Nainoa Dung had his first MMA fight at the age of 13 in the State of Washington. Seven and a half years later, the unbeaten lightweight prospect will step into the Bellator cage for the third time this Saturday in his home state of Hawaii.
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“The Baby Faced Assassin” will take on Hawaii’s top-ranked 155-pound fighter in Zach Zane on the main card of Bellator 236. The event takes place at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and will be headlined by a women’s flyweight title fight between Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Kate Jackson.
“I say it all the time, I know I’m young and I know I have all the time in the world but where I am at this point in time, I’m still getting better,” Dung told The Body Lock. “For a 20-year-old on this stage at the point I’m at, the connections I’ve made, the fight camp I’ve had, I’m ready. I’m not in a rush but it’s my time.”
For the second consecutive year, Dung will fight in Hawaii under the Bellator banner. At Bellator 213, Dung made his organizational debut against fellow Hawaiian Kona Oliveira and picked up a third-round TKO victory. On a card where a lot of local talent was featured, Dung was able to secure a four-fight deal with Bellator. The Sanford MMA (formerly Hard Knocks 365) product returned in July at Bellator 224 and scored a unanimous decision win over Brad Robinson.
Now he returns to a familiar place where lightning struck once before as he takes on the state’s top-ranked 155-pounder, and — by far — the most experienced opponent he has shared the cage with.
“He was never on my radar and my plan was always to represent Hawaii,” Dung said. “Coming up, I never thought we’d be fighting, he was never someone that I looked up to, or thought ‘oh, I want to fight that guy.’ It just happened this way because I’m a young up and comer with Bellator and to represent somewhere, you have to be the best in that region. I’ve got to be the #1 lightweight in Hawaii to represent. I have to take that from him so this matchup was perfect.”
Once again, Dung will share the card with Macfarlane as the headlining act. “The Iliminator” came out of Bellator 213 looking like, quite possibly, the organization’s biggest rising star when she defeated submitted Valerie Letourneau in the third round of their title fight main event.
With Macfarlane becoming the first Hawaiian Bellator world champion, Dung hopes to accomplish a similar goal from the male side of the spectrum, further putting Hawaiian MMA on the map as one of the sport’s hot spots.
“I love that we have a Hawaiian champion in there,” Dung said of Macfarlane. “I’m looking to become Hawaii’s first male Bellator champion. I got a long road ahead of me but I’m ready. I’ll be prepared to take the right steps, pick the right fights and we’ll be there soon. Shout out to Ilima-Lei for doing her thing.
“I’m just looking long term and trying to be realistic with my goals. Since I started earlier, my prime will come earlier than most. Some guys primes will hit at 28, maybe 30. I think mine will be in my mid-20’s. From all the time I’ve put in since I was young to now, I can see the changes in my body, I can feel the difference in my strength, my mindset was always ahead and I look forward to this fight. I get to go out there and prove all of that.”
Dung began training martial arts when he was just a kid and has been engulfed in the martial arts lifestyle ever since. While other teenagers were trying to figure out what to do on a Friday or Saturday night, Dung got in touch with Henri Hooft at the age of 17 to begin working with him as he wanted to pursue a professional kickboxing career. Traveling back and forth from Hawaii for Florida, Dung is focused on becoming the best martial artist he can be; for himself and his family.
Making those lifestyle choices at a young age, along with the continued evolvement in his game over the years, Dung feels like he is cut from a different cloth than most of the young, up and coming fighters in the sport. In addition, Dung believes there is a huge difference between confidence and cockiness.
“I know it makes a big difference,” Dung explained. “Some people think it’s cocky, but I’m so confident because of the work I’ve put in, because of my lifestyle that I live. I can go on and on but I just can’t wait.”
Zane, who has competed on Dana White’s Contender Series, has 19 more professional fights under his belt than Dung. With the top lightweight spot in Hawaii on the line, Dung isn’t looking past Zane by any stretch of the imagination. However, he is looking to go right through his 30-year-old opponent to take that next step towards achieving his goal of becoming a world champion.
“I never say ‘I’m gonna go out there and knock this guy out’. That’s not what I’m looking for,” Dung stated. “If it comes, it comes. With me, the ultimate defeat is when the man across from you just lets you… I like to go in there, take everything and leave him with nothing. For him to quit on himself, that’s the ultimate defeat that I’m looking for. I wanna go in there and show him that there’s nothing that he can do. He’s just got to get down and lay down. I really mean it, too.
“You don’t always get a knockout. It’s awesome to get one but I go in there to try and pick my opponents apart, break them down.”