Kaota Puna is one of New Zealand’s top MMA fighters. He recently enhanced his impressive reputation as a quality fighter at the ‘King of the Door’ MMA event on Friday night, March 26, 2010, at the Auckland City YMCA.
Each of the three fights Kaota took part in were supposed to go three rounds, however Kaota had other ideas, winning all three bouts in round 1; ending up fighting only one full round for the three fights combined.
Kaota is set to fight next Saturday night (24 April) at Supremacy 5, at the YMCA Stadium, Pitt St, Auckland City for the New Zealand Light Heavyweight title, challenging Andrew Dearsley from Five Rings Dojo in Australia.
This is NZFighter' interview with Kaota:
17 April, 2010
NZF: Kaota where are you from and what is your pre-fighting background?
KP: I was brought up in West Auckland, Kiwi born. Did the same old stuff everybody did, went to school and all that. My old man was into martial arts, so that was kind of in my blood. I always watched all the Jackie Chan Movies. That’s where it all kicked off, and I started to play around with it (fighting) at school, with my cousins. And then I went to Kelston Boys High which was my favourite. I tried to get into rugby but that just wasn’t it for me. After high school I knew about a gym, Strikeforce, and that’s when it all started.
NZF: So that’s when you started to train?
KP: Yeh, that was my official martial arts gym. So I trained at Strikeforce from 1999. I started University as well. Finished up in 2001 to continue with my studies (Bachelor of Business), then I came back in 2002. That’s when I started going hard out with martial arts training. I did have a couple of years background in Kickboxing but just amateur stuff, no fights, just doing those Tai Bo classes, doing my movie skills, those kind of things. Yeh..so, got back into it in 2002 and that’s when I saw Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ) offered at Strikeforce. I used to watch a lot of UFC fights. That was pretty far out, so I know what was involved. So I started training BJJ in 2002. I was with Dion Teau (another student). We had quite a few Brazilian trainers come in and out. I could see in the future that MMA would take off, and it probably took 3 years from that date. Then that’s when it started, the resurgence of MMA. I think it finished in 2000, when Carl Webber was around. Then it made its come back in around 2005 at the ETK show. From then it’s pretty much the start of my career in MMA.
NZF: How old were you when you had your first fight?
KP: I think it was 2005 or 2006, one of those years. I was probably around 25-26. It was a Kickboxing fight. I was a bit late. It was my first full contact modified Muay Thai fight. I did have a few grappling matches, BJJ and a few Karate ones. Also submission grappling, but I don’t call them real fights cause you had to pull a lot of the shots. So this was my first fight, it was at the Young Blood Strikeforce promotion.
NZF: What was it like getting into the ring for your first full contact fight?
KP: There were two types of feelings. There was the first one leading up to it. Your mind starts playing games on you. It starts going through all these scenarios of what to do if he does a certain sort of attack. What this does is it drains you and you actually start getting tired. And then you get sick. I was getting a bit sniffly. So that was the first lead up into that fight. The day of the fight was fun. I knew this was going to be over. It was all going to be over and done with (the stress). On the night when it was time to warm up for the fights, when I was about 4 fights out, I started to feel a bit better, less stressed, less on my mind.
It’s funny, as when I first fought, I couldn’t remember anything I did. It was so strange. When I watch it, I think “Ohh...did I do that in this round” but what I thought I did in the third round I did in the second round and what I did in the second round I actually did in the third round. But the best feeling was after I had finished the fight cause then it was like, wow...I’m a fighter now. You always go and watch the movies and you wanna be a fighter, now you’re like, wow, I’m one of those guys. It was the best feeling, it lasted for three days. I was laughing, giggling over nothing. But it was just the experience I put myself through. I can never get that feeling back, I have always been trying. I think it’s like an addiction. I’m trying to get that feeling back but I can’t. No amount of drugs or alcohol.....I think it’s just a personal experience. Just one of those things you remember.
NZF: So no amount of drugs or alcohol will give you that experience?
KP: No, they can’t. Not for three days straight man. I didn’t feel any pain. In some of my other fights, I think in my eighth fight, I felt every bit of pain in that fight cause my mind was a bit different.
NZF: You are known as both a Kickboxer and MMA fighter, what’s your current record for both of them?
KP: MMA - 6 wins O losses. Kickboxing - 2 wins and 3 losses.
NZF: How did you go from Kickboxing into MMA?
KP: I think it’s because I had always been into the whole aspect of martial arts, I liked every bit of it and I got an understanding in order to fight, it’s not just stand-up, you’ve also got to learn the ground aspect. So with MMA you’ve got the ground aspect, the take-down aspect and the stand-up phase. I liked the stand-up phase but I was also intrigued by the ground fighting aspect. Because I also like martial arts, I also want to get into, in my later career, fighting with weapons as well so I can get the whole broad spectrum of martial arts in itself, then I can come up with my own system. So that’s why I got into ground fighting. There’s a part of me that really wants to fight, and another analytical side of me that wants to understand how and why you can control someone at will on the ground with technique. That’s what intrigues my brain and that’s why I got into MMA from the start. And I could see the potential in the future, where it’s going to go, and now it’s really here in a bit of a boom.
NZF: Whether you are fighting Kickboxing or MMA, what’s your pre-fight training regime consist of?
KP: Training for both is much the same but you just change particular training methods. If you are doing MMA then you obviously chuck in a bit more BJJ and ground fighting and a bit more weight circuits. With Kickboxing it’s a bit different cause you are working different muscle groups and energy systems, but other than that, the training regimes the same. You do your morning trainings and your night time trainings and then you also have to eat well to keep yourself recovered and energised for your next training session.
I do my sprint training in the morning for about an hour and then at night times usually about two hours so it’s about 3 hours a day, six days a week. Sometimes when you do get into specialist sports like MMA, then you have to spend a bit more time covering the practical aspects, like your Jujitsu and ground fighting. You may spend about 16 hours a week training Kickboxing but spend up to 20-24 hours a week for MMA. Because you are passionate about the sport you don’t worry about the time because it’s fun at the same time. Your passion motivates you to do it, it doesn’t become work.
NZF: You mentioned your diet, and said that you try to stay healthy, what does your pre-fight diet look like?
KP: When you are fighting, you have to keep as clean as possible. If you are two weeks out from a fight and you start drinking, you can feel every bit of alcohol or bad thing that you take, and when you go and train the next day, or two days later, you feel real sluggish. It’s hard to train, and if you don’t perform at what you should be, it actually makes you a bit angry. You start asking yourself “why did I do this, I should be punching harder, I should be running harder”, but I’m not because I drank or I ate some bad takeaways and I am feeling the effects.
If you can make yourself be the best in every aspect, at least you know you gave yourself as much of a chance you can to take this opportunity to win. You don’t want those little doubts to creep in. I eat clean. By clean I mean, stay away from fizzy drinks, if you are going to have takeaways, have them really only once a week at the most, and none at all if possible. After the fight maybe yes, but then not during training cause you will feel it real bed. Morning, you need a good breakfast, and you really have to be eating every 2 – 3 hours because your body is processing the energy so fast and you are using up a lot energy with your training that you really need to be resupplying your body all the time. You can’t have the one big meal because what those one-off big meals do is make all the blood go down to your gut to process and digest the food and then you start to get sluggish, which is why you need to keep it small and compact. So you’ve got just enough blood to keep you active during the day.
Keep it all natural. I don’t care about eating carbs in the evening as long as it’s not white bread and stuff. If you are trying to lose weight then cut it, but I’m a heavyweight so it’s not a problem for me. Eat as much as you want just not processed foods.
NZF: You talked about getting into the zone. How do you prepare for a fight mentally?
KP: Mental preparation is one of the key points in your training. It was one of the things I tried to teach the boys when we fight. When I get into a fight, I know what I have to do on the night and leading up to that fight my mental preparation has already started 4 weeks up to the fight. I know what I have to do. Every time I do my training I mentally tell myself “Do It!” and tell myself what’s going to happen if I don’t. I just do it hard now no matter how hard it is cause it’s all gonna collectively build up to make me motivated and strong and will reinforce the idea that, yes, I have done the hard training. So with that momentum building up, getting up to a fight you don’t worry about the “what ifs”.
You need to understand what you can control in a fight. I can only control 50%, which is me, and then he’s gonna come up and be the other 50% of the fight. Whoever can control their mind should be the one to take it out. Fitness should never be a factor in sport, you should always be fit. You really have to believe in your own abilities and in what you’ve done. What you haven’t done will start to come out mentally on the fight. You will be thinking “I should have done this” you doubt your abilities and then already you are on the back foot. This is dangerous because you get into a fight with another guy who wants to cream you. You have to accept that you could get beaten. It is a game where you are going to get hurt. If you don’t accept those criteria then maybe it’s not the sport for you. I have accepted it.
NZF: From the moment you get to the changing rooms to the moment the fight starts, in that window of time do you have a particular routine you follow?
KP: Yes. I have everything packed and know where everything is. I go in, sit down and close my eyes. I’m not sleeping just blocking out external energies. Everyone is going through their own issues, you can hear it. You hear people punching the bag, you hear people talking, you hear people talking about their game plans and all these things, and they are eating at your thoughts. All it’s doing is your mind’s listening and trying to process it. You have to stop it, stop wasting energy. Block it all out, keep focussed on not thinking. I close my eyes, rest and keep warm and just wait and breathe. If anyone talks, I try not to get into a heated moment. I’m happiest when it’s 4 fights out cause I know that it’s time to get ready. Then it’s like, get the engine started get the whole preparation ready, get everything warmed up so that when it’s time to fight, no questions I’m ready to go and do the job, get in and out as fast as I can.
NZF: How do you fight an aggressive fighter?
KP: I have had two aggressive fighters. The first one was my first fight. He just kept coming forward and cause it was my first fight it was hard. I’ve only got limited experience but, I think you just have to pick him off and close him down. An aggressive fighter who likes to use their hands you may want to keep him away with long distance attacks. If you are looking at MMA, with an aggressive fighter that likes to come at you with punches, then you want to take him down. But then you have aggressive ground fighters, you have to keep them on a stand-up. In order to keep them under control, you have to be good a one specific aspect where you can dominate on. If you have an aggressive stand-up fighter, you best make sure that you have an aggressive ground game. Cause that’s where you can probably dominate on. If you have a person who likes to ground and pound, let’s hope that they haven’t got a good stand up.
If you have an aggressive all-rounder, then you’ve got to make sure you have your whole areas of ground, take-downs, counters and stand up skills good and aggressive also, or you have to come up with a lot of fakes, so that you are unpredictable. You need your fitness cause they are often fit and their aggression can come from their fitness. You have to be a counter fighter, bang him back, keep your distance, pick him off and then when you see a split opening you have to capitalise on it really fast. It’s only a split window with MMA but you have to take it. This is really one for the Grand Masters and Coaches.
NZF: When is your next fight?
KP: My next fight is Saturday (24 April, 2010). It is an MMA fight and I will be fighting for the New Zealand Light Heavyweight title. I am challenging Andrew Dearsley from Five Rings Dojo in Australia. He’s pretty good. Was brown belt a few years ago. He trains under Roy Luxton and is a good fighter, a good ground fighter. He’s technically well versed and trains under some good guys. When I watched his last fight in Christchurch, he seemd to be applying some new type of ground fighting system called 10th Planet. For most guys doing BJJ, the 10th Planet is the new thing. It’s about 3 years old now. For me, BJJ is a good base system and for those learning it’s good to start with BJJ, but for those into it, the 10 Planet is a whole new system of ground fighting. It’s going to be a tough fight technically. This fight’s going to be determined on who can dominate their specific area.
NZF: Any goals and aspiration for the future?
KP: I’m just trying to get into the youth scene and just helping people, put them on a certain path. I went to high school and everyone gets told that education is the way, it’s not the only way. Not everyone can be a formula 1 driver. Someone needs to be the pit man, someone needs to change the tyres, someone needs to be the engineer, stuff like that. But you all got to work together as a team. You have to find your place in that part of society. Not everyone’s academic, or good a woodwork or can sing. I’ve started up my own business, done a university degree, I’m a pretty alright fighter, everyone tells you to do something else. If I can just put them on a path where they can find out what their attributes are, I think that would be more rewarding for me as a person. And if I can get that career going, I will stop fighting. I’ve got 10 years of fighting, and I may start my own system of fighting by the time I hit 40.
NZF: Any advice for youth?
KP: Stick with what you’re best at. Don’t let other people tell you what to do cause their not the ones living you life. Just stick at what you love. You may think that you are not good at anything, but there is always something you are good at. Find out what your main driver is and stick with it. Fighting, martial arts, it depends if that’s for you. If so then stick with it. For me it was a bit of an outlet. It keeps me mentally sane, and keeps me mentally happy in a weird way. I am positive now and I’ve learnt to control any anger I have inside. You actually start to become aware of how powerful your mind is and how you can control your emotions cause you push your emotions to the limits when you fight, especially in the training side. Stepping in to go toe-to-toe with someone in front of a crowd, you are dealing with people watching you and assessing you. The important thing is that you are in a good team where people appreciate that you’ve given your best.
Sometimes there is too much emphasis on winning, it’s not all about winning. It’s about maximising your full potential as a person and what your capabilities are and growing that. When I was training my boys, I never put emphasis on winning but on the fact that they do their job the way they have been trained to do, and that’s all you can ask for at the end of the day. I’ve just been fortunate that they are champions, but not everyone can be champions.
NZF: Thanks Kaota.