How KSW Became The World’s Leading Freak Promotion

When talking about the ‘sporting’ side of MMA, KSW is easily the biggest MMA organisation in Poland when it comes to sport, they consistently bring together most of the top polish athletes, and put on amazing shows. But when it comes down to pure entertainment, their biggest competitor is not FEN (Fight Exclusive Night) or Babilon MMA, which are also good, if you’re into pure sporting fun; they are great for what they are doing for the sport in Poland, Babilon especially, but there is only one organization that can compete with KSW.

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It is Fame MMA – a freak-fight based organization lead by Wojciech Gola; a participant on the Polish version of Jersey Shore, and Michal Baron aka BOXDEL; polish youtuber.

Fame MMA uses polish YouTubers and celebrities to gain attention and they hug the mainstream limelight to perfection here in Poland.

Perfection, because they are simply following the formula that KSW created many years back.

Here is the tale of KSWs rise to Fame, and how it resulted in the creation of Fame MMA and the stark rise in Freak MMA.

Part 1: The calm beginning

The year is 2009. In December Mariusz Pudzianowski – 5 time strongest human alive – is making his MMA debut at KSW 12. His opponent is also an MMA newbie – Marcin Najman, a Polish boxer who gained fame by being a participant on the polish version of ‘Big Brother’. This was the kind of “Freak Fight”, that even PRIDE FC would fans would be fericously salivating over. Two big men; who never trained any form of Martial Arts before, were stepping into the ring to bash the others skull in for fun.

Pudzianowski went on to win by submission due to strikes. This triumph spawned a completely new Era for KSW. Pudzianowski himself was sold to the audience as a competent MMA fighter, that could contend with some of the worlds top heavyweights.

Despite his inexperience, Mariusz faced two time former UFC champion, Tim Sylvia. In his third professional fight. Pretty impressive, but this is the only good thing that can be said about Pudzianowski performance that night. Needless to say, the Polish powerhouse tapped due to strikes, as he was too gassed that he couldn’t even stand against Sylvia.

Before the Sylvia bout, Pudzianowski was claiming that he would dominate the world heavyweight division and that he would become a notorious champion. After the embarrassing performance, he never repeated that claim again.

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In September of 2010 KSW was back with more freak fights* that were sold as pure sporting contests. In the main-event Eric Esch, “Butterbean” as he more widely know as, tapped due to Pudzianowski’s strikes. Many new MMA fans assumed, that this bout was fixed, as the American showed literally no attempt at defending himself.

Earlier that very same evening, fans witnessed the most popular MMA fight in the history of Polish Television. Przemyslaw Saleta – a really popular professional boxer – fought in front of 4.5 million viewers (around 11% of the entire population of Poland) and submitted Marcin Najman with a front choke. Their feud started years before KSW 14. According to Saleta himself, it was all about his second wife, who was seduced by Marcin. Both boxers were 0-1 in professional MMA, but because of their vicious beef they got a lot of media attention and so the fight was made.

The two ‘gentlemen’ talked ALOT of trash. Najman especially. By many he is considered the first real polish trash-talker. He was perceived by many as a  clown of sorts; though maybe he was secretly a marketing genius who understood, that playing the role of “bad” guy is sometimes more profitable. I can’t decide on it.

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*Interlude – an unclear freak-fight definition*

Some of you could be surprised, by why I wrote about Butterbean-Pudzian being a ‘freak-fight’. Do not get wrong, it was not an insult. Or at least this is not intended to be an insult. You see, a ‘freak-fight’ has no single definition. For one person it will be a collision between two big man, who are are unable to participate in traditional sports – kind of like a clash of giants. For others a ‘freak-fight’ is a bout between celebrities. For the third person it is just a fight between competitors, who are not connected to MMA and do not treat MMA as their career – fights including retired boxers or suspended NFL players.

And you know what? All those people are right and wrong at the same time, it’s like how we debate if a fighter’s a ‘Can’. Who should be called something like that? A fighter with a negative record? Then you can call Mark Hunt a can then. It’s a poor fighter? Then this expands the definition.

For the sake of this text, I will make a really-not-perfect definition. A Freak-fight is a bout between two persons, who brings attention by doing everything but sport. So a confrontation between two boxers is a freak-fight as long, as people want to watch this for other reasons that pure sporting contest.

So… back to the topic:

Part 2 – Crisis Point

KSW started the trend of freak-fights in polish MMA. For their credit, I need to praise them for starting this trend. Thanks to Pudzianowski, they were able to promote top polish MMA fighters to the audience and kickstart the careers of many huge fighters like; Mamed Khalidov, Michał Materla, Artur Sowinski or Jan Blachowicz – who is currently signed with UFC. They could not achieve this without the freak-fights of Pudzianowski.

Of course where are success stories, there are also the imitators. The financial success of KSW, enticed their other promotions to make freak show fights, often with disastrous consequences

Lets start with MMA Attack, an organization lead by Dariusz Cholewa, he wanted to challenge the KSW owners – Martin Lewandowski and Maciej Kawulski. Dariusz’s plan was “simple” – follow the steps of KSW, but faster.

Lewandowski and Kawulski scheduled their first freak-fight on their 12th event. Cholewa decided to start his organization with the continuation of the biggest rivalry in polish fighting history. On November 5th 2011 MMA Attack held a rematch between Saleta and Najman. This time their fight took place in a K-1 style. The contest lasted 54 seconds, before Najman give up due to his hypothetical broken leg. After this fight Saleta retired from K-1 and MMA altogther. Although he would come back to boxing two times, he is no longer part of this story.

Najman, on the other hand, is still crucial for our tale about freak-fights.

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Najman was more of a celebrity than sportsman, Marcin and his bad fame was important for Cholewa and MMA Attack. His goal was to sell out the third biggest (at this time) polish arena complex – Spodek in Katowice city. But Najman alone could not do this. Even he needed a dance partner. A good one. His opponent was Robert Burneika, a Lithuanian bodybuilder, very popular here in Poland due to crazy gym videos.

This fight was… fun. Watching it makes you smile. Najman was running away, terrified by Burneika striking attempts. The Lithuanian caught him with a pushed punch, that put Marcin to the ground, where he tapped out due to strikes. The whole arena was screaming at Polish boxer “get the f**k out of here”. It was notorious.

One year later MMA Attack – after various troubles – attempted to repeat previous success in Spodek. Once again they put trust in Burneika to be their “Pudzianowski”, a freak fighter whose popularity builds the brand of MMA. To help him achieve this status, Cholewa scheduled one of the craziest bouts of all times. Dawid Ozdoba – polish chippendales who weighed in at 84 kilos – was a rival for the 130 kilos bodybuilder. What came out from this blend? One of the worst fights in Polish MMA history. The two rarely hit each other and Ozdoba was disqualified for… timidity. This bout was basically the end of MMA Attack. They attempted to do one more event, but it was canceled.

In a meantime, KSW was watching closely, they were pondering how much longer Mariusz Pudzianowski’s career could be profitable for them. They feed him to Bob Sapp and Christos Piliafas, and later watched him tapping from a kimura locked in from Sean McCorkle. KSW moved their attention to Mamed Khalidov, who had risen to being one of the biggest sporting stars in Poland. The chechen had everything to free Lewandowski and Kawulski from freak-fights. He was popular and highly skilled. They were going to bet heavily on Mamed whilst Pudzilla started to fade from the limelight.

Then the European migration crisis hit the polish media. Thousands of Muslim refuges migrated over to Europe. I am not a political doctor to elaborate about all this but the clue is in the statement that Khalidov made at the beginning of 2016.

In October of 2015 far-right political party Law and Justice, won the parliamentary elections here in Poland. They were really against accepting Muslim refugees. Many polish authorities and celebrities protested against this decision. Khalidov, Muslim himself, supported those objections. This resulted in public backlash against him from fans. During his fight with Aziz Karaoglu in May of 2016 the polish crowd were booing against him. After the controversial win he announced pause in his career.

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Part 3 – The Freak-Fight crisis hits Polish MMA

With Khalidov gone, the ground was shaking under Lewandowski and Kawulski feet. Their biggest star was breaking away from MMA for an unknown amount of time and was losing popularity by the day due to his political statements. Pudzianowski was on 2-fights losing streak and there was no-one else out there that was as popular, as the Pudzianowski-Khalidov duo. They were desperate for success.

In September of 2016 KSW contracted popular Polish rapper “Popek Monster”. Popek had a history in MMA, with a decent record of 2 wins and a single loss. His last fight took place in 2008 in United Kingdom. As a former member of gangsta-rap group “Firma”, Popek was so popular among British Polonia, that his fans demolished arena after his first loss.

This was a very risky game being played by Kawulski and Lewandowski. Even when we turn a blind eye on Popeks last fight and the mess created by his fans, he had spent last couple of years on drugs and alcohol fuelled binges. His physical condition was questionable, even when KSW sold him to fans as a real athlete. MMA is to this day not treated in Poland as a ‘respectful’ sport. One bad bout with tragical end could ban whole discipline here.

The income that would come from the bout would however be worth the gamble. KSW scheduled a colossal money bout with Pudzianowski, who quickly defeated Popek by TKO. The fight generated a lot of money. The fihgt was so popular that KSWs PPV platform servers could not hold the interest in orders. They had to strike again when the iron was still hot.

They booked the PGE Narodowy Stadium for their biggest to date. Colosseum, the show was dubbed by management, and it brought huge public attention and media coverage. To sell out the Arena, they had to create a fightcard for the casuals. With them in mind, Kawulski and Lewandowski scheduled following fights:

  • Lukasz Jurkowski vs Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou – Jurkowski was a retired fighter that came back after a six year layoff. Many fans recognized him for being a commentator than former sportsman

  • Mariusz Pudzianowski vs Tyberiusz Kowalczyk – a bout between 2 former strongmen, who had their own rivalry during strongman events.

  • Damian Janikowski vs Julio Gallegos – Janikowski is an Olympic bronze medal winner in wrestling. He became really popular for his amateur wrestling career.

  • Popek Monster vs Robert Burneika – the freakiest of freak fights that could happen in Polish MMA and the most popular bout at the colosseum event.

Of course there were 7 more bouts added, based mostly on sport style competition and not freakish. But those four mentioned fights were the most popular among polish commentators on the internet and garnered the most fame.

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Popek won his fight against Burneika. After “Colosseum” everything indicated, that Kawulski and Lewandowski will make another “Pudzianowski” out of the popular rapper. And, like Dariusz Cholewa, they wanted to help him achieve this status.

Polish popular actor and former gang member, Tomasz Oswiecimski, was set to make an MMA debut on KSW 41. At age 45, “Strachu” was scheduled to face 6 years younger Popek. The rapper was a huge favourite. “Monster” started training with Robert Zlotkowski, one of the best polish boxing coaches, who is largely responsible for the striking game of Marcin Tybura and Jan Blachowicz.

At the beginning everything suggested, that Popek would easily achieve his fourth career win. The rapper took the actor down and started the bout off with some tremendous ground and pound. For about 4 minutes Tomasz Oswiecimski took an insane beating, but the referee was not eager to stop the fight. After the first round Popek was so gassed out that he was barely able to stand. Strachu was not in a better shape but, somehow, he used rest of his cardio and took Popek down and finished him with some ground and pound.

And this was not the craziest thing that happened during that evening. Tired Oswiecimski invited Artur Szpilka – Polish boxer and former world title contender – for a MMA match. Szpilka was in attendance. The boxer, Szpilka entered the KSW cage and, after a brief second, he hit Oswiecimski.

This moment brought more attention than the Popek-Oswiecimski fight. And, if I could guess, it gave Wojciech Gola an idea to compete with KSW.

Part 4 – Rise of Fame MMA and the Freak Fight Federation

Wojciech Gola is a Polish celebrity, who recived fame after attending “Warsaw Shore” – a Polish version of the reality show “Jersey Show”. During the program he met Pawel Trybala – an amateur MMA Fighter, who turned professional in 2015. Gola attended Pawels first few fights and was hugely inspired by what he witnessed.

Both XCage and PLMMA tried to use Trybala’s fame, like KSW had used Pudzianowski and how MMA Attack had used Burneika. And, like those two giants were, Trybala was sold like a true sportsman. Gola as an onlooker took notice on this fact.

He then decided to try fighting himself. On the 10Th of October 2017, he took part in “Night of Champions” event in his hometown – Poznan. He did not want to be sold as a sportsman though. In a highly advertised “Freakfight” bout he faced Piotr “Bonus BGC” Witczak. Witczak is an internet personality. He claimed to be undefeated MMA Fighter with 14-0 record from underground fights in Norway. He also gained popularity from his Youtube movies “Lufa pytanie”, where he drank vodka shots between each question. The result was alcohol vomiting.

The Gola-Witczak bout was a typical fight between two guys who simply know nothing about fighting. There were many stand-up hammer fists, pushed punches, slow lowkicks. And a lot of interests from media. Of course, they were not praising Gola and Witczak skill. But they were talking and that’s all Gola & Witczak needed.

Gola must have analyzed KSW success. KSW became famous for their Freak fights. Up to this day, Mamed Khalidov was the only true  sportsman based fighter who could sell out an arena. Pudzianowski, Najman, Saleta, Popek and Oswiecimski were celebrities.

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With this in mind Gola created his own plan. He focused solely on freak-fights as those were the most profitable bouts. He had given up completely on sportsmen and had decided not to sell his idea as athletes competition. He knew himself that his fighters were far from ‘Sportsmen’

This is how Fame MMA was born – a project that would focus solely on fights between celebrities. Gola set his target for the young audience. He hired popular youtubers, streamers and characters. For his promotion, he used only the internet and cheap PPV. What was the effect of this? Above hundred thousand subscriptions bought for their first event.

After three events in about ten months, Fame MMA became the real competition for KSW. Kawulski and Lewandowski were not blind and watched this new player carefully. After Fames first event they were skeptical about Golas promotion. But with the success of their second event, KSW made their move. With close cooperation with Polsat – one of Polands biggest television channels – they are creating a “response” to Fame MMA. The placeholder name for their side project is Freak Fight Federation.

Kawulski and Lewandowski once again are hiring Marcin Najman for their project. He is supposed to face Pawel Trybala in the main event of their first fight card. Second known fight is a bout between Mariusz Pudzianowski’s brother, Krystian with Popek Monster.

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There is nothing bad with a good freak-fight. It can help to build your organization and brand by bringing media attention. But in Poland we are reaching a critical point, with two freak-fights based organizations. And, as far as I know, in my country, there will be a division in the MMA community.

One side will claim that Fame MMA and FFF should be banned. They will add something about pathology (Brain damage) in their argument. Because you know, a 45 year old actor facing a 39 year old rapper is maybe not the safest idea and there’s also a group of fans out there who will pretend that a squash match, isn’t really a squash match; which could lead to someone getting badly injured

The second group will argue that MMA is a sport for everyone and that everyone should get a chance to compete. No matter if you are a streamer, body-builder, stripper or instagram influencer. If they were allowed to compete in MMA up to this point on KSW or any other organization alongside other athletes, then why should they be banned now?

And well, both groups are right and wrong at the same time. It is pretty much OKAY to be on one side of this dispute. It will be great however, if those arguing do not became hypocrites. There is nothing worse than being ok with accepting Popek or Strachu in KSW and condemning them in Fame MMA, vice-versa as some will still criticize KSW for freak fights, with being totally OK with Fame MMA.