The sound of the steel caps in the football boots hitting the concrete as the team is walking out of the dressing sheds. Anybody that has donned a jersey knows the rush that comes with that sound.

The man wearing those boots, along with twelve other passionate warriors, is about to get onto the field and spend the next 80 minutes running, tackling and playing their absolute hearts out.

As that man lines up for the kickoff, he looks to his left, then his right. Surrounding him is a group of teammates who will stand by his side. They will lift him to great heights. They will also lend him a hand to pick him back up when he hits the ground.

That’s the team dynamic of football. And that’s what Hale Vaa’sa gave up when he traded his football jersey for a pair of four-ounce gloves.

“Injuries prevented me from playing football anymore,” Vaa’sa revealed in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I definitely miss the camaraderie of footy. I miss it a lot, but there is something about being by yourself inside that cage that is just a big thrill for me. It’s a little hard to explain, but I love that the onus is on you to get the job done. It’s not like you have anybody else to worry about. It’s all down to you in there.

“I’ve been competing in MMA for about two and half years now and I haven’t had any major injuries, so it’s been good. I always loved being competitive and I loved my footy, but I really love the challenge of fighting too.”

The next challenge in Vaa’sa’s career lies in his move from middleweight to compete at light heavyweight on Oct. 26 at Nitro 10 against Sam Kei. Having fought three of the toughest competitors in the middleweight division, Vaa’sa is ready to try his hand at light heavyweight.

“I wanted to chase the challenge,” he said. “I would usually walk around at 89-90 [kilos, 196-198 pounds], so getting down to 84 [kilos] was a bit of a challenge for me anyway. I am looking forward to this new challenge now. When you put two [Polynesians] in the ring, you know you’re going to get something good [laughs]. This has all the makings of being an exciting fight.

“I’ve had some great training, and I really want to thank everyone that has helped me for the fight. I love fighting on Nitro. There’s always good support for me.”

In his quest to further his career as a professional fighter, Vaa’sa made the trip over to the United States to try out for season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter. Whilst he was unsuccessful in securing a spot with the life-changing reality series, he, along with Dylan Andrews, was able to spend some time training with top-level athletes.

“It was good to tee up some good training with some great people,” Vaa’sa said. “It was good to see how different people coach and how they train. I was able to spend some time with guys like Vinny Magalhaes and Ray Sefo, and the whole experience was like nothing I’d ever experienced. In the two and a half years I’ve been competing in MMA, I have had so many more great experiences with the sport than when I played [Rugby] League for over 10 years. It’s been amazing what I have been able to do.”

Outside of his life as a competitor, Vaa’sa has another passion. It’s one that he holds close to his heart.

“I’m a youth worker, and it’s amazing to get to deal with these young kids,” he said. “I mainly work with helping Pacific Islanders and Aboriginal kids, and it’s very rewarding for me. It’s really good to help them out. With me, I didn’t have the best start to life, so I understand what they’re going through. It’s awesome to share my own experiences with sport and stuff, and try and help them make something of their lives.”

Whilst his walk from locker room to battleground may have changed completely to what it was like when he was playing football, the dynamic of the team behind him certainly hasn’t changed. He may enter the cage on his own come Oct. 26, but he knows that behind him is the support of many great people. Although he won’t be relying on them to pass him the ball to score the match-winning points, he can be sure that they will be there, ready to hold him up high or lend him a hand, no matter the result of his fight.

Hale would like to thank For The Fighter, Southside MMA, Malishus, Body Perceptions, Cintiq, Fitness Innovations and all the people that have helped him out of Southside MMA and everyone that he has trained with in the lead-up to his fight. Follow Vaa’sa on Facebook.

Photo: Hale Vaa’sa (K-Oz Entertainment)

About The Author

Staff Writer, Australia

Located in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Neil Rooke has been writing about the sport of MMA since 2011. In the past, Neil has written for Cage Junkies and has written for Fight! Magazine as well as Fist! Fight Magazine. Neil is also a regular contributor to Fight! Magazine Australia and Yahoo! Sports Singapore.