BONJASKY attacks, SPONG responds
With flying knees as his trademark attack it is no surprise that Remy Bonjasky (77-15, 40 KO's) was labeled ‘The Flying Dutchman’ when he broke out onto the world scene.
But the Suriname-born heavyweight soon amended his nickname, declaring himself to be ‘The Flying Gentleman’ because of his fashionable sense of style and his almost old-school manners.
Inside the ring and out, Bonjasky is sleek. There is a symmetry between the precision of his fighting style and the way he is always so carefully groomed and well-presented outside the ring. He is unusually polished and polite for a professional fighter.
Even his voice is smooth as, showered and changed after a hard training session, he leans back in his leather chair to talk about his Saturday March 23 showdown with young contender Tyrone Spong (68-6-1 42 KO's). The fight will headline GLORY 5 at the ExCel Arena, London.
“When it was first offered I immediately said yes; why not? He is a strong, young guy who wants to get to the top and test himself against the best. And now he has the chance.” Bonjasky smiles, like a businessman discussing a particularly pleasing transaction.
“I think a few years ago when he was at 80 kilograms (176 pounds), he was the best in the world at that weight class. He was very fast and very fluid, but now he is 20 kilos (220 pounds) heavier and he has lost a lot of that.
“He has lost a lot of speed and his combinations are not as sharp. I think he lost a lot of his kickboxing, if you know what I mean? He has gained power and weight but I think that has been at the expense of his art a little bit.”
Kickboxing critics suggest that one of Bonjasky’s main advantages over his opponents has been his speed and his catlike reflexes. But these are also key advantages that Spong has over many of his own opponents. With Spong being the younger man - Remy is 37, Spong is 27 - does that mean Bonjasky’s assets have been negated?
“He is younger than me and maybe quicker, yes. But I have a lot of experience so the longer the fight goes the better it is for me. He will get slower. I am a natural heavyweight - I was 105 kilos in 2009, I am 105 kilos today,” Bonjasky reasons.
“So I am used to carrying this weight, I don’t think Spong is. Not long ago he was 80 kilograms and then he went into some, er, special diet, to get bigger for the heavyweight fights.”
Spong is on an upward curve right now and is gathering a lot of attention, particularly in the US market thanks to his association with the ‘Blackzilians’ MMA team in Florida. But Spong saw his Blackzilian team mate Alistair Overeem knocked out at UFC 156 this past weekend. Will that have done anything to knock his own confidence? Bonjasky is undecided.
“I didn’t watch it yet but I heard about the result. It was a crack in the teeth for Alistair eh? I think if you have guys from the same team fighting on the same card and your team mate loses, it can either motivate you or it can crush you. It goes either way,” Bonjasky shrugs.
Unlike his younger adversary, Bonjasky is a three-time winner of the K-1 Grand Prix and as such has achieved more than most kickboxers can even dream of. But he still feels like he has much to prove, particularly in light of his performance in the GLORY Heavyweight Grand Slam which took place on New Year’s Eve in Tokyo, Japan.
The groundbreaking 16-man tournament had a special format, with two-minute rounds in the early stages and a ‘Best of Three’ rule which allowed fighters who won the first two rounds of the right to be declared the winner without the need to fight the third round.
Bonjasky won his first fight but was then eliminated in the quarter-finals by Jamal Ben Saddik. Looking back, he is not at all happy about his performance that night.
“That was one of the worst days of my career. I think maybe the worst of my career. If you look at my career and all my tournament fights, it was terrible in comparison. Everything went well in the preparation, I was in good condition and I was being grumpy at home, which is usually a sign things are going well and I am in fight mode,” he says.
“Even the day before the event I was fine, I felt really good. Then when I was in the venue warming up, I started to feel bad. I felt like I was losing power and during the first fight I could just feel that it wasn’t going to be my night.
“I think its a good format for the knockout fighters. They go out there and they try to finish the guy in the first round or the second round with some big punch,” he adds.
“But for the technical fighters, we don’t try to finish the guy until later in the fight usually. We break you down hit by hit and then we look to make the opening for a head kick or something in round three. But, yeah I would do it again, one hundred percent.”
At the end of the night, one man was left standing amidst the carnage - giant karate stylist Semmy Schilt. He beat four consecutive opponents, including a head kick KO of highly-favored Daniel Ghita, to take the the $400,000 grand prize.
“Its to be expected. Semmy has the height, the weight, the reach,” Bonjasky sighs.
“But its not just size, he also has the skills with it. If you look at someone like Hong Man Choi, the Korean, he is a similar size to Semmy but he doesn’t have the same skill so he isn’t a threat. Or Bob Sapp, he had the weight and the power but not the skill.
“But with Semmy, he has the size advantage and the skills. Its unfair really. I don’t think his results would be the same without the size and distance.”
After the tournament, Schilt said that he would be restricting himself to single fights from now on and would not be partaking in any more one-night tournaments. That news has been well received by his fellow fighters. They feel it opens the field up a bit.
However, Schilt retains the GLORY Heavyweight Championship. In April, Gokhan Saki and Daniel Ghita will headline GLORY 6 in Istanbul, Turkey with the winner getting a shot at the belt. Its a fight that Bonjasky is looking forward to almost as much as his own clash with Spong.
“Its a fantastic piece of matchmaking. Actually I am going to that event, I am going to be there just as a fan. There’s a heavyweight title shot on the line for the winner and these two guys are so good, they are at that contender level where they are top fighters but they didn’t win a major world belt yet,” he says.
“So I think the fight is going to be amazing. Semmy said that the Grand Slam was his last tournament so if that’s the case, I think 2013 is going to be a big year for Saki and Ghita.”
SPONG RESPONDS BONJASKY
It is early morning in Boca Raton, Florida and ‘The King of the Ring’ Tyrone Spong has just been out for a run, hitting the pavement early in the day to avoid the sweltering heat of the afternoon. The run concluded, he returns to the Imperial Athletics training center, home of The Blackzilians fight team, for another day of embracing the grind that all fighters must go through if they want to become a champion.
Spong has won belts and titles aplenty over the years but now, aged 27, he has established himself as a heavyweight contender. Having recently signed to GLORY, the world’s new premier kickboxing league, he wants to earn himself a title shot as soon as possible. But it will be a hard road, and the journey will begin on March 23 in London, England when he faces the three-time K-1 Grand Prix winner Remy Bonjasky.
“I think its a really big fight. Its going to be a great fight. The fans have been really enthusiastic about it and they are really looking forward to it. I am trying to build my own legacy and I see it as a great challenge. I am not much of a talker, I let my actions speak for themselves. He is a big name in the sport, I like the challenge, lets see what happens,” Spong says as he sits down to talk about his GLORY debut.
“Styles make fights and we will only see when we are in the ring exactly how we match up. But I think that I have a pretty all-round style - I can punch, I can kick, I can use my knees, everything. Flying knees too, if I want. With Remy its mostly kicks, people say that his boxing isn’t that great. But still, he knocked down a lot of great opponents, a lot of big champions, so its going to be interesting.”
Bonjasky’s trademark attack is the flying knee; does Spong have one of those in his repertoire as well? “Sure. I like training everything and I am blessed that I can do most of the techniques. Most things I train, I can master. Including the flying knee,” he smiles.
He declares himself to be “not much of a talker” and so Spong rarely gets into the kind of trash-talk exchanges which other fighters seem to relish in. But today he has been reading comments Bonjasky made in a recent interview and he has some responses he wants to make.
Bonjasky has declared Spong to be “not a natural heavyweight” and is of the opinion that he has lost speed and skill on his way up the weight categories. Bonjasky has also speculated about the possible impact on Spong of seeing his Blackzilians team mates Alistair Overeem and Rashad Evans lose their fights at the UFC 156 event earlier this month.
“On March 23 we will get in there and we will see who is fast and who is not. We will see who lost skill and who did not. I don’t like to talk too much, but we will see on the night who is better.”
In April, top-ranked heavyweights Daniel Ghita and Gokhan Saki will clash in Istanbul, the capital city of Saki’s Turkish spiritual home. The winner of that fight is likely to get a title shot against GLORY’s heavyweight world champion, Semmy Schilt. That might seem like a dubious prize to some, but Spong also wants to place himself in the queue to fight Schilt.
“I am looking to make a big upset. I am actually looking forward to fighting Semmy. I like challenges. I’m a crazy guy. He is big and everything but I like to test myself. Most people want to avoid him but I am different, I’m just different. I need challenges to motivate myself,” he explains.
However, it is possible that the title could be in different hands by the time Spong earns a shot at the belt. it depends on whether the winner of Saki vs. Ghita is able to take the belt from the giant karate fighter currently holding it. This contender elimination fight has excited the fanbase worldwide and Spong is one of them.
“Its going to be a brutal fight and a knockout. Daniel Ghita made a lot of progression in the last year and a half but Saki also is very skilled. Its going to be a very tough fight and its a 50-50 fight but if I had to pick one of them, I would say Saki,” he says.
This is the year the Amsterdam native wants to make an eternal mark on the fight game. At the same time as he is planning to take a run at the GLORY heavyweight championship, the most prestigious title in kickboxing, he is also venturing into mixed martial arts. Spong recently debuted for the World Series of Fighting mixed martial arts organization. Ironically, WSOF is owned by kickboxing legend Ray Sefo; he and Spong fought in 2010.
“Honestly it doesn’t matter to me, a fight is a fight. I enjoy both sets of rules. I enjoy the adrenaline rush, waiting out to the ring and getting it over with, making a war. I train in jiu jitsu, with a gi and without a gi, but I don’t like being on my back,” he says.
“World Series Of Fighting just signed a deal with NBC and they are looking forward to putting me on most of the shows. So I am looking forward to that and its going to be a big year in MMA and in kickboxing. I am looking forward to the opportunities that are coming up.
“Its going to be my year, 2013. You hear that number, thirteen? Its a bad number. So that means its a good year for the bad guy!”