When the UFC takes its show to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi for UFC 251 on Saturday, Max Holloway’s featherweight title fight against Alexander Volkanovski won’t be the only bout featuring a Hawaii fighter on the card.
While the fight between Waianae’s Holloway and Volkanovski will be the penultimate fight of the night as the card’s co-main event, Martin Day’s bantamweight bout with Davey Grant will kick off the preliminary card. With UFC 251 being the organization’s first event held on Fight Island, Day’s bout will forever be the first ever held on the premises.
“It’s pretty cool,” the Kailua native told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “Of course everyone’s goal is to get on that main card, main event at Max’s level and stuff but for this particular event to start off the very first fight on fight island, I think that’s a pretty cool thing right there and I get the privilege to be able to do that. I definitely want to be able to set the tone for that one, get everyone on their feet and get everyone excited.”
Day, who has an overall MMA record of 9-3, is 0-1 in the UFC heading into Saturday’s fight. His first and most recent UFC fight was a split decision loss to Pingyuan Liu on Nov. 24, 2018.
Since then, Day missed two fights due to injury. He was set for another fight in March, but it was ultimately called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Saturday’s fight against Grant (11-4) will be Day’s first in a year and a half, and the wait has been long enough.
“I was really ready for that last one. We kind of did a super good camp and everything was going real well,” the 31-year-old Day said. “But life throws you a curveball sometimes and this one was completely out of my hands or anyone’s hands, so when it happens you just gotta take the positives out of it.
“Of course, you get better every single camp, you get better in the gym, so that’s what I learned from it and you gotta be flexible and have a flexible attitude so when things like that happen, you just gotta kind of roll with the punches and kind of take life as it comes.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Day has been able to spend more quality time with his wife, Ashley, on the Windward side. He’s also had to get creative with his training due to the restrictions brought on by social distancing.
“Definitely able to spend more time with my wife, she’s been working from home,” Day says. “Also I was able to surf a lot more, me and my wife would go to the beach and things like that. Some beach runs, sprints, a lot of beach workouts, a lot of road work, so definitely getting more creative with my workouts for sure.”
Day’s fight island debut against Grant will kick off the UFC 251 preliminary card at noon Hawaii time on Saturday and will be televised on ESPN. The main card, which features three titles fights including Holloway’s, starts at 4 p.m. on ESPN+ and can be purchased online.
As Day walks to the Octagon on Saturday, he’ll carry a Hawaiian flag with him that belong to his manager, Kenny “Buster” Hagelgansz, who passed away last year. Hagelgansz’s mantra of ‘Be ready to train, train to be ready’ has been passed on to prominent fighters such as Brad Tavares, Brandon Wolff and Scott Junk, who all made their way from the mats of Kailua to the UFC. Day hopes to carry on Kailua’s proud MMA tradition, starting with a victory at Fight Island.
“Those are the names that I would look up to in high school and stuff. You always hear those names,” Day said. “I definitely take a lot of pride in my hometown and being able to represent my hometown of Kailua. This day and age, there’s a lot of guys coming out on the west side which is great. You hear a lot of awesome Waianae fighters and stuff.
“You don’t hear too many coming out of the east side so I’m happy to be able to represent in that way and pave a little more of a path too for the east side guys to make it a little bigger as well.”