Pu‘u’s passion is giving back
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Deutsch Pu‘u knew he would have a good feeling in his heart — whether he won or lost — after his fight against Dylan Rush in the main event of the Toughman Hawaii King of the Rings kickboxing gala on Saturday night.
Pu‘u, 34, remembers he was in the same boat as Rush, 24, five years ago — just starting his career and looking to battle a big name. Now, Pu‘u is an established fighter, headlining the first X-1 mixed martial arts event in Hawaii in 2003 and kickboxing for the K-1 organization.
The Oahu challenger entered the night with a 4-2 kickboxing record. He also has a 4-2 MMA record, all pro bouts. Rush, a 2006 Ka‘u High graduate, will make his MMA pro debut against Analu Brash on July 28 on Maui.
Three weeks ago, Pu‘u re-signed a contract with K-1, a worldwide company, but he earlier agreed to fight in Toughman to not only draw a crowd at Edith Kanakaole Tennis Stadium, but also to offer Rush, who entered with a 2-0 kickboxing record and 3-0 MMA amateur record, a worthy opponent.
“I’m a man of my word. My management team spoke to the new owners of K-1 and they said it was OK,” Pu‘u said. “A lot of people said if I lost to Dylan it would be a career-killer. But I know where Dylan is coming from. He wants to fight the best of the best.”
Five years ago, Pu‘u was the young lion on the rise. He was scheduled to fight a big name, Wesley “Cabbage” Correira, who competed in the UFC, but forfeited his match against Pu‘u in a X-1 MMA event on Aug. 4, 2007.
“I wanted to give Dylan a chance to fight a big name, a chance I didn’t get at the time,” said Pu‘u, who speaks in the soft-spoken, polite manner of a military man.
Pu‘u, the son of a retired master sergeant of the infantry, was born in Germany (the reason for his German first name), raised in Samoa and later moved to Hawaii, where made himself into a household MMA presence.
But first he had to deal with an injury that almost killed him.
He was in the Army from August 1995 to April 2003, getting deployed nine times, including three tours to Iraq. In his last tour, he led a foot patrol and a roadside IED blew up, knocking him out and nearly tearing his right arm off.
“The doctors told me I would never use my right arm again,” he said. “Physical therapy does wonders.”
Hard work and determination got him back in the ring, a sport he started as a 5-year-old. He eventually became an All-Army boxing champ, and later lost in the quarterfinals of the U.S. nationals Olympic boxing trials.
He’s in the K-1 final U.S. 16-field, which gets narrowed to eight in a fight card Sept. 7 in Los Angeles. The whittling continues October in Miami and finally December in New York. The winner joins a worldwide K-1 field.
“The U.S. winner gets a sizable check,” he said. “You can earn enough to make a living. There’s always pressure, but if you impress even with a loss they may sign you up to fight again.
“The advice I would give to the aspiring fighters is to train hard and fight harder. There’s nothing else to it. Someone will recognize you. The best way is to knock people out and win.”
But Pu‘u does much more than that. He also started his own management company, Samoa MMA Promotions. His biggest passion, however, is returning aloha.
“This K-1 is my last tournament,” he said. “I’m literally the person who brought MMA to American Samoa. I opened the biggest gym in Samoa and it’s free of charge. I’m opening one in Waipahu and it’s the same thing. It’s free.
“I was born in Germany, raised in Samoa and turned pro in Hawaii. I just want to give back. I can do this because of my Army retirement. Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve always been taken care of. It’s my way of giving back and touching others.”
Source: Hawaii tribune herald