After spending time on season 26 of the UFC's hit reality series, 'The Ultimate Fighter,' Maia Kahunaele was briefly signed to the world's most prominent mixed martial arts promotion. Around this same time, this 37-year mother was going through some very personal life changes, separating from longtime husband and father of her children, former UFC fighter Joe "Daddy" Stevenson.
After falling short in her lone UFC appearance, battling a knee injury that required surgery and forcing her to withdraw from a scheduled contest, Kahunaele was released from the promotion.
Now in a relationship with famed mixed martial artist and bare knuckle boxing super star Joey Beltran, Kahunaele finds herself not only making a career change, but also a lifestyle adjustment.
“I absolutely think I would have went to bare knuckle eventually," Kahunaele said when asked if she found herself engulfed in the sport because of Beltran's involvement.
Kahunaele will be making a splash in her bare knuckle debut as she meets Helen Peralta, with a chance to take out a name in her very first outing. Peralta is the current Police Gazette American Women's Featherweight champion, however, the title is not on the line at Bare Knuckle FC 9 in Biloxi, Mississippi on November 16. A win over the champ though would catapult Kahunaele to the front of the line of contenders.
"The pay is not bad at all. If they more female bare knuckle fights, it’s only going to continue to grow," Kahunaele said of the sport. "I am noticing that even in boxing, a lot of the females are transitioning to MMA. It keeps them busy, more matches. I think you are going to continue to see more women from boxing and MMA come to bare knuckle.”
While Kahunaele may be making the move to bare knuckle from MMA, she is not new to the concept of boxing as a base.
“Boxing is what I started with," the Victorville, California native said. "I’ve been boxing since I was 16. I do realize that boxing is completely different sport than bare knuckle but I like it. I’m excited about it. It wasn’t just that Joey that brought it to my attention. I’ve been offered bare knuckle right when I got off the Ultimate Fighter show but I passed on it. I thought it was an interesting thing. I always considered it. Boxing has always been a passion of mine and it’s something that I’ve always felt the most comfortable doing so yeah, I’m really excited to be able to jump in there.”
Now with contract in hand, Kahunaele finds herself in an interesting situation. Joey also fights on next week's BKFC 9 card, and he will seek gold when he challenges Police Gazette American Heavyweight Champion Chase Sherman. Together Kahunaele and Beltran will become the first couple to both compete in fights on the same sanctioned bare knuckle fight card.
“We’re gonna be the King and Queen of bare knuckle boxing,” Kahunaele said, letting out a laugh in the process.
How the contract came to be
“I think it was a matter of convenience really," Kahunaele said. of her signing with the Bare Knuckle FC promotion. "I got offered an MMA fight in Bahrain. I was like ‘man, I really want to stay active but I’m not about flying all the way out there.’ It was going to be the same weekend as Joey fighting. I said, ‘let’s just see if we can get a bare knuckle fight for me.’ It worked and that killed two birds with one stone. Our manager is really good and I will be making more with bare knuckle than I would flying overseas and competing in MMA. I was like, ‘F**k yeah. Let’s do it.’”
Kahunaele on her opponent, Peralta
“I’ve only seen clips of it, (Peralta's last fight against Christine Ferea). I haven’t watched the whole fight. I usually don't," Kahunaele said. "I don’t watch a lot of fights. It’s bare knuckle. I think the biggest thing is you have to give zero f**ks and just be tough. People may disagree with me but it’s not really a polished sport yet. You can say MMA is not polished yet either but I definitely think bare knuckle isn’t yet. You can get a couple wins just by being f**king tough and that’s what she is. She’s just a tough chick.”
What do the kids think of mom competing in bare knuckle?
“They don’t give a shit,” (laughs). They’re into anime and stuff," Kahunaele said. "They could care less. Even when I was fighting in the UFC, or when my ex was fighting in the UFC. They didn’t give a shit. The only thing that they do with us, with Joey and I, is this deep end fitness on Sundays. We do it as a family now. The boys jump in and they do our underwater pool workouts. We’re carrying weights. It’s f**king horrible but it gets the job done. It makes you comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. I just like it. I can’t beat up Joey in any aspect but I can absolutely crush him in the pool workouts. I only come out the champ.”
Future in Bare Knuckle
“The cool thing about doing bare knuckle is it kind of gives my body a breather," Kahunaele said. "MMA is really hard on your body, with the grappling and wrestling and everything. I do enjoy the fact that bare knuckle is just a striking sport so it kind of gives my body some time to heal. If everything works out, and I’m happy, then yeah I’ll stick with bare knuckle.”
A jam packed night of Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship action will lead up to the highly anticipated main event rematch between Artem Lobov and Jason Knight on Saturday, November 16 live on pay-per-view from the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Miss.
The co-main event will see BKFC Heavyweight Champion and Mississippi-native Chase Sherman defending his title against hard-hitting veteran Joey Beltran, plus BKFC staple Johnny Bedford battles Charles Bennett.
"BKFC 9" will be broadcast across the United States and Canada, exclusively on pay-per-view through MultiVision Media, Inc., on all major television distribution outlets for $29.99. It will also be available to BKFC's international broadcast partners worldwide and via stream to all in-home and out-of-home connected devices through FITE.
Tickets for the live event are on sale now at www.bareknuckle.tv or the Mississippi Coast Coliseum box office.