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Friday, February 16, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Kimo Discovers Ultimate Outlet

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

This was not the first time a bodybuilder showed up on campus flexing his muscles, wanting to play football. So Coach Mike Taylor did not get excited when Kimo Leopoldo showed up with his calves and his biceps and his tank top two sizes too small.

"He introduced himself, said he was interested in playing football," remembered Taylor, the defensive coordinator at Orange Coast College, a junior college in Costa Mesa, Calif. "He was a big kid, put together well."

The moment Taylor did get excited was the day Leopoldo knocked a tackling stand end over end.

So Taylor was not surprised to discover that the former football player had become an untimate fighter.

Leopoldo, known in his sport by the single name Kimo, will fight Ken Shamrock tonight in Puerto Rico, in the Ultimate Fighting Championship VIII, which will be carried live in Seattle on pay-per-view at 6 p.m.

Though Kimo, who graduated from Bellevue's Interlake High in 1986, may not yet be famous in America, Ultimate Fighting promoter Patrick Phipps said Kimo "is big in Japan."

Win or lose, Kimo, 28, stands to make money from tonight's fight against the man considered to be the Mike Tyson of Ultimate Fighting.

Kimo, unreachable in Puerto Rico this week, is considered the No. 1 contender. The sport is somewhat obscure but is a popular draw on pay-per-view.

Kimo, Phipps said, will make "no less than six figures on this fight alone."

Endorsements and film offers can significantly increase his income potential.

Though the wrappings are similar to those of professional wrestling, Phipps said this sport is not staged, that the combat is quite real.

Ultimate fighters are bound to few rules. They can't gouge eyes, bite, pinch, or strike an opponent in the groin. But all other methods of inflicting pain and injury are legal. A winner is determined when someone gives up or is rendered unconscious.

So far in the mostly secular world of Ultimate Fighting, Kimo is the Notre Dame of the sport. He has been known to carry on his back into the ring a giant wooden cross, which surprised his old football coach a second time.

"I saw something on TV," Taylor said. "I could see this guy carrying a cross. I saw him for only a few seconds, but I thought I recognized him. I said to myself, `Is that Kimo?' "

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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