KSW 77 Preview; Khalidov v Pudzianowski; 2 Title Fights, McNally Returns

KSW return to Gliwice on Saturday for their traditional end of the year extravaganza, and this year is bigger than ever. KSW 77 will go down in front of a sold-out capacity crowd of 17,000. There is an absolutely stacked fight card on deck, with a Legend vs Legend fight and two KSW international titles bouts amongst the eleven contests.

Two men will duke it out to decide who the biggest KSW legend is. Mamed Khalidov (35-8-2) makes his nineteenth appearance in a KSW main event and has gone 19-4-2 in the promotion to date. Born in Chechnya, Khalidov moved to Poland at the age of seventeen and was granted Polish citizenship in 2015. The Olsztyn man is a black belt in Taekwondo and Kyokushin karate. The 42-year-old is one of the greatest fighters to have never fought in the UFC, turning down multiple offers through the years. He had a legendary 14-fight win streak 2011 and 2015, culminating in a headlining victory in front of 58,000 adoring fans in what is currently the second most attended MMA event of all time. Wherever the fight goes, Mamed is equipped to finish it. Submissions and knockouts, he can do it all and has used those skills to win the KSW Middleweight title multiple times. Mariusz Pudzianowksi (17-7) has made a career of proving people wrong. The Pole crashed into the MMA world in 2009 on the back of winning The World’s Strongest Man five times. The Biała Rawska man was very much perceived as a freak fighter back then, an attraction. If there’s one thing you can count on Pudzian for, it’s hard work. Hours and hours were spent in the gym turning a strongman into a fighter. That effort has paid off with thirteen main events to his name and now headlining one of KSW’s biggest cards. He’s not a freak fighter now, he’s a legitimate and respected martial artist. This was earned in blood sweat and tears. Pudzian has won his last five by knockout, with many calling for a title shot. One of those knockouts was an underdog, knockout-of-the-year candidate against fellow legend Michał Materla back in May. The 45-year-old has aged like wine and is loving every minute of his final run. How will this fight go? Khalidov has the skill and speed advantage, while Pudzian obviously has the strength and power. The fans and experts are split on this one, can Pudzian land a knockout blow or will Khalidov show who the boss is?

In the co-main event, there’s a trilogy rubber match to settle a rivalry. The reigning, defending KSW Bantamweight Champion Sebastian Przybysz (10-2) puts the gold on the line for the third time. The Mighty Bulls Gdynia man has been one of the best fighters on the roster over the last several years. The 29-year-old is an allrounder who has been sharpening his skills in Kill Cliff FC for this camp, training with some of the world’s top talents in Florida. He can outstrike you and he can submit you out of nowhere. Przybysz is tough, intelligent and has the cardio to keep it up in the championship rounds. Calmness is his biggest weapon. Jakub Wikłacz (13-3-1) is a Jiu Jitsu savant. Since moving his camp to Czerwony Smok in Poznań, he’s been rounding out his game at an unbelievable pace. Submissions remain his bread and butter and he has one for every occasion. Triangles and guillotines are amongst his favourites. The 26-year-old has won his last three to earn this shot. The Olsztyn native won the first matchup between the two by decision, with Przybysz evening up the score with a third-round body shot TKO back in 2020. There will be 5 rounds and twenty-five minutes available for these two men to settle this rivalry.

Ibragim Chuzhigaev (16-5) strolled into Szczecin last January and surprised the MMA world by beating Tomasz Narkun for the KSW Light Heavyweight title via decision. Saturday will see him defend his belt for the first time. The 31-year-old has an impressive résumé at the top table of European MMA, winning twelve fights in ACA. The Turkish citizen is a kickboxer with a big knockout threat who can keep the pace for twenty-five minutes. On the ground, he’s fond of an arm-triangle choke. He’ll need to start quickly with Ivan Erslan (12-1) standing across from him. The Croatian has been a little one dimensional as a pro to date, however that dimension has been sending victims to the land of wind and ghosts repeatedly. The 31-year-old has concrete fists and has won eight times by first round knockout. This man is lethal. Chuzhigaev is going to have to drag this into later rounds to get this done, which is pretty easy to say, not so easy to do.

One of Europe’s best matchups of the year goes down at KSW 77. Daniel Rutkowski (14-3) is one of the best characters in Polish MMA and is rarely seen without a smile on his face. The Radom man is a national champion in Greco-Roman wrestling. The Pole now prefers a kickboxing and boxing game, most notably scoring a highlight reel knockout against Filip Pejić at KSW 64. Prior to signing with KSW, he held the FEN and Babilon featherweight titles simultaneously. Rutek is a cardio machine and very fun to watch. Lom-Ali Eskijew (20-5) is one of the best talents in the UFD Gym in Düsseldorf, which is no mean feat. The 30-year-old’s style is not too far off that of his opponent’s. Wrestling is a major strength, and he is also a competitive striker. This is a very even matchup on paper, let’s see if it lives up to the promise.

Andrzej Grzebyk (18-6) is a man who needs a win after dropping two-in-a-row. The Tarnów man has that star power, possessing the full package of what it takes to make it to the top. Unfortunately, the wins have escaped him recently and he’s looking to make that right on Saturday. The 32-year-old was a double-weight champion in FEN prior to his KSW run. His kickboxing is exquisite, and he knocks lads out for fun. Skill, confidence and personality, Grzebyk is one to watch. Emil Meek was the original opponent, but he has pulled out with a leg injury about a week from the fight. In steps Brazil’s Oton Jasse (21-8). The Rio de Janeiro native is a submission expert, with one of the best anaconda chokes in the business. Grzebyk’s path to victory is simple, keep it standing and land the knockout blow.

Patryk Kaczmarczyk (8-2) is another lad who has that “IT” factor. The Radom man looks the part, has bags of confidence and is electric when given a platform to speak. The 24-year-old is a fantastic wrestler with great top pressure. On the feet, he’s got a fan friendly striking style and will throw with volume. He’s looking to bounce back from defeat in his last one to Dawid Śmiełowski, a fight he was winning until he got caught to the body. Pascal Hintzen (8-1) is a fellow up-and-comer and another prospect out of UFD Gym. Wrestling is his Plan A, with good submissions to add to the mix. Kaczmarczyk will need to be careful on top as Hintzen is very dangerous off his back. Two prospects go to battle here.

There are some fights on paper that look like judges aren’t necessary, and this is one of those fights. Bogdan Gnidko (8-0) hails from Ukraine and had a spectacular KSW debut in August, knocking Damian Piwowarczyk out in five seconds. When not separating opponents from their consciousness, the Kyiv man has some decent submission skills. Mădălin Pîrvulescu (5-0) is a man with places to go and people to see, so he doesn’t waste his time in the cage. The Romanian burst onto the scene in October and knocked out Adam Tomasik in the first round. The Constanța man has never needed more than three-minutes to get it done. Blink and you’ll miss it, fists are going to fly in this one. 

There’s some unfinished business to take care of early in the night following a No Contest at KSW 75. Yann Liasse (8-1) is an IMMAF veteran at amateur level and is the fighting pride of Luxembourg. The Streetsport man is an expert at taking the back and finishing with the rear naked choke. On the feet, he’s a flashy kickboxer who loves spinning manoeuvres. He’s 2-0 in KSW and has fought for Brave CF in the past. His only defeat was to the great Magomed Magomedov (the IMMAF/UAE Warriors/Brave CF fighter of that name). Adrian Gralak (5-0) is the latest WCA Warsaw prospect to join the ranks. The 25-year-old is a slick kickboxer with knockout power. The grappling is solid and getting better all the time. A good chance for both men to make a mark in the lightweight division.

One of the benefits of KSW’s European expansion has been the addition of more Irish talent to the roster. Carl McNally (2-0) was victorious at KSW 73, winning via neck crank submission in the first round against Miłosz Melchert. “King Carlos” had an extensive amateur career and has been competing since 2012. He’s a man with a taste for the eccentric, with “rolling thunder into armbar” and “helicopter guillotine” submissions to his name. Don’t think he’s just a grappler though, the man is a fierce and brave kickboxer as well. Shamad Erzanukaev (1-0) is the big prospect coming out of WCA in Warsaw. The Pole is a dominant wrestler with some fantastic submissions in his locker. He’s very dangerous with armbars and triangles and is a competitive combatant on the feet. McNally will need his experience here to get it done.

Patryk Likus (3-1) is another one of the young bucks making the charge in KSW. The Katowice man will have the crowd on his side in what will be a hometown event. The 20-year-old is looking to bounce back from his first defeat, a submission loss to Pascal Hintzen at KSW 73. Likus is a fabulous striker, scoring a spectacular spinning elbow knockout win at KSW 65. Michael Domin (4-3) is a decent allrounder, however he does prefer to strike and has knockout power. The Żory man has been trading wins and losses of late and will be keen to get back to winning ways. Big chance for Likus to make another statement. 

Wiktoria Czyżewska (1-0) makes her promotional debut. The 18-year-old dominated in her first pro fight, overwhelming her opponent with strikes. The Końskie lady is a four-time national champion kickboxer and has also won National and European amateur MMA competitions. She would be very raw for this level and will take some time before she can compete with some of the more experienced ladies in the division. Aleksandra Karaseva (2-0) is likely going to come in and want to stand and bang. The Ukrainian has finished both her pro bouts with strikes. Let’s see what they can do.

KSW 77 is live from 6pm Irish time on Saturday and access can be purchased at KSWTV.com or on the ViaPlay subscription service in select countries (including the U.K.).

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.

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