Mixed martial arts: Search on for undisputed title challengers

Matt Toa is getting ready for a big year.

The Dunedin man is helping guide New Zealand mixed martial arts through a crucial period, and he also hopes to get back into the cage himself.

Last year, with the aim of finding undisputed New Zealand titleholders, Toa's Hammerhead Productions, the Supremacy Fighting Championship and Auckland's Shuriken MMA formed an umbrella organisation, Undisputed N.

The promotions will hold eight events between them this year, while establishing a ranking system and eventually undisputed title challengers.

Supremacy held its first show last month in Christchurch, where potential featherweight, welterweight and lightweight contenders fought.

Toa (33) said it would probably take the rest of the year to identify the best two fighters in each division, but many of those from that show would be at a Hammerhead event in June.

He said that there were still four professional divisions in his International Sport Karate Association-sanctioned events that were vacant and, while finding undisputed titleholders was the main aim, getting those vacancies filled was also a priority.

''We are building towards champions in each weight division and that has been our aim since the start,'' Toa said.

''But there's a lot of factors that need lined up before scheduling a title fight, especially in the professional ranks.''

Finding an undisputed professional lightweight champion may be tricky because the Auckland and Christchurch-based StrikeForce gyms hold all three belts, but divisions such as welterweight should be much easier.

Toa said that division would be the main event on the Hammerhead show in June when Dunedin's Robert Dean drops down from middleweight to fight Queenstown's Rennan Secco for the SFC title.

Dean already holds the ISKA NZ middleweight title and the ISKA South Island light-heavyweight title, while Secco is a talented Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter who has won his last three fights by submission, including a contender eliminator on the SFC show.

Toa is preparing about 20 fighters but is also getting personal with his training.

He spent most of January with the Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand, where UFC welterweight Brian Ebersole and former UFC fighter Roger Huerta trained him.

Training in ''high 30degC'' temperatures was both physically and mentally demanding, he said, but it was a challenge he enjoyed and the skills he learnt were second to none.

Toa, whose record is 14 wins and 12 losses, turned professional in 2005 and had his first amateur fight in 2003.

He last fought at super-heavyweight when he won the ISKA South Island title against Blaine Stevenson in 2011. He said the time was right for him to start planning to fight again.

''You will definitely see me back in the cage in Dunedin this year with the ultimate goal of fighting at light heavyweight.

''I will probably have a few fights at a higher weight on the way down, but a 93kg fight is where I am heading.''

Before the Hammerhead show in June, the Mosgiel-based club will have an in-house fight night, aimed at amateur fighters, in April. Shuriken will hold its first show later this month in Auckland with an emphasis on North Island fighters and undisputed rankings.

Mixed martial arts
Professional title holders

ISKA: Lightweight, Korey Gibson (StrikeForce); middleweight, Robert Dean (Hammerhead).

Shuriken: Lightweight, Kieren Joblin (StrikeForce); welterweight, Julian Matenga (AWHIO MMA, Gisborne).

Supremacy: Heavyweight, Sam Brown (Auckland); light-heavyweight, Brogan Anderson (Hammerhead); middleweight, Dan Digby (Orphans MMA, Hastings); lightweight, Dan Hooker (StrikeForce); featherweight, Ev Ting (Auckland MMA).

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