Daniel Herbertson, MMA Fighting
It was boredom from his first love that made veteran kickboxer Tyrone Spong decide to seriously pursue an MMA career.
"For a long period I wasn't really that motivated with kickboxing," said the 27-year-old Dutch-Surinamese kickboxer. "K-1 was going bad. I had accomplished so much in kickboxing … but just lost the motivation a little bit.
"But then I came here (U.S.) and helped Rashad Evans for his camp and started training in other stuff like wrestling and jiu-jitsu. Just going to the gym every day I got my motivation back, and I said I'd give it a try. I liked it. I can stand with everyone. I just need to work on my ground game. I like the challenge and I want to do it."
Spong makes his MMA debut Nov. 3 when he takes on Travis Bartlett in a light heavyweight bout in the inaugural World Series of Fighting event at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
Initially Spong was not scheduled to be part of the NBC Sports Network-televised card, but officials confirmed this week he would be on TV.
"I know I'm not the world's best MMA fighter, but I am one of the world's best fighters. A lot people are going to tune in to watch me fight. It makes sense," Spong said.
"A fighter with status like me deserves to be on the main card I believe, without being cocky or anything. End of day I don't care, I just want to fight. If you get hit on television or off television it's still going to hurt."
Spong was considering making his debut with Titan Fighting Championship, but WSOF president Ray Sefo came calling — again.
"The contract with Titan was not done yet, this was better for me. Both parties agreed it was better. And we just made a decision," said Spong, who said his contract is for a "couple fights."
"I know the president of WSOF very well. He was the one who contacted me first when I moved to the states. I didn't hear from him in a long time so I didn't know if everything was happening with the organization or if it was going to fall through. Then I heard from him and he said everything is set up, and we still want you."
Spong admits he knows very little about his opponent, but says that doesn't really factor in his normal training plans anyway.
"I think he's talented. But like always I focus on myself, make sure I'm ready, make sure I feel good," he said. "I'm not planning to play anybody's game."
Spong — who has a career kickboxing record of 68-6-1 and 1 no-contest — says he's not giving up on kickboxing, but is "going to dabble" in both sports in the future.
"As for now I’m not going to make the switch completely," he said. "I make good money in kickboxing. Yeah we're pride fighters; everyone talks about how we fight for honor and respect and everything — yeah that's great. But you still have to eat, take care of your kids.
"Kickboxing gives me the opportunity to do both. To make good money in kickboxing and to build up a record in MMA and get some experience in MMA. Then we'll see what happens."
The one thing Spong hasn't wrapped his mind around is way kickboxing itself isn't better received in the U.S.
"I think it's stupid, I really don't understand. It's something about American culture. I haven't figured it out yet," Spong said. "At all the UFC (events), you see the people, the crowds, the audience they start booing when guys go to the ground, when they wrestle a lot or do jiu-jitsu. But then they start applauding and yelling a lot when they stand and strike and bang. I don't know if it's the ring or the Octagon or the small gloves. I don't know what it is.
"People in the states like to see guys bang it out, but at the same time kickboxing isn't that popular. Kickboxing is all about striking and people standing and trading and banging it out. I don't understand."
But he believes that if higher-profile kickboxers, like him, continue to come and train and fight in America — then they can help to change people's perspective.
"Maybe it will become bigger in the future. I'm here now if other big kickboxers move here and American people get to know us a little more, then maybe it becomes bigger and more popular here," he said.
While he hasn't even made his debut yet, Spong said he has heard other MMA organizations are interested in him, but first off he wants to focus on solidifying his skills.
"I know for sure that some big organizations are going to start knocking on my door. They want me already, but I still want to have a little bit of a record and build up some experience," Spong said.
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