Allow me to set the scene: Two hulking men are hooked up to various medical monitors in a mad scientist’s lab. While the monitors beep and boop, the scientist approaches the camera and begins rambling about how “science has for many years sought an algorithm for predicting the future.” As he continues, his two physical specimens proceed to lift fake weights and tires on a futuristic soundstage, dropping them from overhead so that they bounce like basketballs after they hit the hardwood. One of them, the taller and thinner of the two, is compared to a “dragster car” (the video cuts to stock footage of a dragster), while the other is described as a “multipurpose monster truck” (the video cuts to stock footage of a monster truck).
The reason for this scientist’s lengthy monologue, which will apparently settle once and for all the “power equals work divided by time question,” is to get viewers excited about an impending MMA main event between champion strongman Mariusz Pudzianowski and Olympic weightlifting legend Szymon Kołecki.
It’s never mentioned that neither is much of a mixed martial artist, or that both lost their last fights, because who cares? As Mac from It’s Always Sunny… would remind us, this is about the mass that’s staring us right in the face. Heck, the scientist cites that as the spectacle’s chief selling point — “what will happen when these two vehicles accelerate into each other?” In other words, the actual match will likely devolve into an uncoordinated disasterpiece of windmilling punches and sloppy takedowns by a pair of has-been jocks.
That, of course, doesn’t bother me in the least. The promotional video is the stuff of my wildest dreams. The same goes for plenty of other fight fans.
You see, Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki, KSW for short and “Martial Arts Confrontation” in English, doesn’t mess around when it comes to promoting its superfights. The company, which has employed the likes of 400-pound toughman boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch and towering ex-NFL player Bob Sapp while building its brand around five-time “World’s Strongest Man” Pudzianowski, has certainly become my go-to choice for “freak show” fights between washed-up tomato cans and overmatched neophytes from other pro sports. Its 47th major event, dubbed The X-Warriors, happens on March 23rd in Łódź, Poland, and has been promoted with batshit crazy teaser videos (like the one described above) that blow the WWE and UFC out of the water.
“Sweet lord, check out that stock footage of the monster truck,” says Capitol Wrestling promoter Marcus Dowling when I subject him to the hype video for Pudzianowski and Kołecki. “This is Wrestling 101.”
“KSW is awesome when it comes to using pro-wrestling promotion better than any current pro-wrestling company,” tweeted long-time wrestling journalist David Meltzer last year. “I’ve shown the stuff to some of the smartest guys in current business and they are blown away by it. People who study them won’t be the ones behind the curve next generation.”
I’ve studied Martin Lewandowski and Maciej Kawulski’s upstart MMA promotion in detail since I got hooked by 2017’s KSW 39: Coliseum, an over-the-top extravaganza that attracted 58,000 fans to the National Stadium in Warsaw — the second highest attendance total in MMA history, behind only 2002’s Pride FC: Shockwave, which drew 91,000 fans to the Tokyo National Stadium. Both Shockwave and Coliseum had off-the-wall co-main events, with Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira submitting to the mammoth Sapp in the former and KSW fixture Pudzianowski punching out fellow strongman Tyberiusz Kowalczyk in the latter.
“Knowledgeable spectators might prefer technical matches between elite-level equals, but how many spectators of any event anywhere are truly ‘experts’ or ‘connoisseurs?’” says Ben Labe, a business analyst I ask to evaluate KSW’s gonzo product.
Personally speaking, what draws my non-expert eye to these spectacles is size — that is, the extremely large men throwing fists (and legs and everything else, really). The UFC’s 265-pound limit on its heavyweights denies all of us the chance to watch men like 5-foot-10, 400-pound Alexander Lungu slip and fall on top of their foes.
KSW maintains a formal 265-pound cap for its heavyweight title as well, but it ignores that limit when booking high-profile super heavyweight catchweight bouts — such as the one in 2010 between Butterbean and Pudzianowski. Pudzianowski was in the process of transitioning to MMA after a legendary career in strength sports and chasing easy victories against aging name opponents to pad his record. “By this point in my career, my knees and hips were shot, and I fell down right away,” says Butterbean, who at the time was 44 and well over 400 pounds. (The Krakow Post described him as a “globe of pale flesh.”) “It was an entertaining main event for the fans even though it didn’t last long. Mariusz couldn’t hit very hard, but he was one of the strongest guys I’ve ever met. I got paid, and Mariusz, who was just starting out, got a win that he needed.”
“If you go through [KSW’s] entire YouTube channel and note the unique way they branded each event… I can’t believe it,” says Labe. “There’s a video for KSW 44 that introduces the fighters as video-game characters. I don’t even know who these people are, and I don’t care, but I’m interested in whatever this silly storyline is — the same way I’m interested in the colorful characters of Super Smash Bros. And honestly, based on the highlight reels they post, it does appear that there are some competitive matches mixed in, which are likely enjoyable for people who follow this sport in a way I don’t.”
To Labe’s first point, KSW has helped incubate strong UFC contenders like light heavyweight Jan Błachowicz (himself recently kayoed by Thiago Santos in crushing style). But I couldn’t care less about Błachowicz, a somewhat tedious technician with a suspect chin, because the virtues of his plodding technique are lost on me. No, give me reigning heavyweight champ Phil De Fries, a 32-year-old, 270-pound English-born fighter who went 2-3 in the UFC but engaged in some good KSW brawls with fellow English strongman Oli Thompson and lumbering perennial loser Brett “Da Grim” Rogers. De Fries, whose fights usually end well before the final bell, finds himself in a lopsided “unification bout” at KSW 47 against reigning light heavyweight champion Tomasz Narkun, another boring fighter who scored a decision victory over Mamed Khalidov at KSW 46.
The video produced to market De Fries’ showdown against Narkun, which would otherwise hold scant appeal for me even if presented as a main event, is another minor miracle. The same scientist from the first video returns to ramble about how “force equals mass times acceleration, and if both objects are able to generate the same acceleration, then [De Fries] will strike with greater force, with a punching force equal to the collision of a Fiat 126p at 50 kilometers per hour.” This utter nonsense, overlaid with shots of De Fries and Narkun punching jet-black crash-test dummies, reduces the entire affair to the same question that has dogged my life to date: mass.
“But the advantage of [De Fries] may be evened out by the set of attributes [Narkun] has gained by being smaller, such as a stronger-beating heart.” Then, flashing a cryptic smile, the scientist adds, “What can I say, nature abhors a vacuum?”
The intended meaning of all this silliness is beside the point. Sure, KSW has champions and challengers, and it ranks its contenders the same way any other generic fight promotion does. But in the end, the rankings don’t add up to much. Which is more than fine. After all, it’s those spectacular vignettes that can’t be beat.