The Polish Pride

By Tim Leidecker Sep 12, 2008
The days of “Cage Rage” equating to “European MMA” are long gone.

Many promotions from around Europe have positioned themselves to become power players in the near future, including Cage Warriors from the U.K., Glory from the Netherlands, M-1 from Russia and Superior Challenge from Sweden.

One of the most discussed shows these days is Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki (Martial Arts Challenge) from Poland -- or, KSW.

“I’ve been a fan of their events for a long time,” says Peter Sobotta, a 21-year-old German grappler who will make his debut for the promotion this Saturday. “To be able to fight on one of their shows now myself is a true honor for me.”

Now what is it that makes the Warsaw-based league so special?

“KSW looks amazing, like Pride's shorter, stocky angry little brother,” says John Joe O'Regan from Fighters Only Magazine.

“KSW's production is great, and some of their matchups are even better,” adds Ian Dean, the fight director at England’s Cage Warriors Fighting Championships. “Their tourneys are famous for being very special.”

Indeed, KSW seems to have taken a cue from Pride. From the bombastic title theme to the spectacular opening ceremony, from using blue gloves to staging fights inside a well-illuminated, white-carpeted ring, it is clear that the role model has been the Japanese promotion that was regarded as the standard bearer for production values during its prime.

“Pride has indeed been one of our examples starting out,” KSW co-owner Martin Lewandowski says. “We have moved beyond modeling our shows on other promotions, though, because Poland is a unique market and we need to focus on it specifically.”

Lewandowski had been the manager of a large hotel in Warsaw when he met Maciej Kawulski six years ago. Kawulski was organizing one of the biggest sports expos in Poland at that time, and as both businessmen come from martial arts backgrounds, they quickly found a common subject. Eighteen months later the first KSW show was born.

Photo courtesy of KSW

Mamed Khalidov will put his long
winning streak on the line this
weekend against Daniel Tabera.
The beginnings were not without problems.

“The main problem was to get the mainstream media interested in covering the events,” says Michal Mucha, the marketing manager for the Polish division of clothing company Manto -- one of KSW’s main sponsors. “There is still a social prejudice about ‘cage fighting,’ as most of the media describe MMA in Poland. KSW is doing a good job changing that image, getting TV coverage and more corporate sponsors.”

Even though it is not on the level of the U.S., Japan or England as far as mainstream acceptance is concerned, KSW has done a remarkable job of presenting the sport of mixed martial arts to the general public in Poland.

“I don’t consider MMA to be an ‘underground’ sport here in Poland anymore,” Lewandowski says. “Obviously it is not as popular as soccer or basketball yet, but we are working hard to put on good shows. We have secured live coverage on the biggest Polish sports channel as well as a tape-delay transmission on one of the biggest commercial TV channels in the country. The bottom line is that we already have better ratings than many established sports.”

With the increasing popularity, KSW attracted strong fighters from all across Europe. In particular, the event’s famous one-night, eight-man tournaments have been a launching pad for the careers of many combatants.

KSW 1 tournament champion Lukasz Jurkowski went on to fight for M-1; Frenchman Francis Carmont was snapped up by the now-defunct Bodog Fight after his victory in the KSW 5 tourney; Alexey Oleinik was invited to the Yamma tournament following his triumph at KSW 8; and the pair of Jordan Radev and Antonio Mendes have even made it to the UFC after shining in Warsaw.

KSW’s true showpiece has been Chechen grappler Mamed Khalidov, however. Maciej Kawulski vividly remembers the first time he saw the “Cannibal” at work and quickly realized that he was something special.

“From our very first show, we were looking for new talents to bring in,” Kawulski says. “We saw Mamed at a small, local cagefighting event. Martin and I both remember exactly what happened that night, because after he fought, we immediately knew that we needed to sign this kid. Following his first fight in KSW, we knew that something had changed in Polish MMA. We are now hoping that he can carry his momentum over to the world stage.”

Khalidov, who is riding an 11-fight win streak, was originally scheduled to fight UFC veteran Floyd Sword at EliteXC’s Sept. 20 event in Albuquerque, N.M. When that show was scrapped, KSW quickly moved to keep the 27-year-old light heavyweight busy.

He will now face Spanish standout Daniel Tabera in the main event of KSW “Extra” in Dabrowa Gornicza on Saturday. Tabera is a six-year veteran of the sport who has fought all over the world, including the U.S., Russia and Japan. Despite being a natural middleweight, he has drawn with explosive heavyweight Gilbert Yvel and gone the distance with Roman Zentsov. KSW is doing everything but protect its franchise fighter with the bout.

Despite just being an “Extra” show, which is not part of the regular event series from Warsaw that is numbered consecutively all the way through, Saturday’s event will have a very strong card.

“Their tournaments are always exciting, and Khalidov versus Tabera is a true dream fight,” Mucha says. “Carmont, Blachowicz, Sobotta, Dowda, M'Pumbu and others also guarantee a great night for any MMA fan in Europe.”

Sherdog.com will be on site in the Silesian Voivodeship to bring its readers an exclusive report.
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