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Carl Malenko, Okinawan hero

Date Posted: 2001-12-13

A great fighting spectacular will take place at Dance Club Matsushita in Naha City on Sunday, Dec. 16, starting at 5:00 p.m. Fight promoter Kakidamishi 2 will feature three of the biggest bouts Okinawa has ever seen. First, Stan the Man (Australia), a fighter known as the Mike Tyson of kickboxing, will battle it out with Ryuji Murakami (Japan). Then submission fighter Carl Malenko (USA) will take on David Keller (USA), champion of the third martial arts academy tournament on Okinawa. Finally, Sakmongkol Sitchuchok of Thailand will challenge Japan’s Kouji Otani.

Malenko is one of the event’s prime attractions. He has been fighting professionally since 1993 and is becoming more and more well known in Japan every day. In fact, the flyer lists him as “Okinawa’s Hero.” Malenko held a special fighting seminar on Dec. 9 at the Lotus Club in Ginowan City. Although only 13 people came out to see the two-hour demonstration, everyone was very positive about the session.

“Carl demonstrated moves and how to apply them to mixed martial arts fighting. It was a good, light workout,” said U.S. military service member Brandon Blanchard. “This was a good chance for Americans like myself to get out into town and get down with the locals. It was a privilege and honor to come out here today. People are really starting to know Carl’s name. It’s awesome that he put on an exhibition with instruction. Carl is good at teaching technique, and he’s a people person. His moves are right on the money, and he doesn’t make many mistakes.”

“The people who came out here today were the ones who were paying me to be here, so I was there for them,” says Malenko. “They could ask me anything they wanted to know, and I’d try to help them.”

Malenko has come a long way since he started out in the early ‘90s. He began his career in fighting when his stepfather, famous wrestler Larry Malenko, noticed Carl was headed in the wrong direction, living the street life. “He pulled me off the street and into the gym,” says Carl. “The martial arts gave me discipline; they’re called disciplines for a reason. Early in my life, I watched Carl Gotch, a talented wrestling trainer, teach many Japanese people at my home. That’s how I came into contact with submission wrestling. I never did any other martial arts, so there have been no distractions. I think that’s a good thing.”

Submission wrestling is a form of wrestling that uses chokes, arm bars, locks or just about anything to get the opponent to basically cry “uncle.” Malenko fights mostly in Japan but sometimes in Tampa, Florida, as well. “In 1993 I fought my first professional fight for Fujiwara Gumi, a company I worked for in Tokyo,” he says

So, what is Malenko’s secret? What has helped him become such a successful fighter in the Japanese arena? When he prepares to enter the ring, he starts by warming up and readying his body physically. Then, the closer it gets to the fight, the more alone he becomes. “I get so focused, I don’t see or think about anything else,” he says. “It’s like when you’re driving really fast and all you’re really thinking about is what’s in front of you.”

Malenko says that stamina is the number-one factor in winning fights. “You can be the strongest, most powerful fighter in the world, but without stamina you’re nothing.” He says that most people forget to train for stamina. “They go off and focus on muscle or power training but forget about stamina. You need it in order to win. The only way to get it is to get on the mat.” He believes that after stamina, self-confidence is the number-two factor for defeating your opponent. “You have to have that inner fire. You have to know that you can win,” says Malenko. After stamina and self-confidence are technique, power and everything else. “Confidence is half the battle. If you go into a fight thinking that your opponent is going to beat you, you’ve already lost,” he concludes.

To train himself to become a prime fighter, Malenko does a variety of different things. “I ride my bike, skim board, surf, golf. There are so many things you can do.” He believes people should do what they find to be fun rather than doing the same thing every day. He also values some of the old-school training methods. “Put someone on your shoulders and walk around the block. Push your car up and down the street. Don’t just lift weights. Weights are mostly used for recovery after an injury. When you lift weights, you are training for that one big push. In a fight, you have to keep pushing. So weight training won’t fully prepare you for a fight.”

The fight is fast approaching, and Malenko is preparing himself physically and mentally for the duel. He feels confident in himself, but he is sure that his opponent will be a worthy opponent. “David Keller isn’t just going to sit down. I’m sure he’s out there training hard as well. This guy is going to come at me. I don’t know what to expect, really. I’m just going to go in with my game plan. This is where self-confidence comes in. I’m sure he’s probably at home training for the fight right now.”

Malenko has fought in six fights on Okinawa and has really taken a liking to the small island. He feels that Okinawa is very special. “Whenever I’m here, it’s like I’ve got a special power. I feel happy here. Ever since I first came here, I’ve continued to have that happy feeling. I have Americans to talk to. The weather feels like home. It’s beautiful here.”

Who will be the last man standing? Will it be Carl Malenko or David Keller? We’ll know for sure on Sunday, but one thing is for certain: Malenko is certainly a contender. Kakidamishi 2 is going to be a spectacular fighting event you won’t want to miss.

Advance tickets can be purchased at the Lotus club for ¥5,000 for A-seat tickets and ¥10,000 for special ringside seats, or you can pay at the door for an additional ¥500. Also, standing admission is available for ¥3,000.

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