Soa Palelei has already helped raise more than $60,000 for sick children. This weekend, he'll attempt to raise up to $200,000 more when he spends 24 hours on an exercise machine as part of a telethon.
Despite those charitable actions and his role as an ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the UFC heavyweight was told last week that he was banned from visiting Princess Margaret Hospital for Children to see the ill kids. Matt Fuller, a retired Australian rules football player, was given the go-ahead. But the hospital told Palelei he could not come.
Why? Because Palelei is a UFC fighter.
In Western Australia, cage fighting is illegal. MMA and boxing are both allowed, but fighting inside of a cage is strictly prohibited. Palelei was told he could not come see the kids because of his profession.
"It's so disappointing," Palelei told MMA Fighting. "I was kind of heartbroken when they told me. I was like, 'What? Are you serious?' I'm a big fan of boxing, but you've got 12 rounds continuously getting punched in the head. MMA, 80 percent of it is grappling and submissions. It's just crazy. I guess it's just narrow-minded people."
The hospital released a statement to CNN explaining its stance.
"Following the significant media coverage of controversy surrounding UFC and 'cage' fighting, which is currently banned in Western Australia, a decision was made by the Princess Margaret Hospital Executive that it would not be appropriate to have a representative of the sport visit the hospital," a spokesperson said. ... "Princess Margaret Hospital has a duty of care to its patients, their families and staff. With many people in the community having very strong views about this particular sport, due to its perceived level of violence, executive staff felt this was the best decision at the time."
Palelei, 38, was stunned when he heard the news. This weekend, he'll be taking part in a 24-hour marathon on a grinder machine to help raise money for the kids. Palelei has been training for this event with the hopes of accruing the most possible funds. In the last few days, he has done 12 hours on the grinder. He doesn't think a full day will be a problem, but he's not looking forward to there not being any bathroom breaks. Officials will bring a bucket for him and Fuller if they need it.
Palelei, though, has no qualms about doing it. His son has absent epilepsy and it is part of his life's goal to help ill children and their parents. Even if the hospital the kids are in won't even allow him to step through the doors.
"It's disappointing in a way, but it's not about me and them," Palelei said. "It's about raising money for the kids.
"I know how parents feel with their kids when kids are sick with cancer and stuff like that. You don't want them to have pain."
Palelei's story has gotten out. It has been on CNN and the BBC. He's happy the whole thing has gone viral, but he still has not heard from Princess Margaret Hospital. Palelei said the PMH fundraising group has been very supportive, but he has not spoke to any hospital officials, who seem to be standing firm.
"I thought it was discrimination against me and my sport," he said. "But this has nothing to do with the UFC. It's raising money."
None of this will deter Palelei from doing the 24-hour marathon or helping out with charity in the future.
"This is what I like doing," said Palelei, whose nickname is "The Hulk." ... "Our sport is nothing compared to what these kids go through all day every day."