The first time a Hawaiian fighter fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was at UFC 112 in 2010. Maui native and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner Kendall Grove kicked off the main card with a second-round technical knockout loss to Mark Munoz. Three fights later, Frankie Edgar claimed the lightweight title in a controversial unanimous decision win over B.J. Penn, the defending champ from Hawaii. The Aloha State went 0-2 for the night.
Over a decade later, it felt as if history repeated itself in the worst way. At UFC 251 on Fight Island in July, Martin Day extended the Abu Dhabi losing streak to Oahu when he got knocked out by Davey Grant in the third round of the first fight on the card. In the same card’s co-main event, Max Holloway was on the wrong end of a split decision against Alexander Volkonovski. The eerie similarities between Hawaii’s two greatest fighters losing belts they should have won a decade apart did not have much time to gestate, as Calvin Kattar beat Dan Ige four days later. Prior to UFC on ABC 1, Hawaiian fighters were 0-5 all-time in Abu Dhabi. A rational fan would look at those five fights and point to the fact that Penn was the only Hawaiian fighter who was a favorite in his bout, but a true fan would understand that a curse was afoot. Everyone becomes a little superstitious when a pattern holds long enough.
By the time Punahele Soriano stepped into the Octagon at UFC on ABC 1, discussion of whether or not there was ever a curse was moot…Like