Kanaka Māoli soccer legend victorious in MMA debut

By Mare Haimona-Riki

Kanaka Māoli (Native Hawaiian) soccer legend Natasha Kai is now trying her hand at mixed martial arts.

What started off as a joke turned into a new and ambitious endeavour for the 39-year-old University of Hawaii alumni. 

“One night over dinner, I was joking around. I said 'You know before I turned 40, I want to do an amateur flight','” she tells KHON reporter Rob DeMello.

A couple of months after she told this “joke” to her good friend and flatmate Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, a former Bellator champion, an opportunity came knocking on Kai’s door. 

“She said, 'These promoters contacted me, the promoters from Bellator, they’re looking for a 135 fighter.’ I said oh, that’s so cool. Who is going to fight? And she’s like, ‘Oh, you are.’ And I was like, Wait, what’ And she said, ‘Yeah. So I signed you up. You’re going to fight in four weeks.’”

Kai had four weeks to get ready for her amateur fight debut. Despite the short notice, it was time used wisely as she won a unanimous decision over Ellen Kim at SSP 52 in a bantamweight bout on January 7.

Kai, 39, achieved her goal of fighting before 40. She doesn’t have plans to turn pro, as she still has her own soccer programme in the San Diego area to run. But she’s certainly glad she had the courage to try.

“I’ll take classes here and there. Nothing crazy. You know, I obviously still run my soccer programme and my business here for soccer,” she said.