Krzysztof Soszynski has mastered one dimension and won 20 of 31 professional contests. Now 'The Polish Experiment' is working on the second, third and forth dimensions, all in the hope of gradually emerging as one of the very best light-heavyweights in the world. A late-bloomer and hard-grafter, Soszynski is now on the brink of cracking the big league, yet remains firmly attached to and aware of a time when progression and victories didn't quite some so easy to him.
“My record of 20-10-1 suggests my participation in the sport isn't really about winning and losing, and that's absolutely right,” explains the 32-year-old Soszysnki. “If it was just about winning, I would have quit the sport a long time ago. I went through a phase where I lost four fights in a row, and I was really down in the gutter for a little while. I couldn't find my place in the sport and wasn't sure whether I was good enough to win fights, let alone reach the UFC and compete there. Thankfully, things eventually turned round for me and I was able to start fulfilling my potential.”
Though he now cuts a mean, stern and robust figure on fight night, Soszynski admits it took a while for him to slip comfortably into such a persona. His background consisted of soccer and professional wrestling and, without the aid of any collegiate wrestling background, Soszynski discovered mixed martial arts in 2003 and effectively worked from scratch. He won his first five bouts, before stepping up in class and then winning only two of his next eight. It quickly became apparent that Soszysnki would first have to learn to lose before appreciating the art of winning.
“For me, it's always been about challenging my mental side, as well as my physical side, and I'm now starting to conquer the mental side of the game,” says Soszysnki. “I honestly believe that most fights are won by the fighter who overcomes the mental hurdles, as most fighters at this level are able to get the physical element sorted.
“It took me a very long time, somewhere between 20 and 25 fights, before I started to realise just how important the mental side of the game is. You need to remain confident, positive and completely blank out the negative thoughts that may creep in as a fight draws close. I've managed to start achieving that in the last two years, and that's the main reason why you've seen a change in fortune in my career.”
Soszynski's career picked up considerably after those dark early years, though he still only enjoyed sporadic success, interspersed with further defeats to heavier and more experienced men. Whether in victory or defeat, Soszysnki was beginning to rack up the same kind of fight and training experience that most of his early foes were able to utilise against him. By the time he made his breakthrough on season eight of The Ultimate Fighter, Soszynski boasted over 20 professional fights to his name and was considered one of the most experienced men on the show.
“My time on the show opened up everything for me,” remembers Soszynski. “I went on there with the intention of winning the show, of course, but I also gained so much more from it. It opened doors for me that I never before felt would open. It gave me the belief that I could actually do this thing to a decent level and be a success at it.”
Soszynski impressed en route to a semi final place, but was eventually defeated by Vinny Magalhaes in the last four. A season favourite on account of his humour and fighting talents, Soszynski appeared at The Ultimate Fighter finale and decisively beat Shane Primm with a trademark kimura in the second round.
Since that early introduction to the UFC, Soszysnki has fast-tracked his learning and hasn't looked back. Appearing more self-assured and well-rounded than ever before, Soszynski has won four of his first five UFC bouts, suffering his only loss to lethal striking Brandon Vera.
Never one to sulk upon suffering a defeat, Soszynski followed up his first UFC setback with perhaps his career-best result. The hard-hitting southpaw defeated Stephan Bonnar in February, officially via a 'technical knockout' in the third and final round, though admits it was hard to get too excited about the nature of the 'knockout'.
“I was very disappointed with the way the first fight ended,” admits Soszynski, who accidentally cut Bonnar with a headbutt. “I know Stephan wanted to continue and finish the fight, and it wasn't satisfactory for either of us. There was a lot of blood, but there was really nothing around the eye, and Stephan's known for battling through those type of fights anyway.
“I think we both really wanted to finish what we'd started and I know if it had been up to us, we'd both have been ready for another couple of rounds, let alone a couple of minutes. The first fight could have become a potential 'Fight of the Night' if we'd been allowed to finish, as I know we were both planning on coming on strong in those final minutes.”
Result aside, Soszynski would watch the Bonnar fight back on tape and smile contently with the work he produced that night in Sydney, Australia. Admitting he was far from perfect, Soszynski still took plenty from the imperfections and felt a certain thrill in sharing Octagon space with a genuine mixed martial arts icon.
“I've had over 30 professional fights in my career and I've never had a stand-up battle and war like the one I had with Stephan Bonnar in February,” says Soszysnki. “I've always wanted one of those famous wars, and I always figured Stephan Bonnar would be the guy to help me get one. He's known for his crazy battles and for going toe-to-toe and swinging for the fences, so I knew he'd be a perfect opponent for me.
“That fight was so much fun for me and it was an honour to give the Australian fans that kind of battle. However, it's important not to be involved in too many of those type of fights throughout a career. They can shorten a career dramatically and take a toll on your body and mind.”
Soszynski's enthusiasm comes with a cautionary warning, of course,
yet that hasn't stopped either him or Bonnar signing up for seconds and
preparing to do it all over again. Set for Saturday, July 3rd at UFC
116, Soszynski hopes for more of the same from Bonnar and aspires for a
far more satisfactory conclusion.
“He's (Bonnar) fresh in my mind and I know exactly what he does,” admits Soszynski. “He's always done the same things in most of his fights anyway, so we're very much prepared for what he brings to the fight. Unless he's completely revamped his camp and his whole style, we'll know what to expect from him.
“The only thing I'm going to expect more from him in this fight is a few takedown attempts. I believe he'll try and get in the clinch with me and try and get me to the ground. He didn't attempt any takedowns in our first fight, and I think he'll give that a try this time around. I think he was a little bit impressed and surprised by my striking in the first fight, and he may try to take the fight to the ground a little more often in the rematch.”
A potential switch in style could bemuse most, yet Soszynski wouldn't expect anything less from a proven veteran like Bonnar. The pair shared a thrilling striking battle four months ago, and Soszynski feels the success he achieved in such a style match-up will ultimately result in Bonnar changing things up in the return.
“I think Stephan expected to be the better striker, mainly because he's that little bit more experienced and has stood toe-to-toe with some of the best in the world,” admits Soszynski. “He probably assumed he'd have that slight edge standing up with me. He's probably a little bit more technical with his striking and also enjoyed a reach advantage, yet I came out very strong and aggressive with my own striking and probably surprised him. I was able to set up my punches well and also added some kicks to my game, which I'd never previously attempted in my career. I definitely caught him off guard in that first fight and I expect him to be prepared for it this time around.”
Should Saturday's rematch threaten to go to the floor, Soszynski
remains prepared and composed at the prospect of stuffing takedowns and
getting back to his feet. Despite boasting no collegiate wrestling
background, Soszynski owes his confidence to pure work ethic and recent
“I'm fine with the idea of having Bonnar shoot on me and look to go to the floor,” adds Soszysnki. “If you look at my camp, I'm training with some of the best wrestlers in the world. I've been working with Mark Munoz, Division-1 wrestler and one of the all-time greats, and also Dan Henderson and Heath Sims. These guys are all top calibre wrestlers and I couldn't have asked for better preparation ahead of this fight.
“Even though I don't have a background in wrestling, I feel my wrestling is getting better and better with each camp and each fight. You can't help but improve when you're training with these kinds of wrestlers and athletes. I'm very confident in my takedown defence and my ability to prevent being put on the ground. As for my own takedown defence, that still requires some work, but I'm getting better and better with it each day.”
Ultimately, any rematch situation represents the opportunity to
build on mistakes and missed opportunities from the first bout. Even in
third-round victory, Soszynski found much to alter and work on in the
four months between bouts one and number two.
“The only thing I'd look to do differently is perhaps become more of a multi-dimensional fighter, and offer more than just aggressive attacks,” assesses Soszynski. “I want to show a few other things in this fight and not just be so reliant on my hands getting the job done. I don't only want to be an aggressive striker, but I'd also like to be a counter-puncher and someone that can sit back and set traps on my opponent. I also want to keep mixing in kicks with my striking, and also combine my wrestling with my jiu-jitsu. I don't just want to be a one-dimensional fighter in this rematch.
“I don't see this rematch being as 'go, go, go' as the first one, but it will still be very entertaining. I personally believe we'll see more of a chess match in this second fight, as we both know each other's style and we'll look to figure the other out a bit more. I'm looking forward to that aspect of the rematch.”
Soszysnki can only guess and wonder what Bonnar might try on Saturday night, yet he boasts a far better insight into what 'The Polish Experiment' might rustle up. While Bonnar insists Soszynski will shoot for a takedown at some stage in the fight, the Polish-born slugger isn't ruling anything out.
“I'm just going to go out there and let it all hang out,” he says. “A lot of fighters have recently fought very tentatively and have almost been scared to lose, so I'm hoping we'll both go out there and put on a show. Neither of us guys are scared to get hit or hurt and I think that's usually a good indication of a potentially great fight.
“I believe that the main key to winning this fight is to get him in a clinch and maybe work for a takedown if it's there, or use my dirty boxing in an inside battle. He's more of a lanky and long fighter, who looks to use his reach, so I know I'll have to close the distance and work inside a lot. I need to get close, remain in punching distance, and then beat him up.
“Overall, I need to remain active and out-work him in all areas of the fight. Stephan will look to keep me at the end of his reach and not allow me the chance to get inside and get my shots off. We both know what we need to do in order to win and the winner will be the guy that has learned and built on the mistakes from the first fight. We're both going to have to get a little smarter this time around.”
Don't mistake intelligence for caution. While both may choose to engage their brain a little more on Saturday night, one finds it hard to believe Soszynski and Bonnar could ever be anything but exciting.