by Brian Lopez-Benchimol – MMAWeekly.com
One of the pioneers of mixed martial arts in his native Hawaii, Falaniko Vitale will return this Spring for Shine Fights in their third installment, “Worlds Collide,” on May 15, in Fayetteville, N.C.

Vitale was last seen in action against UFC welterweight Frank Trigg at “Strikeforce: Payback,” in October of 2008 and has since been inactive.

After nearly 10 years in the fight game, it was time for the former Icon Sport middleweight champion to relax and work on the holes in his game, which he modestly admits is everything.

“In the downtime, I’ve just been keeping it up. Its been a long time since I haven’t fought and I’m just trying to heal up the body and been training hard on a lot of different things; going back to my jiu-jitsu, working on my kickboxing and boxing, working on all the things that I’m not good at, so pretty much everything,” he told MMAWeekly.com.

It was in that downtime that Vitale had rearranged his focus. No longer could he idly participate in the sport and think of it just as a past time. He had to deliver the kind of focus and dedication that is required of anyone who is to remain competitive in MMA today, where there is always someone waiting in the wings to take your place.

“Fighting was just like a hobby for me. I would just do the three months to prepare for a fight, sometimes maybe a month and a half,” said Vitale.

“It’s something that I’ve never really put more focus on, but I’ve been concentrating a lot. I’m also training full time now. I’ve been able to do that. I’m training three months more, at least twice a day.”

In his return to the cage, he will face former EliteXC middleweight champion and Pride veteran Murilo “Ninja” Rua, whose brother, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, is a UFC light heavyweight contender. Murilo is currently riding a two-fight win streak with TKO victories over Alex Stiebling and Jason Jones fighting for Bitetti Combat in his native Brazil. He is arguably one of the better middleweights in the world outside of the UFC and Strikeforce promotions, which is what Vitale wants.

“Murilo has had a great career fighting in mixed martial arts,” said the Honolulu native.

“He’s an explosive fighter. I like watching him fight. He has a lot of heart. One thing about Murilo is that you really, really got to study him. You can’t take nothing away from him because he’s pretty good at everything,” Vitale assessed.

“He’s a tough opponent for me and if I end up winning this fight, it will probably put me back on the map and hopefully get the call from different promoters.

“As far as this fight goes, Murilo is a different animal. I believe he is one of the top 20 fighters at 185 (pounds) and he’s definitely somebody that I’m going to have to train hard for.”

Having been able to train full-time for the first time in his career, Vitale is beginning to notice the fruits of his labor. Neither fighter being gun-shy, he is looking forward to making 2010 his year and Murilo Rua is his steppingstone in getting back to the top.

“All I can say is that I’m going to be ready for this fight and I’m sure ‘Ninja’ is going to be ready too,” said the Grappling Unlimited product.

“As far as all that other stuff, I don’t really care because whatever I put into it I’m going to get out of it. I’m just fortunate that I’m able to train full-time now.

“I think it’s going to be an explosive fight, non-stop action I think,” said the UFC veteran.

“Ninja is an all-out aggressive fighter. He likes to come up to you. I think we’re suitable for a great fight. We match up very well. We’re pretty much similar opponents and we’re going to come out there swinging.”