2012 is already set to be a big year for MMA in Australia with the return of the UFC to Sydney in March, a rumoured Ultimate Fighter Australia vs UK show and the inclusion of local promotion CFC (Cage Fighting Championships) to the Asian-centered One Fighting Championship Network.
For Australian heavyweight fighter Soa ‘The Hulk’ Palelei (14-3), 2012 is a blank canvas and can be the year that he achieves his goals, an invitation back into the UFC Heavyweight roster (Palelei had one fight at UFC 79 in December 2007) and the CFC Heavyweight title.
The journey begins February 24th on the Gold Coast where Palelei is all set to fight Japanese heavyweight fighter Shunsuke Inoue (12-6-2) at CFC 20.
Palelei took the time out to talk to The Roar about his opponent at the upcoming CFC 20 event, his campaign to get back into the UFC and weighed in his thoughts about MMA in Victoria.
When discussing the weight difference in his last opponent Henry Armstrong Miller (6-15 (1NC)) at 300 pounds and his upcoming challenger, Shunsuke Inoue at 220 pounds, and whether there was a different training approach from one to the other, Palelei isn’t taking any chances telling The Roar, “Inoue has also beaten Armstrong Miller and is coming out of a good camp right now. Japanese fighters are usually tough.”
A look to the fight of Inoue and Armstrong Miller reads almost a copy Palelei’s fight both overcoming the American by TKO in under two minutes of the first round.
For Palelei however he is “prepared to go 3 rounds” and is looking to go into the second and third rounds mentioning that he has “a few things up his sleeve” for the aggressive Japanese fighter.
While Palelei has his camp based out of Perth, the perfect summer weather can seem a world away from what has been happening on the Gold Coast, where CFC 20 is taking place, with a mixture of summer hot and cooler days as well as endless rain.
Is Palelei worried at all about the impact? He says that he has “no affect with the weather, the colder the better.”
While Palelei is looking to overcome his next opponent, he also has one eye on the vacant CFC Heavyweight title. While trying to get some clarification on the situation and potential contender fight Palelei mentions that “there has been talk that the next fight will potentially be a title fight, if he beats Inoue.”
This fight should occur in Sydney, however to keep busy Palelei’s manager Peter Nicholas has a “few fights lined up” and they will take the road to the CFC title “one step at a time.”
While we have witnessed CFC bantamweight champion Gustav Falciroli (12-3-2) successful in his One FC debut submitting South-Korean fighter Soo Chul Kim (4-3) in February 2012, is fighting in the One FC promotion something that Palelei is open to, especially given his online campaign to try to get a spot back on the UFC roster?
“I love what I do, and it’s good to get paid to do it. I will go where the money is” Palelei answered, adding that “If they make an offer he will weigh it up, his goal is to get into the UFC.”
The ultimate goal of a contract with the UFC is also apparent through his Twitter account (@soathehulk) where he has reached out to many of the UFC rostered fighters, as well as influential MMA personalities, to gain the attention of the top brass. Has this succeeded in getting the right people to pick up the phone?
While not giving a definite answer Palelei did mention that he is “talking to a few people” however didn’t let slip whether they are from the UFC or other promotions. All Palelei is concerned with right now is “keeping busy, keep fighting and getting those bills paid.”
Twitter has been proven to be the tool of choice for the UFC and its fighters as a way to get in touch with the fans, and the promotion even provides bonuses for activity each quarter.
While Soa Palelei is actively trying to campaign through the tool, he hasn’t forgotten it’s primary purpose, that is to talk to his 2,045 followers.
With such a large fan base can twitter be distracting for a fighter coming up to his next bout? Palelei mentions that he does have the help of a marketing team to keep twitter and Facebook updated with his latest fight news, but he does speak “one on one with the fans” adding “there are fighters out there who don’t do that.”
Palelei does mention that he gets some less than nice messages directed at him mentioning that “everyone gets haters and criticism, there are as what (UFC president) Dana White calls them, keyboard warriors.”
The Roar was curious if Palelei had anyone in mind for his return to the Octagon, dependent on whether his campaign is successful, and was told “It doesn’t matter, I will fight anyone, I can adapt to their style and exploit their weaknesses.”
With some heavy hitters looking to fill the UFC promotion, especially coming out from Strikeforce, Palelei has had the experience in fighting Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix title contender Daniel Cormier in 2010 at Xtreme MMA 3, which the fight unfortunately didn’t go his way.
What does he think of the possibility of meeting him again in the future? “He is a strong fighter but it would be a totally different match.”
While Palelei has fought in various locations around the world, his last few fights have been based in Australia, where the MMA profile has risen dramatically since the first UFC show back in Feb 2010.
Unfortunately Vic still prohibits fighting in a cage and Palelei is happy to discuss his thoughts about this subject, “The first UFC event turned over something like $10 million dollars and that’s money that Vic missed out on. I’m not saying this as a fan or a fighter, MMA (and UFC) is becoming a mainstream event and they need to get on board.”
He added that “with Crown casino down there it would be similar to an event in (Las) Vegas, you could have UFC at the casino and in turn brings dollars into the casino, especially from those interstate.”
For Soa “The Hulk” Palelei and his team, sponsors, manager Peter Nicholas and his marketing team; the road to the UFC picks up momentum with this weekend’s CFC bout on the Gold Coast and no matter the outcome, Palelei is as determined as ever to get to his goal.