In September of 1994, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was not even a year old yet. It had hosted two events so far and both were dominated by the legendary Royce Gracie. Most fighters Royce fought did not sell themselves other than just being tough guys, no one really had anything that stood out from the crowd.
Kimo Leopoldo was a UFC original. He had the “IT” factor. Six foot three, chiseled, tattooed, and carried a large……wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself. Firstly, let’s talk about how Kimo got booked for UFC 3.
“I have a look that Art Davie felt interested in”, Kimo said. “My approach was by Joe Son who was suited up. He had a gorgeous female who carried the briefcase. I had on a tank-top and jeans. I spoke not a single word. Joe son sold him the idea of Kimo fighting. The UFC is entertainment. So whether i fought good or sucked was no real concern, my presence was the perfect look to intrigue any audience. I entered the octagon a Taekwondo black belt representative with no credentials. Truth is I was a street fighter who was granted a black belt just to compete in the UFC. Only black belt competitors fought in the earlier UFC events”
When I spoke to Art Davie, he recalled a meeting with Kimo:
“He originally arrived at the WOW offices with Joe Son in an orange Porsche convertible,” Davie said. “Both men arrived at the WOW offices in that Porsche bare-chested. An unusual first meeting Kimo never spoke. Joe Son did all the talking (in a very loud voice) and mostly about the Christian ministry that Joe had organised for those who had been in prison. And that Kimo had a black belt in Taekwondo… And Joe Son Do. It was a scene right out of the movies. My secretary, Sherry Santos, came in frightened by them as Joe was yelling in the lobby and demanding to see me. It was hilarious.”
Art booked Kimo to fight at UFC 3, his first opponent with the organisation would be Royce Gracie. Kimo Stepped out from the curtains carrying a large wooden cross. This was a surreal moment in UFC history that will never be forgotten.
“I went into the UFC originally as a representative of Christ,” Kimo added. “I wanted to show people to look outside the box. How can a christian enter such a violent situation and attempt to hurt another person. I answered this by stating ‘I have no ill nor harming feelings towards my opponents.’ Its an extreme sport. Some people think skydiving is extreme, everyone has an opinion, my heart was in the right place. Both my opponent and I were only out to exemplify our abilities. And we both knew the chances we were taking. Thus it wasn’t personal.”
Art Davie said of Kimo’s debut
“He arrived in Charlotte with a piece of gear wrapped in paper that Joe Son told my staff was a ‘climber exercise machine.’ It was the cross he carried to the Octagon”
Much different from the behind-the-scenes action of today, Kimo spoke about what the UFC’s backstage area was like back in 1994.
“At that time all fighters except Royce Gracie shared one locker room. The locker room was separated by strings and sheets. So you couldn’t see any opponent, but u could smell, hear, and feel warm ups and grunts. It was like a dense cloud of uncertainty and it was very intense.”
Kimo battered Royce that night with strikes and brute force for four minutes straight. Gracie was able to pull Kimo’s hair (which was legal back then) to hold onto the young rookie and eventually secured a fight winning armbar. It was the first time we saw someone make Royce look human. Gracie would bow out of the one-night tournament after that fight due to injuries and exhaustion.
Kimo’s career was just beginning that night. He finally found his niche. Leopoldo would have a career with many highlight wins, including historic wins finishing Kazushi Sakuraba, Paul Varelans, Tank Abbott, and many others. So what was his personal highlight fight?
“None, my career was fight to fight”, Kimo said. “Fight to win to eat and have another fight. I never had aspersions to be the champion. I only focused on the fight at hand. My objective was to win and to win brutally as to intimidate future opponents.”
“I don’t have a highlight, but that name Shamrock haunts me. Disappointing rematch, unfairly stopped and unjustly. I did get knocked down for a split second. Shamrock threw no other strikes i got up consciously, not effected at all by knee and i was going towards him, he was backing up, and they stopped it.
“It is a nightmare to me,” he added. “UFC lets people lose righteously. You know, knocked out sleeping and hit at least 3 unanswered strikes before they usually stop a match. I mean Mayhem Miller is allowed to bleed all over the place and they don’t stop his fights.”
So I asked Kimo what he thought of the Bellator fight this past February between his two former foes Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock.
“Sad, Very sad. Gracie did not have his Bushido (warrior spirit), you could see he didn’t have that glare. Shamrock is so beyond his capabilities; you can see he’s acting as he enters the cage. As for the fight itself. I Loved it. Gracie used optimal technique and surprised Shamrock by staying up with him. Gracie changed his approach from taking out the knee to a more potentially effective kick. There was a point that Gracie usually would have attempted a takedown, but he kneed Shamrock instead. That instantly changed the momentum as Gracie manhandled Shamrock, throwing him down to the mat like a boy.
He then proceeded to strike Ken, who laid in the fetal position and was at one point knocked out completely. He was then woken up by another strike. He didn’t attempt to get up, only try to cover his face with one hand. It was a shameful fight for Shamrock. Worst way to lose, fetal position is a giving up body language.”
In 2011 Kimo died. It was reported by several media outlets who all stated that Kimo died of a heart attack. So I wanted to know what really happened and how I could be speaking to a dead man.
“I was sleeping at a friends when my publicist came over and informed me of the situation. I thought nothing of it”, Kimo said. “My publicist saw opportunity. He told me two things we could do. Nothing or you can stay inside, draw the curtains, don’t call or answer to anyone and we will room service you food for three days. Then as Christ rose from the dead on the third day, you will appear and do interviews blowing everyone’s mind. It sounded great. Free room service, cartoons all day, chillaxing for three days. OK, I said. Except after about five phone messages from my good brotherly friends, messages that sliced me. The tone in their voices and sadness, I changed my mind. I told my publicist no, I cant go through with it. So we went on fox news that day. The Bummer part about it is when I do die, it will be a joke. He’s not dead hes faking.”
These days at 48 years old, Kimo seems to be enjoying life. Although he has dealt with many medical problems that seem to plague most prize fighters after retirement, he seems to be in a good place.
“I had five total hip replacements and five knee surgeries, that’s finally coming to an end.” He said. “Manufacturer defect on first surgery created a downfall on my health. I did and do everything I can to keep in the best shape I physically can. Other then that I do signings, I do small parts on film, I do some guest appearances And remain as active as I can. I have a KTM, I ride off-road, day by day. I am grateful for everything I have been through in life good and bad.”
The next time you see an MMA fighter trying to sell their look or market themselves, remember Kimo did it back before it was the thing to do. In an industry that was in its infancy, Kimo Leopoldo a street fighter from Hawaii (Born In Germany), made a career off of his looks, his heart, his religious beliefs and his toughness.
If you have UFC Fight Pass, I highly recommend Kimo’s fight against Paul Varelans who outweighed him by over a hundred pounds. Also, check out Kimo’s debut fight against Royce Gracie, this one will probably be in The Hall Of Fame someday.
I’ll see you next time for more “Laying The Foundation” as I talk to MMA legends and give them their rightful due respect as pioneers and innovators of The UFC.
Any MMA Legends you’d like us to cover? Let us know in the comments below.
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