Hawaii’s Kai Kamaka III surrounded by ‘greatness’ ahead of UFC on ESPN 23 bout against TJ Brown

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 15: In this handout image provided by UFC, Kai Kamaka (L) punches Tony Kelley in their featherweight bout during the UFC 252 event at UFC APEX on August 15, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

For the third time in eight months, Hawaii’s Kai Kamaka III will make the walk into the octagon this weekend as the Pearl City native will face off with TJ Brown on the undercard of the UFC on ESPN 23 event in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Kamaka (8-3), who is 1-1 in the UFC is looking to bounce back from a second round TKO loss to Jonathan Pearce in November, a fight that he took on seven days notice shortly after his relocation to Las Vegas to train with Xtreme Couture. It’s in that gym that the Kamehameha grad feels that he has been pushed by training partners and coaches that are considered to be the best in the world. Recently, head trainer Eric Nicksick was honored as coach of the year by multiple MMA publications while watching teammates Francis Ngannou and Aljamain Sterling claim UFC titles this year.

“It’s huge. You don’t think about it until you see it happen on TV, I mean, I’m training along side Francis Ngannou, Dan Ige, Aljamain Sterling. It’s just crazy to see,” Kamaka told KHON2 Sports Director Rob DeMello. “I was in a small group session with DC (Daniel Cormier) coming into the room to help, give Francis some pointers. Francis and Aljamain, and I was one of the other couple guys that was allowed in the room. I don’t think that it was by coincidence. They see my mental capacity and the love that I have for MMA and where I want to be and that’s the kind of stuff I want to do. I want to be surrounded by greatness. I want to become greatness as well.”

Kamaka’s opponent has the experience advantage having scored 14 victories in 22 pro bouts, but has lost consecutive fights for the first time in five years creating a matchup of featherweight prospects in need of statement making victories.

“He might be trying to fight the guy that took a fight on seven days notice off of moving to Vegas seven days prior, and if he does, he’s got it all wrong. He just has to be prepared for me to be in his face with a little bit different tactics. I’m excited, I’ve seen the type of fights that he likes to put on and I like to do just the same, I think I do it better though,” said Kamaka.

Adding the excitement of another fight for Kamaka is that his cousin and longtime training partner Ray Cooper III will also be fighting this week. The defending PFL welterweight champion will start his third season in the organization on Thursday night against Jason Ponet, providing both as a reminder of how far they have come in their journeys.

“I’m tearing up, you telling me that. Yeah, it’s everything you ever dreamed of. Everything you ever worked for. Throughout our whole life, we groomed ourselves, we were groomed to be in this situation,” said Kamaka. “We worked hard for this. It’s a lifelong dream but then it’s a lot more work you know? It’s just special to see not only one of us are doing it, we’re doing it in the same week on the biggest platforms on the biggest sports network. Some people dream of being in the NFL or the NBA, this is us. This is all we ever dreamed of, so it’s just really cool to see. He’s going to make my weight cut a little bit easier that night. What more motivation do you need to cut weight than watching a Ray Cooper highlight?”

Cooper’s bout is set for Thursday at 3:00pm HST on ESPN2, while Kamaka will fight on Saturday in the UFC on ESPN 23 preliminary card which starts at 1:00pm HST on ESPN2.

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