Just Scrap is more than just mixed martial arts entertainment for local fight fans. Promotion president JD Penn’s belief is that it’s a feeder system to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the major leagues of the fight game.
It’s a reason he lines up top fighters from Boss MMA, the training club at the Penn Fitness and Training Center, for frequent appearances at Just Scrap events to help build their credentials and keep them sharp, just in case.
Although Boss MMA, coached by Ross “The Boss” Ebanez, has yet to send a fighter to the UFC, Just Scrap has played a small part in Max Holloway’s rise to the big leagues. The Oahu fighter fought and beat Hilo’s Toby Misech at a Just Scrap event in 2010.
Holloway, from Waianae, is scheduled to fight Andre Fili on April 26 at UFC 172. Holloway got his big shot as an injury replacement at UFC 143 in February, 2012. He’s holding an 8-3 UFC record in the 145-pound featherweight division.
Penn wants the same opportunity for “Iron” Mike Aina, who’s set to headline Just Scrap 23 today at Edith Kanaka’ole Multipurpose Stadium. After a win by decision in August 2010, Aina stepped away from MMA action to tend to his young family.
He made his comeback a successful one at a Just Scrap event last September in a 160-pound bout against Honolulu’s Alvin Walker, sinking a rear-naked choke with 30 seconds left in the first round.
Aina (14-6-1) is set to face James Martinez (4-12) in a 155-pound lightweight pro bout in the main event. Martinez trains out of UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture’s gym in Las Vegas.
“He’s a Muay Thai expert from Extreme Couture. It’s a very good school for top guys,” Penn said. “He’s a good striker, tall, experienced and kind of goes into Mike’s game. They’re two strikers who will go head-to-head. I know his manager, Billy Olson, and he’s been wanting to come down. I told him we’re looking for somebody for Mike, who’s working his way back to the next level.
“Mike wants to get into the UFC. We’re taking big fights to get him there. Mike was at Strikeforce (the defunct promotion considered a Triple A level). He was right there from the UFC. He wants to fight and beat whoever he has to beat to get into the UFC. A lot of it is timing.”
Penn points to Holloway as the best example.
“Max took the fight on a one-week notice. Once you get that shot, it’s like stepping to the plate. You can’t strike out. You have to go for a home run,” Penn said. “In the UFC, thousands of guys are contacting the UFC to get their fighters in. If you get a shot, you have to impress.”
Chad “Brahma Bull” Thomas, like Aina, is hoping for a shot at the UFC.
He last fought at Just Scrap 21 in November in Kona, getting a second-round technical knockout against Kyle Keeney from Texas. Thomas improved to 3-1 in his pro career.
Unlike Aina, Thomas’ quest is much tougher because he’s been fighting at 240 pounds. That’s sort of a no man’s land at the UFC, which has a heavyweight division at 265 and light heavyweight class at 205, and nothing in between.
“We wanted get Chad a fight in this Just Scrap. But that would have been too drastic a weight cut,” said Penn, who pointed out the disadvantage of adding weight. “Most of the UFC heavyweights are cutting weight from 300 pounds.”
The Brahma Bull isn’t the only one cutting weight. BJ Penn and old nemesis Frankie Edgar, who defeated the “Prodigy” twice, are coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 19, set to air on Fox Sports 1 in April. The two will square off for the third time at the 145-pound featherweight division.
“Right now, we’re waiting for a date. BJ was just in Brazil training with Jose Aldo and Renan Barao,” JD Penn said of his brother BJ, the former UFC lightweight (155 pounds) and welterweight (170) champion. “I’m thinking Frankie and BJ will finish their trilogy in July in Las Vegas.”