In case you weren’t aware, the second biggest mixed martial arts event of all-time took place on Saturday (May 27) at the PGE Narodowy Stadium in Warsaw, Poland. The event attracted 58,000 spectators, which means that it places second in the all-time list, second only to the 71,000 that showed up to watch Pride Shockwave in 2002, and that it surpasses the UFC record of 56,214 (UFC 193). As for Europe, it is unmatched. Never has there been a larger event.
But, hey, those are just the numbers. The event itself, appreciated in full in the upcoming August issue of Fighters Only, was so much more than just a chance to boast about size. There were title fights (five of them), a champion vs. champion catchweight fight and more than one freak-show fight. It was, for all intents and purposes, a variety show in a cage, epic in ambition and scope. If you missed it, you missed out.
Here, then, are nine reasons why you should be inclined to visit KSW TV and catch up…
1. The stories
A Satanist fought a devout Christian for the KSW heavyweight title, a KSW commentator and ex-pro fought Sokoudjou, a Polish rapper fought a bloke as large as his monthly pharmaceutical bill, and a down-on-his-luck strongman traded blows with the very same five-time champion who used to lift heavier weights than he could in competition. How could you not get invested in those narratives?
2. The tattoos
Never before has there been such a vast array of colours and skulls and female forms and names written and then re-written on the bodies and faces – yes, faces – of white, mostly bald or balding men. What’s more, KSW 39 signified the return of the sponsored tattoo – a one-time fixture of German boxing – which warmed the heart and presumably filled the pockets of those fighters lucky enough to masquerade as a walking billboard for one night only.
3. The sax solo
The unveiling of the main card fighters was Pride-esque in its grandiosity and sense of spectacle. Befitting such an event, no question, what truly made it unique to KSW was the man dressed as Friar Tuck soloing away on a saxophone beneath a brown hood.
4. ‘Sensei’ Will Vanders
British commentator ‘Sensei’ Will Vanders, otherwise known as William Vanderpuye, was on typically low-key, downbeat form. Not. In actual fact, he warned us all to “buckle up, funsters” ahead of near enough every fight on the card, told us to “shut the front door” whenever a fight ended within the distance, called a fighter “more dangerous than a bag of snakes” and said KSW, the promoters, were so slick they’d “be able to evacuate a small nation”. It was every bit as nonsensical and as brilliant as it sounds.
5. A one-punch heavyweight title KO
Marcin Rozalski, he of the face tattoos, a heavyweight journeymen stopped in a round by James McSweeney, wasn’t supposed to become KSW heavyweight champion on Saturday night, but that’s precisely what happened when he clocked champion Fernando Rodriguez Jr. with a right hook after just sixteen seconds of their title fight. Vanders called it a “check hook”, bringing to mind Floyd Mayweather’s sweet left against Ricky Hatton, but the truth was quite different. It was, according to the evidence (the replay), a blind hook thrown as Rozalski found himself under fire and under pressure, a hook he threw instinctively, perhaps without even realising. It was a hook, though, that crumbled Rodriguez and crowned the most unlikely of heavyweight champions.
6. The evolution of Pudzian
Okay, Mariusz Pudzianowski, at forty, isn’t going to be a real heavyweight threat any time soon, but at least he has taken his MMA career more seriously than many expected and rebounded from each of his defeats with a hunger to improve. His KSW 39 win over Tyberiusz Kowalczyk, a fellow former strongman competitor, means very little in the grand scheme of things. We know that much. But it does do one thing: it distances Pudzianowski from men like Kowalczyk, men starting out, men learning, men tapping from strikes. Pudzianowski, now eight years into his pro MMA career, is all grown up.
7. Mateusz bit me
It wasn’t supposed to be one of the freak-show fights, yet the KSW lightweight title scrap between Mateusz Gamrot and Norman Parke nearly descended into that kind of territory following Gamrot’s decision to bite Parke’s finger as they were tangled against the fence in round two. “He f***ing bit my finger!” yelled Parke, moments before he shoved Gamrot away and explained what had happened to the referee. Unfortunately for Parke, on a night like that, when the temptation was to embrace the unconventional rather than admonish it, his protests were always likely to fall on deaf ears.
8. There’s no crying in MMA
Poor Diana Belbita. Not only was she overwhelmed and eventually submitted by Ariane Lipski in the inaugural KSW women’s flyweight title fight, she then proceeded to cry as if her puppy had been found maimed on the roadside. For the defeated Romanian, this pain went on and on. So too did the waterworks. It’s one thing getting tapped in the gym or even on a regular sized-event, I suppose, but getting tapped in a soccer stadium in front of 58,000 people is akin to leaving the house naked and bumping into everyone you have ever known.
9. Champion vs. Champion
A passing of the torch match between KSW middleweight champion Mamed Khalidov and KSW welterweight champion Boris Mankowski served as the main event and provided some much-needed relief – call it cleansing – for anyone bloated on the freak-show element. It was a good, competitive fight, one which Khalidov dominated early, only for Mankowski, the smaller but sprightlier man, to rally in the second half. It was, best of all, a fight high on quality. Khalid’s laid-back, almost Mousasi-lite style was a joy to watch at times, as was Mankowski’s jittery, off-kilter whirling dervish approach, which he used to good effect as the older man tired down the stretch, and the overriding feeling, regardless of who got the decision, was that authenticity reigned supreme on a night celebrating the good, the bad and the ugly of Polish MMA.