Say ‘Aloha’ to the next Hawaiian star MMA fighter, Kamuela “The Jawaiian” Kirk. No typo there, that is his nickname. Kamuela Kirk is Jamaican by blood and born in Hawaii. On July 23, Kirk will fight King of The Cage Featherweight Champ Billy Quarantillo on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series with a possible UFC Contract on the line. If he emerges victorious and is awarded that contract, he’ll join a short list of UFC fighters from Hawaii, that include Featherweight Champion Max “Blessed” Holloway, B.J Penn, Travis Browne, Louis Smolka, Brad Tavares, among a few others.
“We’re both from the same island,” Kirk said about Holloway. “I grew up watching B.J. Penn, he was my MMA hero growing up. So, now it’s cool to be representing Hawaii and be on the same path as those guys.” “Max is a super cool dude. I haven’t actually met Max in person, but we’ve communicated over social media and we have the same manager.”
Kirk enters the fight with a 9-2 record, on an impressive three-fight winning streak, all first-round finishes. All nine of his victories have come via finish, and only one went past the first round. In case you were curious, he finished that fight 42 seconds into the second round.
“I’m always looking for the finish,” Kirk said. “If you watch my last couple fights, we’re on the feet, and then they try to take me down. They get uncomfortable, they don’t like the way things are going, so they try to take me down. So, what they do, when they shoot in and want to grapple, I find my submission. It’s not me trying to take these guys down, it’s them trying to take me down and then I find the sub [submission]. I’m going to look for the finish.”
For Kirk, he’s gone to decision twice, and lost both times. However, he states that he is ready to go all 15 minutes if needed.
“That’s what people want to see,” Kirk said, referring to a finish. “Even when I get to the UFC, when I get this contract, I don’t want to be just another UFC fighter. I want to be somebody that people want to see, like, how is he going to do it this time.”
Quarantillo, knowing Kirk has lost both times his fights have gone to decision, may use that as a strategy in the back of his mind. Kirk, however, remains confident.
“Both of my losses, I truly believe that I won,” Kirk said. “One was a close fight, against Kyle Reyes. I thought I won rounds one and three. My other loss [against Anthony Baccam], it was a huge robbery. I would get hit up by people that I didn’t even know. That was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen in MMA. I went out there, we actually tried to overturn that loss, my manager reached out to the commission to try to get that one overturned. Even the head of the commission out there said the first round was so dominant it could’ve been a 10-8 round. He won the next two rounds, but just to not mess things up and overrule the other judges’ decisions, he won the fight. So, although on paper I have two losses, in my mind I’m undefeated.”
If Kirk wins via decision and doesn’t get that trademark finish he is accustomed to, he remains confident that he will still walk away with a UFC contract. “Even if it does go the distance, Dana White will still be able to look at my record, see my fighting style and know I’m the type of fighter who’s always looking for the finish,” Kirk said. “I think you just have to go out there with a killer instinct. Dana talked about it after his last show, everyone who won last week got a contract. He was like, not everybody has to find a finish. One of the guys didn’t get a finish and got a contract. He said he wants to see people out here who are fighting. They want to see you trying to put the other person away. That’s the stuff Dana wants to see.”
On June 18, Week 1 of the current season of Dana White’s Contender Series, a fighter named Brendan Loughnane was not awarded a contract despite winning his fight. It stirred up a lot of controversy in the MMA Community and Kirk sounded off on what transpired.
“He was winning the whole fight and then tried to shoot in with like ten seconds left,” Kirk said. “I think what really upset Dana was, man, you’ve got ten seconds left, you’re teeing off on this guy, you know you’re not going to get a finish by shooting in with ten seconds left. Why not stay on the feet, keep landing these big shots and hope for a KO/TKO. I think it was the mentality of why he shot in, not trying to find that finish.”
Kirk fights out of Siege MMA in Peoria, Arizona, where he is coached by Santino De Franco, who is also one of Henry “Triple C” Cejudo’s coaches. If you closely follow the sport, revert your memory back to the Cejudo vs Marlon Moraes fight. At the end of the first round, the round Henry clearly lost, in his corner, De Franco was the guy that was talking to Henry and strategizing with him. The rest is history.
Billy Quarantillo is a BJJ Brown Belt who trains out of Gracie Tampa South, which makes for a very interesting matchup since Kirk has never been submitted in his pro career.
“He’s a Jiu-Jitsu Brown Belt, but I’m a Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt,” Kirk said. “I got it in March of this year. I respect Billy, but I’m not worried about his Jiu-Jitsu. There’s nothing going into this fight where I feel like in the back of my mind I have to watch out for him.”
“We could thumb wrestle,” Kirk joked. “I’m prepared for everything. You’ve got to understand, I’m also training with guys like Drakkar Klose [UFC Lightweight], the ‘Korean Zombie’ [Chan Sung Jung; #6 UFC Featherweight], I’m training with Henry Cejudo [UFC Double Champ]; I’m not worried.”
In case you were wondering, Henry Cejudo has a gold medal. I feel like he’d appreciate me mentioning that since it’s not a well-known fact. “I just found out today,” Kirk joked.
Kirk states that this isn’t a matter of him being arrogant, rather, a result of all of the hard work and grinding he has put it in preparation for this fight, and throughout his entire career so far. Kirk turned 25 in April.
Another interesting part of this fight is that both Quarantillo and Kirk have fought at Lightweight before. At least lately, fighters who have moved down in weight haven’t had the best luck, compared to fighters who move up in weight. For example, Dillashaw moving down and getting KO’d by Cejudo and Darren Till being finished by Woodley and Masvidal (he’s basically a Middleweight let’s be honest). Fighters who have moved up, simultaneously have done great, like Cejudo finishing Moraes, and Daniel Cormier defeated Stipe Miocic. Going back further, think about Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson who won eight straight fights after he moved up from Welterweight all the way up to Light Heavyweight, and 11 of 13 total at Light Heavyweight, with those two losses both coming against Double Champ Daniel Cormier.
Every fighter is different, and by no means is this a universal rule; I’m simply pointing out a recent trend.
“I’ve watched Billy fight a few times,” Kirk said. “I’ve seen a couple of his fights, so I know what he brings to the table. I do like to study my opponents a little bit.”
While it’s always a good idea to do some homework on your opponents, Kirk stays grounded in what he knows best, which is to focus on himself. Some people thought, when McGregor fought Khabib, including McGregor himself, that one of the reasons he lost was because he was too focused on what his opponent was doing, too focused on his opponents’ strengths, and not focused enough on himself and going on the offense. Take that with a grain of salt, because there’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s something to think about. I’m not saying that’s why he lost, at all, but perhaps it truly was a contributing factor.
“My main focus is myself,” Kirk said. “I just want to make sure that I’m going to be mentally sharp, physically prepared, everything on point. I’m the focus, not my opponent.”
Everybody loves a good prediction, and Kirk offered one up. “My prediction is that I’m going to find a finish in the first round,” Kirk said. But if I don’t, it’s just going to be a longer, more dragged out beating for Billy.”
If Kirk does get that contract he’s looking for, he said Brian ’T-City’ Ortega is the one fighter above all that he would like to fight the most. “He’s a gamer,” Kirk said about Ortega. “He’s someone who’s not afraid to stand and bang. He also has good Jiu-Jitsu. I feel like we’re similar, most of our wins both come by submission. We’re both down to stand and throw. He’s somebody I’d definitely like to fight at some point in my career.”
Perhaps, a win over Ortega might catapult Kirk to an all Hawaiian fight against Holloway. Kirk has also stated he’d be interested in fighting at multiple weight classes at some point if he gets to the UFC.
“I’m hoping that by the time I’m fighting for a belt in the UFC, Max moves up to Lightweight,” Kirk joked.
A guy can dream.