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BJ Penn signs on with isle UFC Gym

The fitness club is scheduled to open in January at the former Pipeline Cafe site. A gym development firm has clenched a deal to open a BJ Penn-branded UFC Gym in Honolulu, expanding a new chain of fitness clubs integrated with elements of mixed martial arts training.

The gym is slated to open in January at the former Pipeline Cafe in Kakaako, and will be the fourth UFC Gym and first outside California. It also will be the first UFC Gym affiliated with a fighter.

California-based UFC Gym developer New Evolution Ventures is opening the gym in partnership with Las Vegas-based mixed martial arts fight organizer UFC and Hilo native Penn, a mixed martial arts star and former UFC champion in two weight divisions.

“I’m very excited to be part of this tremendous opportunity,” the 32-year-old Penn said in a statement. “It will be such an honor to have a UFC Gym with my name, especially in my homeland of Hawaii.”

UFC President Dana White expects the gym to become the “ultimate” fitness club in Honolulu. “BJ Penn is one of the biggest superstars in the UFC, a future Hall of Famer, and an icon in his home state of Hawaii,” he said in a statement.

UFC Gyms feature mixed martial arts classes and the caged ring known as the Octagon but are not exclusively designed for fighters. The gyms also include features of more traditional health clubs such as yoga, Pilates and Zumba in addition to weight machines and cardio equipment.

Other parts of the 37,000-square-foot Kakaako facility will include a sauna, kid’s program, UFC Gym Store and Arm Bar Cafe.

Penn will have a hand in designing the gym, selecting trainers and picking some favorite foods for the cafe menu. The fighter nicknamed “The Prodigy” is also expected to train at the gym.

UFC announced its intent in 2009 to open a gym affiliated with Penn and one affiliated with Georges St-Pierre in that champion fighter’s native city of Montreal.

New Evolution — which has been involved with gym brands including Madonna’s Hard Candy Fitness, Steve Nash Fitness World, Crunch, YogaWorks and Planet Fitness — opened the first UFC Gym about a year ago in Concord, Calif. Two others followed in Los Angeles and Corona, Calif.

The developer had explored potential sites for a UFC Gym on Oahu, including Kapolei, Waikele and Waikiki, but agreed to lease the former Pipeline Cafe site from landowner Kamehameha Schools.

UFC Gym operators expect to begin enrolling members in the summer, operating out of an old Cutter automobile dealership lot on Ala Moana Boulevard during gym construction.

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