What’s even more impressive is that Sonny achieved this feat (brown-belt) after training jiu-jitsu for only four and a half years.On December 16, 2006, Sonny “Boy” Nohara received his brown-belt from the “American Ronin” Marc Laimon; making him just the fifth person ever to receive this rank at Las Vegas’ famed Cobra Kai Academy. What’s even more impressive is that Sonny achieved this feat after training jiu-jitsu for only four and a half years. A native of Hilo, Hawaii, Sonny has won many gi and no-gi tournaments all over the west coast, which have included many advanced, purple-belt, and super fight matches. Fortunately, I was able to catch up with Cobra Kai’s newest brown-belt just before he competes in the GQ U.S. Nationals Pro Flyweight 8-man tournament this Saturday in Las Vegas.
Bevois: Sonny, first I’d like to say congratulations to you and your wife on the birth of your first baby girl on January 16th. Coincidentally, fellow Cobra Kai brown-belt Sean Spangler also had his first baby girl in July. Should we expecting to be see them dominate the kid’s divisions in a few years?
Sonny: Spank’s daughter and Kaia Mae Keanuhealehuaikawao Nohara should be closing out all the kid’s divisions in about 5 years!
Bevois: Speaking of which you and Spank both compete in the GQ U.S. Nationals Pro 8-man divisions on Saturday. You’ll be in a very deep Flyweight bracket with your first round match-up being against a world class black-belt in Wellington “Megaton” Diaz. What are your thoughts on your match with Megaton?
Sonny: Megaton has been a black-belt for a long time and he earned his nickname for his tremendous Judo skills, but our match will be no-gi so I don’t see him throwing me on my head!
Bevois: You’re originally a Hilo-Boy before moving to Las Vegas. Why do you think jiu-jitsu is so popular and important to Hilo-Boys and Hawaiians in general?
Sonny: Fighting is a way of life on the islands. Jiu-Jitsu isn’t the most popular martial art in Hawaii, but it really took off after B.J. Penn and now Kendall Grove’s success in the UFC.
Bevois: You (Big Island), June Bug (Maui), Antennocruz (Big Island), Kendall Grove (Maui), Branderlei (Oahu), Chala (Kauai), and Troy Mandaloniz (Big Island) are just a few of the Hawaiians that train at Cobra Kai. Is this due to Marc’s Hawaiian connection?
Sonny: Marc did train at Nova Uniao in Hawaii for a while, but I think it has more to do with the fact that people just know Marc’s training is good. It probably has to do with word of mouth too, since Hawaiians tend to flock together.
Bevois: Marc Laimon’s success as a competitor and coach are world-renowned. Could you tell us what it’s like training and working with Marc on a daily basis?
Sonny: Training with Marc is fun and there is never a dull moment, since he’s always cracking jokes. He’s a great instructor to train under and work under. He’s a fair guy and has a tremendous level of technique and jiu-jitsu knowledge.
Bevois: B.J. Penn is a coach on Season 5 of TUF, which just started airing. Being a fellow Hilo-Boy, how much has he inspired your jiu-jitsu training?
Sonny: B.J. is a legend on the Big Island and he’s one of the best jiu-jitsu and MMA guys of all time. I’ve been able to train with him and he’s a good guy, which makes it easy to be inspired.
Bevois: You have been training with fellow Cobra Kai featherweight phenoms Simpson “The Bear Tamer” Go and Ulysses “Useless” Gomez, since your very first day of jiu-jitsu. How beneficial has it been for you three to be able to train at such a high level with people your own size?
Sonny: It’s really beneficial, because it simulates competition more realistically. Rolling with bigger guys is good, but the smaller guys are quicker and more flexible.
Bevois: Speaking of pint-sized grappling studs, Jeff “The Pipe Layer” Glover started training and teaching at Cobra Kai in May. How much has he helped your game?
Sonny: Jeff has helped me a lot with the half-guard game that he is so good at. He has such a great attention to a lot of little details on positions and just watching him roll helps me. I also got to know Jeff on a friendship level, not just as a competitor.
Bevois: Now that you and Jeff train together, who would you say is some of your top competition out there?
Sonny: Shane Rice, Darren “Bone Crusher” Uyenoyama, and Ricky Lundell are always tough, as well as Dave Jacobs and Mike Easton from the east coast.
Bevois: Besides B.J. Penn, Joe Stevenson, and Kendall Grove, who are some of your favorite MMA fighters?
Sonny: I love watching Kenny Florian, GSP, Shaolin, Thales Leites, Shogun Rua, and Chuck Liddell fight.
Bevois: You sometimes train in a red gi that Robson Moura gave you. I assume he is one of your favorite submission grapplers. Who else do you enjoy watching compete?
Sonny: Robson is definitely one of my favorites and if Uly doesn’t get past him in our bracket on Saturday, maybe I will. As for my other favorite grapplers, I like Jacare, Terere, Marcello Garcia, Cobrinha, Shaolin, Bill Cooper, and Rafael Lovato Jr.
Bevois: This past August you participated in the K-1 trials at the Bellagio for both Kickboxing and MMA. Should we expect to see you in K-1 Max or K-1 Hero’s anytime soon?
Sonny: Well the only way that’s happening any time soon is if I start the Bonnar-diet and gain 10-15 pounds of muscle.
Bevois: How much has Ken Hahn influenced and improved your stand-up game, since he started teaching Muay Thai at Cobra Kai?
Sonny: Ken has definitely helped with my stand-up game a lot, because he’s trained and competed in stand-up arts all over the world and is really technical. He also teaches and demonstrates his techniques in great detail.
Bevois: Several of your training partners and I have noticed that your iPod Nano is filled with songs including the Karate Kid theme song, “Ice, Ice Baby”, and “Cry me a River”. Does this “music” help get you pumped up during training?
Sonny: (laughs) Well I love mellow music, because it helps me stay calm. Aggro music has never been my thing. My favorite music would definitely be Reggae.
Bevois: Is it true that you, Uly, Sim, and Jeff’s boy-band “The Million Dollar Quartet” will be dropping its first album this spring with the hit singles entitled “Too Legit To Hit”, “Knee On You”, and “Unbreak My Arm”?
Sonny: Yeah, it’s got something for everyone. It has my Reggae flavor, Jeff’s boy-band good looks, Sim’s urban street cred, and Uly’s latin lover flair. Make sure to watch the video on MTV and vote to keep it in TRL’s Top 10!
Bevois: When you’re not teaching and training at Cobra Kai, you work as a correctional officer at an all women’s prison here in Las Vegas. So I have to ask you, when the ladies are insolent, is it pretty standard protocol for you to hose them down?
Sonny: (laughs) No comment.
Bevois: Gameness (www.gameness.net) is now your official gi sponsor. Who else are you sponsored by?
Sonny: I’d like to thank the support given by OnTheMat.com, OTM Fight Shop, Submit One, Shoyoroll, as well as Gameness.
Bevois: Do you plan on competing at the Best of the West at the end of the month, the OTM Jiu-Jitsu Championships in July, and Mundials this summer representing these companies?
Sonny: I’d like to do the Best of the West again this year, but now that I have a baby it’s not as easy. I want to do the OTM Jiu-Jitsu championships again and I’ll definitely be at the Mundials now that it’s going to be in America.
Bevois: Is there anything else you would like to say or anyone you would like to thank, before we wrap this up?
Sonny: I’d like to thank Marc Laimon for teaching me jiu-jitsu, all the guys down at Cobra Kai for being friends and great training partners, and my wife Deniece for letting me train and putting up with me for all these years.