When MMA fighter Kona Olivera has a bad day, it’s a battered, bloody, and sore kind of bad day. Fortunately, the 19 year old has the will of a champion.
The man throws punches for a living, but he can roll with them too: after a bad day, he hits the mental reset button, catches a massage, gets his back aligned. In short, he knows that his mind is as important as his moves when in mixed martial arts. CONVICTS sat down with Kona and got his word on the importance of well-rounded technique, the inevitability of injury, his antidote for self-doubt, and the all-important will to victory.
Hey man, could you introduce yourself to us real quick?
My name’s Kona Olivera. I'm an MMA fighter.
Oh yeah. And I still surf too.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
So I was born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu. My parents are actually both Brazilian and I think that's what got me into fighting. I grew up in a good place where people dream of growing up, but it has its dark sides too, like any other place. It has its moments. Growing up, and going to school man, I used to love getting into fights.
The high school I went to, Kahuku was a school known for that. They built a police station next to the school ‘cause there were always too many fights. Having that hot blood, especially that Brazilian blood, is perfect for an MMA fighter, but Hawaii made me the man I am today. I thank my parents every day for having me born and raised there ‘cause it's the best place in the world, but I’ve got the Brazilian side in me too.
I represent them 50/50. I wave both flags when I fight, because if it weren't for the Brazilian side of me I probably wouldn't be fighting. My dad's side of the family grew up fighting, doing judo, jiu-jitsu. My dad also fought MMA back in the day, so if it wasn't for that side I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. I wave both flags, for sure.
Right on. How did you first get into martial arts?
Through my dad who, ever since we were little, wanted us to know how to defend ourselves. He was a black belt, so there was no running away from it. I had to train. There was no way I could say no to training. The way we did it was: go to school, surf, train at night. That was the daily routine. Go to school, surf, and train. Go to school, surf, and train. I've been hooked on it ever since.
When did you move from jiu-jitsu to other disciplines?
I moved over from Jiu-Jitsu into actual MMA when I started wrestling in high school. That’s when I got my coach, Juan, who’s still my coach today. He and my dad have been friends forever, so the first time I think we hit mitts or did a real MMA session I must have been 8 or 9.
I was super young, I don't really even remember it. I just remember the first time I hit pads with him was actually in my backyard. My dad laid down the mats and I hit pads and after that, like man, I was hooked. It was also kind of my cross training for surfing ‘cause I didn't ever really like the strength and conditioning side of stuff, like lifting the weights.
I was so young at the time and everyone was doing some sort of training other than surfing. My training was jiu-jitsu.
Talk about the importance of being well-rounded in today’s mixed martial arts world?
In today's MMA world, you've got to be complete everywhere. Back in the day it was jiu-jitsu vs. boxing vs. wrestling vs. this martial arts. Nowadays, everyone's a complete package, especially the generation that I’m in. This younger generation is the first generation that didn't grow up training in one martial art before getting into others, you know what I'm saying? We didn't just grow up training jiu-jitsu, then once we got into the UFC started training boxing.
Nowadays kids are growing up training everything whether it's jiu-jitsu, wrestling, muay thai, boxing. When people ask "what's your strongest point?" I tell them I'm an MMA fighter. I'm training in all aspects. In order to be a champ, you've got to be good in every single aspect because the sport is growing every single day. It's becoming one of the biggest sports in the world. If you're not good at one thing, someone is going to expose you. You can't just train and train and train.
You have to train, but you have to think “I've got to be good at this.” It's got to be your passion. It's weird compared to any other sport. All the other sports-like, baseball for example-you've got to be good at baseball. Surfing, you've got to be good at surfing. Golf you've got to be good at golf. With mixed martial arts you’ve got to be good at wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu, judo, muay thai, because you never know the type of guy you're going to fight or what he brings to the table, so you've got to be ready for everything.
Do you have bad days? How do you get through those mentally?
For sure. Like any athlete, I have bad days all the time. People think success is just a straight line up, but it's up and down all the way through. I’ll have amazing days at practice and be like “Woah, what a day I had.” Then there're those days where you're like “Man, that was stressful.” You go back itching your head and second guessing yourself, wondering “Is this really what I'm going to do? Is this what I want to do?” Cause a bad day in my office means you're getting hit in the face or you're getting smashed or someone is tapping you out. It's not a bad day in a regular office, you know? A bad day in my office is a bad day. It makes you question everything.
What keeps you going after a day like that?
I have to hit that reset button. I look at the quality of training partners. The people around me honestly keep me going. If I'm being lazy, it's not just on me. I'm letting the people who believe in me down. So when I have one of those bad days, I hit the reset button completely and go “Alright, I had a bad day but we can fix it. I can fix it.” The main thing is not having a bad day on fight night. It's better to have a bad day in the gym where you can fix it, where you can go over the errors. You've got to accept that those days are part of the journey.
A lot of people try to fight that but you can't fight it. It's one of those things that you've got to accept and let it fuel your obsession. You have to think “I had a bad day, but I'm going to fix it because I'm obsessed with the sport. I want to be one of the greatest so I'm going to go back, fix it and do it all over again. At the end of the day, it’s believing in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. That's the biggest thing.
What about injuries? How do those factor into bad days?
It's the same thing when you get an injury. For example, when I got injured, a lot of people were like "Man, you got injured? That sucks". Yeah, it sucks. But either it sucks and you don't learn from it or it sucks and you learn from it. You go: what did we do wrong? Did we not warm up before, did we not stretch before? Injuries are a part of the game. Especially in this sport, man. It's just coming back in and not making that same mistake again.
Maybe you have to add things in, like a yoga class or swimming or other injury prevention programs. It's the little things that you can tweak and adjust to minimize the chances of injury. It's`never a 100% chance that you're not ever going to get injured, especially in this line of work. You hope it's the last time, but if it happens it's just a part of the job.
Talk about the body, what the body goes through physically.
Your body being sore is normal in this sport. I'm nineteen and feel like I have a body of a 35 year old when I get home after a long day of practice. My back hurts, my neck hurts, everything hurts. But you've got to know how to recover. If you're really sore, you go to your coaches and tell them, "Hey man, my neck is killing me,” they're gonna lay it a little easier on you.
It really does suck. It’s no fun going home with a hurt back, but also, it gives me an accomplished feeling, like “Man, I had a great day and put in all the work. I did three practices. I did my wrestling, I did my swimming, I did my boxing or my MMA.” When you get home, you're gonna be sore, but it's part of it. I wish it wasn't part of it, but it is, and you've got to know what to do to recover. We do a lot of ice baths. I have a masseuse who I go and see three times a week. Also I have a doctor who if I ever have like a bad, like rib flaring injury or my neck is tight, I'll go to the doctor and they’ll align me real quick. Then back to training.
It's one of those things where people are like, "Man, you're crazy, you should take some time off." Well, I can't really take some time off. I'm preparing to fight. I could either sit on the couch and complain or suck it up and go to training. The big thing is not breaking mentally. Your body, man, will tell your mind to quit. Just quit. Just quit. Just quit. But you’ve got to have a strong mind and tell yourself, “No, just bite down. I can keep going.” I like that feeling of being sore or tired, because it lights up extra fuel in the tank you never knew you had. You're taking yourself into deep waters. That way, when fight night comes around it's like “Man, I've already been here and I like this.” Being pushed expands you.
Tell us about training camp.
Training camp is usually anywhere from six to eight weeks long. Your manager usually calls you and says, "Hey, you've got a fight scheduled and it's time to buckle up and get ready." That's when you start dieting. No more partying, it's go time. Those six to eight weeks you're completely focused. You're in a bubble. Eat, sleep, train, recovery. You’re training usually five times a week, anywhere from two to three sessions a day, whether it's wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu.
It's constant. You're just grinding, grinding, grinding, grinding. You've got to learn to love that grind, because if you don't love that grind, it's going to show fight night. Going into practice at 100% creates confidence for fight night. It's six to eight weeks of thinking, “I'm the strongest man alive. I'm not going to break.” Once you step into that cage, man, and you're confident, you know you're going to win. There's only one thing in my mind when I step in that cage and it's winning. It don't care if it's a knockout, a submission, or a decision. When I walk in there, I'm winning. Those six weeks or eight weeks get you mentally and physically prepared for that battle. So if you're cheating yourself at practice, you're just cheating yourself.
What do you usually say in practice to get pumped up?
Guerra. We say guerra cause it's war. That's what my coach says before I walk in. "Guerra! Guerra!". It's time to go to war and you're like “Alright! It's time to go to war! Guerra! You hear that and you're going to battle.”