Mateusz Gamrot: Game On

Mateusz “Gamer” Gamrot (18-1) takes on his toughest test to date in Jeremy Stephens (28-18) this Saturday night at UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs. Moises. Stephens is best known, in some quarters at least, for being on the receiving end of a Conor McGregor line, “Who da fook is that guy?”. He is much more than that of course. The heavy hitting Alliance MMA man is a 33-fight UFC veteran, joint fourth most in company history. He represents a fantastic opportunity for Gamer to slingshot himself into the upper echelons of the lightweight division. How did we get here?

Gamrot was born in the picturesque Polish town of Kudowa-Zdrój, along the border with the Czech Republic. His first steps into the combat sports world came when he trained as a freestyle wrestler in Milicz. At the age of 20, he moved to the city of Poznań to begin his MMA journey. Already a wrestler, he would go on to excel at BJJ, earning his brown belt in 2015. He was a two time amateur European Champion in MMA and also won gold medals in national BJJ tournaments. He was one of the most promising young talents in Europe and it was time to turn pro.

Gamer got off to a flying start to his pro career in 2012, winning three on the bounce with a mixture of TKO, submission and decision. This put him on the radar of Martin Lewandowski and Maciej Kawulski at KSW. They signed him to fight at KSW 23 in Gdańsk, a fight where he won via a second round knockout. From there, an iconic partnership was born. He would then go on to beat UFC veteran Andre Winner via decision in his sophomore bout at KSW 24 in Łódź. The march to the title shot had begun, a shot which he would earn after winning his next five fights.

The vacant KSW Lightweight Championship was on the line at KSW 35 in Sopot. Gamrot would take on France’s Mansour Barnaoui for the strap. He won the fight via decision and he wouldn’t let go of that belt until signing for the UFC. He defended the strap three times before also becoming the KSW Featherweight Champion at KSW 46, beating Japan’s Kleber Koike Erbst and thus becoming the first man to hold belts in two divisions.

His trilogy with Bushmills native Norman Parke is probably what he’s most known for. It was a controversial rivalry, filled with bad blood. The trouble started at KSW 39 in front of 60,000 in the national stadium in Warsaw. Gamrot used his wrestling to win a decision, however it was not without controversy. He was accused of biting Parke during a grappling exchange. This led to a rematch in Dublin at KSW 40 which ended in a near riot at the 3Arena. Gamrot landed an eye poke and Parke was unable to continue. A brawl between the teams was to follow. A no contest was declared. The trilogy would be completed at KSW 53. A new Gamrot was on display that night. He put on a striking masterclass and won via doctor’s stoppage in the third round after badly damaging Parke’s eye. Following this victory, he had one fight left on his deal. KSW gave him a big send off at KSW 54 where he beat current champion Marian Ziółkowski via decision. The UFC came calling.

His debut was a short notice fight on Fight Island. Originally set to face Magomed Mustafaev, he ended up fighting fellow newcomer Guram Kutateladze following an injury. Preparation wasn’t ideal for Gamrot. It had been less than two months since the Ziółkowski win. He was unable to do his camp in Florida at ATT as he usually does, instead doing his full camp with his home gym Czerwony Smok (Red Dragon). He would lose the fight in a close split decision. He’s a man who was used to fighting five rounds, he didn’t quite get the three round pace down. We saw the evolution of Gamer come to fruition in his second UFC fight, putting on an allround clinic against Scott Holtzman, eventually winning via TKO in the second round. He made it to Florida for that fight camp.

Mateusz Gamrot started out as a wrestler and on Saturday you will see a martial artist who can do everything. He trains with killers at ATT every day sharpening his weapons. His wrestling is still strong, his BJJ perhaps even better. It’s his striking that will decide whether he makes it to the top of the pile in the UFC. His work ethic is unparalleled and he’s the ultimate teammate. At the age of 30, his ceiling is infinite. If he continues improving at the rate he has been, the lightweights with a number beside their name will be very nervous. He has the chance to make a statement against Jeremy Stephens and if history has shown us anything, it’s that Gamrot thrives in this environment. Come Saturday night, it’s game on.

Seán Denny is a Dublin man who writes mostly on the European scene, with a keen interest in the Irish, UK and Polish scenes in particular. Follow me on Twitter at @DennyRants.