA, I can understand that," said Holloway.
"The things that make the headlines are the bad things when it comes to our sport. But, I want them to know that I'm a martial artist and a father. I'm not this brawler, this caveman guy. If I behaved like a hooligan or was OK with that kind of behavior my coach would probably kick me out of my gym."
While Hawaii has hosted plenty of MMA events before, to hold a UFC-caliber mixed martial arts event would be a first for the 50th state. And Holloway says he understands the hesitations with tackling that as well.
"It's just something new, and when something is new people get scared. You can't blame them," Holloway said.
He added, "I think Hawaii deserves this event. Just give us a chance."
As for dealing with "hooligans," the featherweight champ says that's just a matter of misunderstanding the MMA community. And he cites the numerous professional basketball and football events HTA has approved as proof that it's a non-issue.
"I just don't think they know the event. There's a lot of MMA history in Hawaii -- you know, rumble on the rock. And it wasn't crazy. ... You go to these world-famous arenas and you hear about fights breaking out in the crowd. You let me know if it's an MMA event," said Holloway.
"Most of the time you hear NFL. You know -- they did the Pro Bowls. Most of the time you hear NBA fights in the in the crowds. They bring down NBA stuff. I just really believe that they're not educated," he added.
Holloway has first-hand experience with some of the rowdiest UFC crowds in the world.
At UFC 212 in Brazil, he knocked off Brazilian great, Jose Aldo, to unify the featherweight division. While the Brazilian fan base is notoriously one of the most excitable on the planet, Holloway says their excitement was matched by their respect.
"Brazil is crazy," Holloway said. "When I went to Brazil they chant nothing but 'uh vai morrer.' That means you will die [in Portuguese].
"But after their fight, when I won -- I beat their champion in their hometown and they showed nothing but respect. You know why? Because the culture there- it's just like the culture in Hawaii. We're competitive people. But, at the end of the day there's respect."
HTA's chairman, lawyer Rick Fried, said allegations that the agency called UFC fans undesirables are false and he said they would be happy to support UFC Hawaii if it draws in enough tourists and spending and if UFC's asking price is reasonable.
"We have no idea what they want. But if the proposal makes sense, they don't want an outrageous amount of money, I think it could well happen," Fried said.