Mike Aina Ready To Rise To The Challenge

Many fighters swear by altitude training. Tito Ortiz made a career of the practice, hosting camps in the thin air of Big Bear, Calif. Former Ortiz foe Wanderlei Silva brought the mountain to his Las Vegas gym, building an artificially induced altitude room where fighters can hit pads at a simulated 9,000 feet. Everyone seems to be strapping on oxygen-depriving masks.

Some debate its effectiveness, but advocates say it’s a conditioning thing: by depriving yourself of air, your body uses it more efficiently. When you come back down, you breathe easier, and you can go longer.

Nobody talks about what happens when you lose altitude to train.

Strikeforce lightweight Mike Aina works 10 hours at day at 14,000 feet as a welder/fabricator for W.M. Keck Conservatory on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It’s a full-time position.

Does he consider himself a fighting Galileo?

“No, I’m not interested in astronomy at all,” he tells MMAWeekly.com, waiting at the Oahu airport for his flight to Fresno, Calif., where he headlines the Strikeforce Challengers Series at Save Mart Center on Friday.

Altitude is nevertheless a big part of his life, and he struggles to fight at peak capacity. At that height, he suffers from acute symptoms of altitude sickness: nausea, headaches, and anxiety, not to mention edema (the swelling of extremities).

Not good for a welder, or a fighter.

He doesn’t use Dramamine, a common treatment, nor could he, because athletic commissions would flag him.

“Every day it’s different, so you’ve gotta deal with that,” he says. “You want to give 100 percent to your training, but some days it’s hard.”

Couple that with a one-year-old daughter, and you understand why his yearlong EliteXC layoff was welcome.

“I was just feeling it was too much, too much duty to take on,” he explains.

You also understand his dedication in getting back to fighting. With Strikeforce, there’s new opportunity, and he’s willing to pay the physical price to get there.

His back is against the wall. One fight remains on his contract buyout with the San Jose, Calif., promotion. He’s not sure if his employers will support a busier fighting schedule. But he wants to fight.

“I’ve definitely got to make a statement,” he says. “I want another contract; I want to stay with Strikeforce. They’re a great promotion and they’re with Showtime, and it’s a great opportunity. Looking down the road, I want to fight bigger names.”

Billy Evangelista, his opponent on Friday, has shrugged off an early label as a striker and won most of his fights using wrestling.

Aina, an amateur boxer at the age of 13, has heavy hands and likes to stand and trade. But he and his trainers are well aware that throwing bombs could put him on his back.

“It’s going to be interesting,” he says of the match-up. “Billy likes to slip and come underneath. We’ve been really picking and choosing where we come forward, and keeping in mind that he might take a shot.

“There’s nothing that Billy’s going to throw at me that I’ve never seen before. I’ve been around the block.”

Pressure is one thing he’s acclimated to.

“I just don’t think about it, like, ‘I gotta do this or else,'” he says. “Whatever happens, happens.”