I first saw him in the first televised Ultimate Fighting Championship match I'd ever seen. They were announcing that he was en route to the octagon fighting cage; and, as the camera panned the entry walk, I was shocked to see a man acting as if he were carrying a cross on his back to his crucifixion (UFC III)! He entered the ring in 1996, a 6 foot 2 inch, 240 pound Hawaiian scheduled to fight (and lose to) the amazing Ken Shamrock. A large cross was tattooed on his back, and arched across his upper abdomen in large letters was the name, JESUS.
Kimo Leopoldo was born in Munich 5 January 1968 and moved to Waikiki, Hawaii 4 months later. He enjoyed surfing as he grew up. In his late teens, this natural athlete earned a partial scholarship to the University of Washington. But, being unprepared for college, he quietly returned to Hawaii without telling his dad (parents now separated). But a surfing injury to his face put him into 10 hours of reconstructive surgery, and his dad found out about his return upon receipt of the medical bill!
Kimo was now in dire straits, and the relationship with his father was non-existent. Save for a few times he visited his Germanic mother (who had a difficult time speaking English), Kimo needed to survive on his own any way he could. Hanging out in clubs, he developed an appetite for "the life"; and, at age 21 (1989), he became entranced by a local drug dealer. While working at a club called Pink Cadillac, Kimo saw the popularity that surrounded his dealer friend and wanted a taste. "I went from selling quarters of coke in clubs, to doing collections, to just surviving with him," remembered Kimo. It didn't stop there as he quickly became slave to speed. But within 9 months, it all crashed down amidst fights and arrests of his two dealer friends.
A 22 (1990) year old Kimo and his girlfriend retreated to Newport Beach, California, where he sought to renew his career in football. Orange Coast College showed interest; but first, Kimo had to make some changes to his name and social security number. (Once someone starts playing college ball, the time clocks starts and ends after four years. Kimo couldn't turn back the clock.) Using the name Kim Leopold, he took Junior College All American almost immediately; and letters poured in from several colleges, even Washington, ironically. Eventually plagued by torn ACLs in both knees, his success only lasted till mid-sophomore year. At 255 pounds, the letters stopped coming, his dream of middle linebacker was gone, and his girlfriend left him.
"I was depressed; and, not seeing a future before me, I lost my focus and eventually fell right back into that same hole that I had been in before." While making money as a collector without the drugs this time, Kimo was living in Huntington Beach and bumming money off his ex girlfriend just to pay thebills. Working at clubs was the only way he could make money, but at 25 years old, his maturity was about to catch up to him. "People don't retire with that job." Once again, he needed to find salvation and contemplated his very purpose in life. Rummaging through bookstores, Kimo began learning about religion, wondering if that would hold the key to the mystery. "God, if you're out there, I'm looking and need your help," he thought.
Six months later, Kimo ran into a short, stocky Asian man named Joe Son. Son was part of an extremist Christian group who took its commitment to God to a whole new level. Kimo gravitated toward it immediately. The two men became friends; and, after seeing them pray inside a house laden with scriptures painted on the walls, Kimo made a plea to God. No longer wanting to live a life where it took a half bottle of Nyquil just to put him to sleep, he prayed, "Lord, I don't want this anymore. If you get rid of all these things, I'll give my life to you." And from that point on, his cravings disappeared-for drugs, club life and even sex.
As Kimo had always been an extremist as well, he decided to inscribe "Jesus" on his stomach so that he could never turn away from it. But people kept coming up to him saying the Spanish pronunciation, believing that was his name. To make sure there was no doubt, Kimo inked up his back with a huge black cross. "Now there's no mistake, and they know it's Jesus," he said. But, the leaving of one lifestyle naturally had to produce another lifestyle; and that's when Kimo remembered a video that a former club bouncer had shown to him. Around the time of the first UFC, Kimo worked at a club called 5902 where Royce Gracie's personal trainer also worked from time to time. He showed Kimo the "Gracies in Action" tapes and a video from the first UFC. Kimo thought the martial arts fighting was crazy, but the idea seemed intriguing.
Together with Joe Son, the two hatched a plan on how this "ultimate fighting" fad could enrich their lives. "Here was something that I used to do in a negative sense; now it would be a legit job," thought Kimo. Before long, a motley trio entered Art Davie's WOW office to pitch Kimo. Son was dressed in a suit, and a female carried a briefcase. As for Kimo, he wouldn't say a word and sat on the couch with the same stone-faced grimace that he used during his old drug collection jobs. It didn't take long for Davie to give him the go, but little did anyone realize where all of this was headed. Son believed the exposure could get them in the movies, since the event would be on pay-per-view.
On September 9, 1994, the audience for UFC III would recognize Kimo as a black belt in tae kwon do-a total fallacy devised by Joe Son. Carrying a cross on his back...something he actually did during his days with a Christian extremist group called Holy Dome...Kimo would represent his faith. "I was calm, and whatever happened in that octagon just happened," he said. "I was very proud at being able to carry the cross like that." In reality, Kimo says he only actually trained one day with Joe Son, who had a very minimal martial arts background. "To be honest with you, we really didn't even train; we read bible scriptures instead." Kimo also wanted to show that Christians could be strong and look strong, far removed from the stereotypical figures that most envision.
In early 2002, I contacted the Huntington Beach (HB) Chamber of Commerce, without any luck/response. A few months later, I e-mailed the sports editor for a HB newspaper...no luck/response. In 2002, Carole Fields joined our crew/team at LMC; and she and Larry made a trip back home about September 2002...no info on Kimo. Then on 7 December 2002, I got an e-mail from a Richmond Andal who pointed me to Clyde Gentry, III's interview with Kimo on the "Ultimate Athlete" web site...the source of much of the information in Kimo's testimony.
At 34 years old, "It's now-or-nothing committed," said Kimo. "I don't have the time to play anymore." The idea of moving from Southern California to Las Vegas to cleanse his soul doesn't seem like a viable option, but Kimo did just that. He also hooked up with long-time friend John Lewis, whom he has known since the 6th grade. "First of all, I don't know anyone in Vegas. Secondly, John Lewis has a dojo out here with new people to train with, and it feels good."
"People go up and down, but the heart of the individual and their motives is what they are about," said Kimo wrapping up the interview for UA. "You have to have faith in something that keeps you running; and, for me, that's this sport." Does Kimo believe...in a backslide