Kamaka gets big shot in cage after an eternity away

Apr. 19—All Kai Kamaka cared about was getting back into the cage.

All Kai Kamaka cared about was getting back into the cage.

The Campbell High School alumnus was finally back to his winning ways since leaving the UFC three years ago.

He had won three straight fights under the Bellator banner, including a victory inside Blaisdell Arena in April 2023.

The decisions, which had gone against him twice during his UFC run and once in his second fight with Bellator, were finally going in his favor. He was starting the climb up the featherweight rankings and was in position to finally cash in on some bigger fights when Bellator was bought by the Professional Fighters League in November.

Kamaka (12-5-1 ) remained under contract and knew a fight would come his way. He just didn't know when.

"It was kind of weird trying to find out when your next fight is going to be, who you're going to fight, who you're going to fight for and how soon will that be, " Kamaka said in a phone interview Tuesday. "That was the biggest thing. I want to be active."

Six months since he last fought, Kamaka was rewarded for the wait.

The PFL made him one of 12 featherweights competing for the 145-pound PFL championship and the $1 million check that comes with winning at the end of the season.

Kamaka will make his debut with the PFL today at Wintrust Arena in Chicago in the first main card fight, starting at 3 :30 p.m. on ESPN.

He will take on Bubba Jenkins (21-7 ), who has reached the semifinals of the featherweight grand prix each of the past three seasons.

"I feel like I am in the best spot of my career, " Kamaka said. "In a place where I keep growing, get better in what I do because my hunger, my love for this sport, my love for the lifestyle keeps getting better. I feel like I'm in a good place in my life."

Now a father to five kids, Kamaka brought the youngest one with him to Chicago for today's fight.

The format for the PFL season this year is two fights to decide the top four in the division, who will move on to the semifinals and eventually the final.

Three points are awarded for a win and one for a draw. Fighters can also receive bonus points for stoppage victories depending on the round.

A first-round stoppage is worth an extra three points, a second-round victory adds two points and a third-round finish will give a fighter an additional point.

The top four in the points standings advance to the tournament.

Kamaka is competing in a PFL season for the first time, but it's nothing new for him. He has been there when cousin Ray Cooper competed in the PFL season four times since 2018. Cooper advanced to the final in his first season and won it in both 2019 and 2021.

"This is the first time we're fighting in the same promotion in a long time and I kind of want to be able to represent him and Hawaii and my family well, " Kamaka said. "I can fight four times this year and I can make some good money if I have a successful tournament, and that's the main thing."

Kamaka said he watched Max Holloway's knockout win over Justin Gaethje at UFC 300 on Saturday live.

It was the unofficial start to his fight week preparations.

"The whole card was good and that fight was the people's main event everybody was talking about, " Kamaka said. "That excited me a lot."

Today's 12-fight PFL card begins at 12 :30 p.m. streaming on ESPN +. Kamaka's fight will kick off the six-fight main card.


CHICAGO Wintrust Arena, Chicago—Main card, 3 :30 p.m., ESPN—Main event : Andrey Koreshkov vs. Magomed Umalatov FEATHERWEIGHT BOUT Kai Kamaka (12-5-1 ) vs. Bubba Jenkins (21-7 )