The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is one of the most exciting and competitive sports there is, just ask one of our own, Tongan UFC fighter Soa “The Hulk” Palelei of Australia. Soa is a “history in the making,” figure who fights with his heart and mind, in addition to setting the bar for potential young Pacific Islanders who may be up for the challenge. We take a closer look and gain a better understanding of the fighter psyche as well as the lessons learned from training, technique, and will power. How bad does “The Hulk” want it? You have no idea.
TWID: It’s rare to see an Islander in this field of sports because we are use to seeing them in sports such as rugby, especially in Australia and New Zealand. How did you get into UFC fighting? How long have you been in it?
SOA: I played rugby at a younger age, but I’ve been doing this for 17 years. I started off in boxing as a kid to stay out of trouble, and then from there I did Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, travelled to Brazil, trained and competed over there. I’ve trained in Hawaii and Japan as well. Mainly I’ve been trying to learn the art of it, everyone has their own special technique on wrestling, submission wrestling, boxing, or kickboxing. So I try to travel everywhere and benefit and get the most out of it. UFC wasn’t that big when I first started, a lot of people didn’t really know, they weren’t educated on MMA. To see it go far, to see it go mainstream, it’s huge, not only in the states but all over the world. It’s a good thing,
TWID: What’s the most exhilarating part of being in this sport? What’s the thrill you get out of it in engaging in this contact sport?
SOA: It’s such a competitive sport and anything can happen at any time, when you’re fighting in this industry. You can win or lose at anytime. The whole sportsmanship, I respect fighters and where they’re at, it’s just my nature, to respect everyone.
TWID: What’s your take on Islander athletes and how they play with their hearts?
SOA: You’ve got to come in with a game plan. Gone are the warrior days, now you’ve got to be careful and have a game plan and instruction. When you train you’ve got to train to what your opponent is, what their attributes are, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. So when I fight I come up with a game plan. It’s good to have heart but you’ve got to be smart as well. It’s like a chess game, you’ve got to watch your opponent and beat him. And you’ve got to keep your cool as well. There are a lot of Islanders that have so much talent and so much heart, and so much pride; we die for what we believe in, but you’ve also got to be smart as well. You have to be able to outsmart your opponent. With this kind of sport you have to be smart about it and not go in there and just get hit. The name of the game is to hit and not get hit. Why would you want to get hit? Nobody wants that.
TWID: How did you get your nickname “SOA THE HULK?”
SOA: When I first started fighting I wanted something like the ‘Tongan Torpedo’ or the ‘Tongan Warrior’ or something that’s Islander. But my manager was trying to sell something and looked at it as a marketing tool. From there its just stuck with me-“SOA THE HULK”.
TWID: How many fights have you won and lost?
SOA: I’ve had about 23 fights and I’ve only lost 3 times. My last 9 fights I’ve won by knockout, entire knockout.
TWID: How old are you and is there an age limit in UFC fighting?
SOA: There’s not really an age limit, I’m 36. There are many fighters who are still fighting in their 30’s and 40‘s, the same goes with boxers. I think I’m a better fighter now than I was at 21.
TWID: It seems like you’re in your prime with fighting, what’s your ultimate goal?
SOA: I want to keep fighting and obviously, get a heavyweight UFC belt; a UFC heavyweight championship belt will be good. I just want to keep fighting and keep representing, that’s my main thing, and keep my family proud.
TWID: When is your next fight and what are you currently doing in Australia?
SOA: I’m nesting my rib at the moment, so it depends on my recovery. I did a movie with Ewan McGregor, that was exciting and something new for me. I just want to keep busy with fighting, acting, t.v. shows, whatever it is. We’re shooting a movie called Son of a Gun, and I’ve learned a lot from him on the ins and outs of acting. I’ve learned so much that I can carry it onto the next film I do. So my main goal now is to do movies and fight.
TWID: When you’re not fighting or working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
SOA: I like to hang out with my kids as much as I can. I have 3 kids, 2 girls-14 and 13 and my boy, he’s 7 years old. My 2 girls are competitive swimmers, they swim every day, morning and night. They want one day to get to the olympics and represent, and I like to help and motivate them. I keep training all day every day. When I don’t train I just like to relax, I don’t really do much.
TWID: How do you represent yourself as a Tongan in the sport of UFC fighting?
SOA: I just try to give back a lot. I’m an ambassador for the make a wish foundation and I’m apart of several charities. I represent for all Islanders-Tongan, Samoan, Fijian. I just want to represent and go back to Tonga one day and make my people proud as the first Tongan in the UFC. I want to inspire younger generations to do it, it can be done. I think we’re special as Islanders because we’ve got so much heart and pride, this is designed for us. I don’t want any money from it, I just want to help kids and inspire.
SOA THE HULK is no doubt an admirable example to our people and our communities. Even as he earns and builds his way through the mainstream media and lifestyle, the humble fighter carries his pride on his shoulders with love, strength, and determination. Thank you SOA for paving the way for our younger generations and representing us in a positive platform. It’s WHAT. HE. DO.
Article Written By: Sina Uipi