Victory FC 50’s Maki Pitolo Hoping to Catch UFC’s Attention with Impressive Win

By Mike Sloan May 20, 2016
Almost every day in the world of MMA, somebody is talking about some fighter who will be the next big thing. The next Ronda Rousey. The next Chuck Liddell. The next Jon Jones. It’s a constant struggle keep up with how many future all-time greats are among us, especially when many of them flame out before becoming the next George Jetson, let alone the next Georges St. Pierre (see: Phillipe Nover).

But in the case of Hawaii’s Maki Pitolo, those who have created the buzz around him might be on to something. The explosive young welterweight contender has been reminding many of a young B.J. Penn and it seems like a formality before Pitolo gets the call to compete for the UFC.

Pitolo will have all of his skills on full display Saturday night in one of the featured bouts of Victory FC 50, which will be streamed live on UFC Fight Pass starting at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. Trying to derail his hype train is crafty veteran Justin Guthrie, a man with more than triple the amount of professional MMA fights than Pitolo. Guthrie, who has also competed for Bellator and Titan FC, will easily be the most accomplished opponent of young Maki’s career, but that is something the Hawaiian kid wants.

“He’s a tough guy with a lot of experience and I can’t wait to go up against him,” Pitolo told Sherdog.com. “He’s a good wrestler who likes to take guys down and grind them out. He’s got a good gas tank, too, but the main thing I see with him is that he likes to use his wrestling to control the guys he fights.

“I think his only weakness is probably his stand-up,” he added. “He’s pretty green with it but he does throw a lot of big punches. He likes to swing hard and get the guys to back up so when he does that to me, I’ll be on the defensive. But that’s where I’ll be in control because I’ll pick my spots and capitalize on the openings he’ll leave for me.”

Pitolo admitted that he is keen to the groundswell of attention he’s been getting and he relishes it. He wants to eventually be the biggest star in MMA and he understands that the hype and publicity will grow a hundredfold in due time. And when it does, he already knows what to do.

“I am aware of it and I’m very comfortable with it,” he said of the growing hype. “I want to be the best in the world and I know I have the ability to become that. All I have to do is stay focused, stay hungry and work hard because even though it may take a few years, it will happen.”

There was a time not too long ago, however, when Pitolo thought he was above all and unbeatable. After destroying the competition in the amateur ranks, he burst into the pro ranks with a win over Jason Camarillo in February of 2013. But as soon as his pro career got underway, he was already in the midst of a two-fight losing streak. And those losses weren’t close split decisions, either; Chris Cisneros submitted him with an armbar in the first and then C.J. Marsh flattened him with punches, also in the first.

So, what went wrong?

“That was during a time when I was beating people up really fast, quickly,” he reflected. “It seemed like I didn’t have to put a lot of work in strategy-wise because my wins were coming so easily. I had this mindset where I was [invincible] so I never really had a game plan. I had no clear vision with what I should have done in those fights and it was a mistake. I wanted to get in there and get them out as quickly as I could and I was very reckless and sloppy. And it cost me. I’ve gone back and corrected those mistakes where now I’m much more calm and focused on what needs to be done before I ever get into the cage.”

He clearly got the message because he quickly changed course and reverted back to the seemingly invincible prodigy he was supposed to be. He’s won five in a row since his losses, with four of those wins coming via submission or knockout. He’s on the cusp of making it into the big promotions – UFC or otherwise – but he needs to defeat Guthrie in impressive fashion. Don’t expect Pitolo to be overwhelmed by the moment.

“Nah, I don’t feel any added pressure going into this fight,” he said. “I know what’s on the line but the only thing I can focus on right now is fighting Justin and making sure I beat him. I can’t think of the UFC or anything like that because I need to stay focused on one thing and that is Justin. If I win and it’s spectacular, I’ll take whatever happens to come my way. If the UFC will be my next step, great. If I have to wait a little longer and get a few more fights in, then that’s what I’ll do. But either way, I’ll be ready.”

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