KSW Epic Preview: Khalidov v Adamek, De Fries v Barnett, KSW turns 20

KSW celebrates a major milestone this Saturday night, and will go back to the roots of MMA in doing so. Twenty years ago, KSW held their first event in the Champions sports bar (now unfortunately a Greek restaurant) at the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw. The poster for the event advertised the various disciplines that made up the arts and the show featured their first tournament, which was won by KSW Hall of Famer Łukasz Jurkowski. The rest as they say is history. They now perform in arenas around the globe and have moved from the ring and into a cage. KSW Epic is a tribute to their roots, and a celebration of MMA in general. There will be ten bouts of various disciplines, each with a hat tip to the past. The PreZero Arena in Gliwice will host the proceedings.

The fight of the night will be a boxing bout, a sport that can be traced back to the third millennia in Egypt and Sumer. The contestants will compete over 6×3 minute rounds in ten ounce gloves. KSW would not have made it to this level without Mamed Khalidov (37-8-2 MMA). “The Cannibal” is a legend of the promotion, first appearing at the seventh gala in 2007. Born in Grozny, he moved to Poland to escape the war and is a proud adopted son of the nation. The 43-year-old began his martial arts journey as a Taekwondo player and has since become an expert in them all. He is former two-division champion in KSW, he’s sold out the national stadium twice, and his run from 2011-2017 is up there as one of the best in MMA history. The Olsztyn man will do what he does best and put on a show. Tomasz Adamek (53-6 boxing) will have the benefit of experience under pugilist rules. The 47-year-old is to the big gloves what Khalidov is to the small gloves. Like his opponent, Adamek has won belts at two weights, the WBC light heavyweight and IBF & The Ring cruiserweight titles, along with a huge array of other championships. The Pole boxed Vitali Klitscho for the WBC heavyweight crown in front of a crowd of 45,000 in Wrocław, losing in the tenth round. Khalidov has sixteen knockouts, Adamek has thirty one. Both men have sold out stadiums, and both were built for the big occasion. Two national icons in their various sports meet in the cage to celebrate Poland’s biggest promotion.

The co-main event will be the final of the Light Heavyweight MMA tournament, a nod to the old days in Champions bar. Four men will compete in a one-night bracket for the vacant KSW LHW Championship. The semi finals will be over 2×5 minute rounds, which if it reaches the time limit, the winner of the first round advances. The final will be contested over 3×5 minute rounds. Fans voted to decide the brackets.

Semi Final 1 features one of the promising young up-and-coming Polish 205ers in Damian Piwowarczyk (7-2). At 6’6”, he’s an imposing presence and walks around with a relaxed and friendly aura. The Czerwony Smok man is an accomplished submission player who’s developed a mean streak in the striking realms. This has led to a very well rounded record with three knockouts and three submissions. The 26-year-old is growing in confidence and learning to transpose his talent into the cage. Kleber Silva (22-11) is a Bellator veteran and has begun his KSW stint with a fantastic pair of finishes. The Brazilian is a knockout artist and sprints out of the gates. The 36-year-old has a serviceable submission game. His key to success is the early barrage.

Semi Final 2 sees Rafał Haratyk (17-5-2) return following an impressive debut victory over Ivan Erslan. The 36-year-old is a Babilon MMA and ACA veteran and is known for his well rounded, durable performances. The Pole can win wherever the fight goes, is intelligent enough to play out a decision, and equally if he sniffs blood, goes for the knockout or submission. Marcin Wójcik (19-8) is a man who’s tasted championship before, winning the FEN LHW title. The 34-year-old competed in the middleweight tournament at KSW 45, losing to Scott Askham in the first round. The PFL veteran is also a well rounded and experienced fighter, however has more of a finishing threat than his opponent. “The Giant” will take some risks to press the finish and has ten knockouts and seven submissions on his record.

There will be a tournament alternate bout in case of emergency, featuring two recent title challengers. Ivan Erslan (13-3) is one tough gentleman. The Croatian has an exciting kickboxing style where he’ll march you down and try to knock your head off. The 32-year-old has fallen short in his two championship opportunities to date, and is itching for a chance to prove its third time lucky. Bogdan Gnidko (10-1) is one of the youngest in the tournament and is what can only be described as a vicious instrument of destruction. The first round is his oyster, the starting pistol fires and before you know it, you’re tapping or waking up and put on a stool to recover. Six early knockouts, three quick submissions, the Ukrainian doesn’t play with his food. He came up short last time when Plan A failed, he’ll need to show he’s developed Plan B should he have to see the latter rounds.

Heavyweight royalty will compete in a submission grappling contest. The bout will have a ten-minute time limit with victory coming only via submission, otherwise the spoils will be shared. KSW Heavyweight Champion Phil de Fries (24-6 MMA) has dominated the division since winning the title in 2018. Nine defences later and nobody has really come close to usurping the king. The Englishman has fourteen wins via submission, and is known for his wrestling game. The 37-year-old is very strong, is heavy on top and trains with top UFC heavyweights Tom Aspinall and Mick Parkin. Josh Barnett (35-8 MMA) is one of the most interesting characters in MMA and is a former UFC champion. The 46-year-old is a veteran of Pride, Strikeforce and Affliction. Twenty-one of his victories have come via submission. The American fought in bare knuckle boxing at KSW’s sister promotion Genesis, beating former KSW champion Marvin Różalski. He’s grappled for various promotions including Pancrase, and has competed at the top BJJ level in the ADCC in 1999 and 2000.

Next up is a caged Muay Thai bout that will be fought over 3×3 minute rounds in MMA gloves. Knees, elbows and kicks are allowed. Michał Królik (2-1 boxing) is from nearby Katowice so will bring some local flavour to the card. “Matrix” is an exciting kickboxer, and as his nickname suggests, his movement is a joy to behold. The 33-year-old is more likely to win via decision than knockout. Václav Sivák (25-0 kickboxing) is a former WAKO professional and amateur K-1 champion. Eleven of his victories were by knockout. The Czech has also competed as an amateur in Muay Thai, winning a silver at the youth worlds. He is also 2-0 in boxing. This will be a fun striking matchup.

Pride MMA was a legendary Japanese promotion that held huge events, including the highest attended MMA event of all time when Mirko Cro Cop fought Sakuraba in front of 91,000 people at the Tokyo Dome in 2002. A lot of Pride’s influence can be seen today in KSW’s production, with the “show” element complimenting the high level fights. In tribute, we will see the specialised Pride rules bout over 3×5 minute rounds. Soccer kicks, stomps and grounded knees are legal, whilst elbows are not allowed. Darko Stošić (19-6) is a former KSW title contender on a two-fight win streak. The Serbian started as a judoka and is all about power, big movements and maximum impact. The UFC veteran has concrete hands and has won thirteen times by knockout. The 32-year-old has some of the thickest legs you’ll see, so it will be interesting to see the damage his soccer kicks could do. He’s strong enough to land big slams and his single shot striking is some of the most lethal in MMA. Matheus Scheffel (17-10) is a PFL and Contender Series veteran. The Brazilian is also known for his knockout prowess, with twelve wins coming via strikes. The Brazilian has notable wins over Bruno Cappelozza and Juan Adams. The 31-year-old takes risks, which has occasionally led to him getting caught on the feet.

Vale Tudo became popular in Brazil in the 20th century and is an early predecessor to MMA. In America, this was known as No Holds Barred. The rules are similar to the Pride Rules above, with slight adjustments. The fight takes place over 3×5 minute rounds, with soccer kicks, stomps, grounded knees and elbows all being legal. Konrad Rusiński (6-1) is a former Babilon MMA title challenger who won his KSW debut via submission last November. The 26-year-old is a very good submission player with four finishes via that method. The Pole had an extensive amateur record and has a slew of first round finishes. Muslim Tulshaev (10-3) is a new signing who comes in from ARES. The German has also had most of his success in the submission realms, with five victories by tap out. The 29-year-old scored a fantastic left hook knockout in his ARES debut.

The opening bout celebrates the grappling arts and both fighters will wear traditional kimonos. MMA rules will be in play over 3×5 rounds, with gi grabs, gi chokes and gi throws being allowed. Piotr Kaczprak (9-4) is the former Babilon MMA featherweight champion. The 26-year-old is an accomplished BJJ player and black belt. The Radom man is a good kickboxer as well, however he really shines on the mat with four submission wins. Adam Brysz (2-0) is the head coach of Tornado Team alongside his wife and fellow fighter and former Invicta title challenger Agnieszka Brzysz (neé Niedźwiedź). That gym is located less than twenty minutes away from Gliwice. The 36-year-old is a judo black belt and hasn’t competed much in professional MMA, winning his debut by quick knockout in 2014, followed by a decision win last September at FEN 50. Modern MMA in kimonos should prove to be a fascinating spectacle.

KSW Epic is live from 6pm Irish time on Saturday and access can be purchased at KSWEPIC.TV

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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