For all the great fights the now-defunct Pride FC put on in their Japanese homeland, some of the most vivid memories evoked from that promotion are the series of freak show fights and mismatches it put on such a large platform.
Fedor vs. Zuluzinho. Minowa vs. Giant Silva. Antonio Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp. Fights equally distasteful and entertaining. With Rizin FF taking the Pride mantle in Japan with its Openweight Grand-Prix showcasing the likes of 400 pound+ Estonian sumo wrestler Baruto taking on 45-year-old JMMA veteran Kazayuki Fujita, freak show fights are enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Hell, even the UFC has pushed an event featuring a totally unqualified professional wrestler in the last month.
Polish MMA promotion KSW, one of Europe’s premier fight banners, is looking to jump on the bandwagon with their latest offering. KSW 37, to be held on December 3 in Krakow, will feature former World’s Strongest Man Mariusz “Pudzian” Pudzianowski versus rapper-turned fighter Pawel “Popek” Rak.
The strange announcement was appropriate given the nature of the event’s headline act. A slightly homoerotic take on the UFC’s famous staredowns was complimented by two wheeled plinths as both men have their shirts torn off each other’s backs. Way to go, KSW. Still, Popek’s staged “arrest” was perhaps even more cringeworthy.
In MMA terms, Pudzianowski may be seen as a bit of an odd commodity to anyone outside Poland. But, he remains a highly famous figure in his home country and among Polish communities abroad—showcased in his losing effort as a headliner at a packed- Wembley Arena in London, England.
Despite his unconventional background before entering the world of mixed martial arts, Pudzianowski has fought and beat some tough opponents in his time—including the likes of Rolles Gracie Jr., Olympic gold medallist judoka Pawel Nastula and Briton Oli Thompson—despite entering the cage for the first time in his thirties. As a result, Pudzian has a respectable 9-5-1 record to his name, though this upcoming fight is the first time the former strongman competes having suffered two consecutive losses to Peter Graham and Marcin Rozalski.
Popek is a different story altogether. The London-based Polish rapper is a celebrity in the country, but is known for his music—and perhaps more for his physical appearance—than he is for his fighting abilities.
According to Sport.pl, Popek has only just been allowed to return to Poland after a European arrest warrant for some “serious charges” was abolished back in April. He has a gold disc and a triple platinum disc for an album he appeared on alongside hip hop collective Gang Albanii. But, he has earned the ire of many in his conservative Catholic homeland for what he looks like—his is covered head-to-toe in tattoos, including blackened eyeballs—as well as deliberately undergoing numerous surgical procedures to leave his face permanently scarred to his suiting.
Popek has never competed in KSW before now, having exclusively fought in the UK for promotions Cage Rage and FX3 and has a record of 2-1 with two knockout wins and one knockout loss—all of which happened back in 2008. Despite having not competed for eight years, Popek claims to have trained MMA throughout his in-cage hiatus. Can Popek win? He certainly thinks so. “Many people will leave surprised, because I’ll be ready,” Popek opined.
This contest will certainly draw plenty of Polish eyes to KSW 37, while the rest of Europe will be looking on in bemusement. However, KSW can’t be blamed for this—it’s supply and demand, with the UFC and Rizin proving the power of freak show fights which make little sense to the informed observer.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.