· Niko Vitale ~ Showing What He’s About
Hawaiian fighter Falaniko "Niko" Vitale has had an illustrious MMA career spanning more than a decade, appearing in major promotions such as the UFC, Strikeforce, Icon Sport, and the International Fight League (IFL). With 26 wins to only nine losses, Vitale has fought some of the toughest opponents in the world. In the coming months, Niko will return to fighting, after a year-long layoff, in his Shine Fights debut against Murilo "Ninja" Rua. MMA Spot recently sat down with Niko to discuss his past and his training.
Falaniko "Niko" Vitale was born in Hawaii and has lived there for most of his life. Growing up, he was constantly engaged in athletics. "I played sports all my life, football, baseball, basketball, messed around with boxing a little bit when I was 9 or 10. I wasn’t an amateur or anything but I did train." In addition to sports, Niko grew up influenced by his father's performing career. "My father was a fire dancer. It’s a Samoan fire dance called Siva Afi, a traditional dance performed by warriors back in the day. It was something that he grew up learning. I picked it up, I know how to do it. I performed twice though it wasn’t something that he really wanted me to do as a career because it’s a rough business to be in."
In high school, Niko primarily played football, a sport which he continued in college. "I went two years of college in Utah at Snow College and two years in Hawaii at the University of Hawaii. I played safety and a couple other positions. I dabbled with indoor football and arena football a little bit, but then I got into fighting."
Vitale credits his interest in martial arts to legendary fighter Royce Gracie. "My junior year in college, I saw a Gracie match. That was before the UFC came out. I saw the Gracie match and I see little guys beating up all these bigger guys and I remember I said 'This is one art I really wanna learn.' I was a wrestler in high school and I grew up watching WWF and I love grappling period." Initially, the intrigued Niko specifically pursued jiu-jitsu. "I was 22 at the time when I picked it up. I started training jiu-jitsu in 1997 and then fought in 1999."
Early in his jiu-jitsu training, Niko's primary instructor left Hawaii to move to the mainland, causing him to switch camps. "I had been a purple belt for years. When my instructor left, I joined the Jesus Is Lord team with Ronald Jhun and Ray Cooper. I trained with a lot of guys who are brown and black belts." After joining the new team, he began fighting for Hawaiian based Super Brawl. Vitale fought thirteen times for the organization, losing only a single match against Robbie Lawler.
Full Interview: MMA Spot__________________