Leopoldo not dead, contrary to reports

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship contender Kimo Leopoldo is still alive. Just ask him.

“I knew I wasn’t dead,” Leopoldo told Yahoo! Sports in a phone interview on Tuesday evening, hours after he was falsely reported deceased by numerous media outlets. “So when I was reading this I wondered if I was jinxed or something was going to happen.”

Leopoldo, 41, even appeared at the Orange County Sheriff’s office in Santa Ana, Calif., late Tuesday afternoon to put an end to rumors of his death that spread rapidly across the Internet.

“It was really strange,” Leopoldo said. “I was surprised at how nasty it was. I guess it wasn’t a good thing. … I’ve always had strange things written about me but nothing this bizarre. I couldn’t believe it when I searched for my name and I wrote in ‘Kimo Leopoldo’ and it added the word ‘death.’ ”

Rumors of Leopoldo’s demise first appeared on MMA.tv’s popular forum, “The Underground.” The post reported that Leopoldo died in Costa Rica “of complications from a heart attack.”

The report quickly was picked up by celebrity website TMZ.com, which “confirmed” the death. It later pulled the story without comment. The New York Daily News, Orange County Register, Las Vegas Sun and numerous MMA-specific websites also reported the story.

But an attorney who has represented Leopoldo told Yahoo! Sports the fighter “surfaced” early Tuesday afternoon, hours after reports of his death spread like a wildfire across the Internet. Attorney Victor E. Hobbs of El Toro, Calif., said in a brief telephone interview, “Kimo has surfaced and that’s all I know right now.” He referred all questions to Ron Kort of New Era Fighting, who is either Leopoldo’s manager or his promoter.

Leopoldo, of Irvine, Calif., was sentenced by a California judge on Monday to 10 days of community service and required to participate in a drug diversion program. He was arrested in February in Tustin, Calif., on suspicion of possession of methamphetamine.

Leopoldo’s most famous match was his MMA debut, when he met Royce Gracie at UFC 3 in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 9, 1994. Leopoldo was the first fighter to give Gracie, the winner of the first two UFC tournaments, a real run for his money, before he lost via armbar submission.

He largely made his name off the notoriety from the Gracie fight. Leopoldo last fought in 2006 and has a record of 10-7-1.

He said he hopes his new notoriety gets people to visit his website – fightengine.com – and lands him a shot at another fight.

Even after Hobbs and publicist Bob Trieger confirmed that Leopoldo was alive, Kort would not definitively say so. He referred questions to Jim Amormino, the spokesman for the Orange County sheriff’s coroner’s office.

Amormino was suspicious after numerous checks failed to turn anything up. He said at 3 p.m. PT that he had about 150 calls on the matter but that as far as he knew, Leopoldo was alive.

“If he was dead in Orange County, I would know by now,” Amormino said. “All deaths have to come to the corner’s office. I’ve checked hospitals and numerous law enforcement agencies and no one has responded.”

Trieger, who works for New Era Fighting, said Kort told him that Leopoldo is alive. Trieger said “apparently, Kimo woke up to reports of his death.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Jul 21, 2009