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Kickboxing stud Sadibou Sy shooting for an MMA coming out party at PFL 3

Sadibou Sy takes on Bruno Santos at PFL 3.
PFL

The name may not immediately ring a bell, but if you’re a hardcore fight aficionado, there’s a good chance you already know Sadibou Sy. The Muay Thai convert inadvertently landed in the MMA news cycle a few years back for a viral round of cage justice doled out at a 2016 regional show in Stockholm, Sweden. After already venturing into Diaz-esque territory at weigh-ins, opponent David Round inexplicably felt it wise to taunt Sy following a blocked head kick just 30 seconds into the match. The dare was clear: ‘Kick me again, sucker.’ So Sy obliged. Mere seconds later, Sy sauntered off while the dazed instigator crawled around on the canvas floor, a comically cathartic moment delivered by a kickboxing lifer.

Shared online by all-timers like Urijah Faber and Cris Cyborg, the ‘he got what was coming to him’ clip instantly bounced around the MMA space, giving Sy his first true introduction to the game’s global stage. But that was just a taste.

Less than two years later, Sy (6-2) is hoping to make a bigger splash as an entrant in the million-dollar inaugural middleweight season hosted by the Professional Fighters League. He’ll make his promotional debut this coming Thursday in an opening round matchup against UFC veteran Bruno Santos at PFL 3, and for the lanky Swede, the opportunity to take the next step in his combat sports career is one long in the making.

“For me, it felt like the perfect storm at the perfect time,” Sy told MMA Fighting ahead of PFL 3, “because I’ve been evolving in my MMA game so much. I’ve been training hard and really getting ready for an opportunity like this.

“It finally feels like, okay, this is it. Now I’m fighting at the level that I want to be fighting at. And no disrespect to the organizations that I’ve been fighting for, but there’s levels, and I’m so happy to be taking a step up. Absolutely, it’s amazing.”

A 6-foot-2 middleweight with rangy strikes, ridiculous fast-twitch skills, and long, deceptively adaptable kicks, Sy stumbled into fighting almost by accident.

TBT to 2012 #muaythai #kickboxing

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Growing up in the sleepy Swedish suburb of Bergshamra, he was raised to be a soccer player to the core, one of seven children in an athletic family that had deep Senegalese roots. But his dreams changed overnight at the age of 15. Bored after the politics of youth soccer forced him to find a new competitive club team, he ventured into a neighborhood martial arts gym on a whim with a friend. Immediately, he was blown away.

“After that, I forgot all about football,” Sy says, laughing. “Like, instantly. It was so surreal.”

Very quickly, Sy found that he was a natural.

Despite seldom getting into street fights as a youngster, he had an innate ability to find holes in the tightest of windows, and developed a flashy style that often left foes separated from the their consciousness. He became obsessed with the nuances of the striking arts.

“I just fought on instinct,” Sy says. “Like, I had no plan going in, and it was so much fun. No pressure. Just go in and have fun, right? Then after a couple of years, my coach was like, ‘Yeah, so, the European championships are coming up.’ And at that point, it all became serious. ‘What, European championships? I’m going to compete against other countries? I can’t fight against these guys.’ At that point, because I had so much trust in him, I told him, ‘Listen, if you think that I’m ready.’ He knows me and I know him — if he wants to put me there, he believes I’m going to win it. Right?

“Man, I went there and it was easy. Easy, easy. So after that I was like, okay, I think I found something. I think I have something here.”

From there, the train for Sy’s martial arts journey was rolling, and it wasn’t ever returning to the station.

Over the ensuing decade, the now 31-year-old Swede traveled the world compiling over 70 kickboxing and Muay Thai contests, accumulating a trophy case full of gold, and losing only five matches. At one point he was part of the Swedish National Team in both disciplines. Remy Bonjasky was his favorite fighter, the one he styled himself after most, and like “The Flying Gentleman,” an assortment of flying kicks and knee strikes filled his toolbox.

Sy never had grand designs of translating his skills into an MMA cage, but today, he wonders if subconsciously it was almost his plan from the start. Always too small to be truly competitive at heavyweight, it eventually grew harder and harder to find top-flight opportunities at his ideal weight class. However opportunities were abound in mixed martial arts, especially with an exploding Scandinavian scene, so in 2013 Sy decided to make the part-time move to the other side of the game.

He booked his MMA debut despite having no wrestling or grappling experience whatsoever, and enlisted the coaches at Pancrase Gym Sweden to get him up to scratch.

In retrospect, Sy had no idea what he was getting himself into.

“Today, when I say it to myself today, it sounds so stupid, because that was the mindset I had. ‘Alright, so I’m going to learn takedown defense, maybe two months, then I’ll have one month to [put it all together],’” Sy says. “Now, looking back at the conversation, oh my God. It was like, ‘Yeah, great, great. We should have started yesterday.’ And I won that fight, but I still — when I look at it now, it’s so funny. Like, I had no clue about the wrestling or anything like that.

“So it was just like when I started with kickboxing and Muay Thai, I had things to obsess about, right? Because now I was like the kid that started to learn things again. In kickboxing and Muay Thai, I didn’t feel like, ‘Alright, I’m done. I can’t learn anything anymore.’ But it wasn’t the same, especially when you learn grappling and wrestling, stuff like that. It was so much more to learn. So I got like a new spark, even though I didn’t even need it. It was just all-around amazing, and since then, even though I have gotten a lot of fight opportunities for GLORY and other organizations like that, I’ve been like, you know what, right now I’m doing this, MMA, and that’s where my heart’s at right now.”

Sy has done well in his new endeavor.

With six wins in eight fights, four of which ended by way of knockout, he has gradually acclimated himself to the nuances of MMA. He now considers the sport to be his full-time passion, to the point where he emptied out his trophy case in fear of a sense of complacency setting in as a result of his past accomplishments in the ring.

“I don’t have a medal at home. I have nothing left. I just gave it away, because I don’t want to look at it like, ‘Ah, this was great,’” Sy says. “After, when I finish fighting, I can look back. Now, I can’t look at it and be satisfied, because that’s not going to help me tomorrow, right?

“That’s the past. Of course, I’m happy because of everything, because both the wins and losses brought me to where I’m at today, but I’m just trying to focus on, ‘Okay, what can I do right now to make me better?’ And looking at my trophies is not going to make me better. It’s not going to give me a sense of security. It might give me a false sense of security. What’s going to give me the [real] security is training hard and going into the fight knowing that I did everything that I was supposed to do. So that’s where my focus is right now.”

After biding his time on the European regional scene for the past several years, Sy sees PFL 3 as his chance to prove he’s no longer the one-dimensional kickboxer he was when he started. If his viral goodness against Round served as his introduction to the MMA world, he hopes the upcoming million-dollar PFL season will serve as his coming out party. And though Santos may carry a mammoth edge in MMA experience — having competed at the highest stages of the sport with the UFC, Bellator, WSOF, and more — Sy is no stranger to a old-fashioned throwdown himself.

Just ask Round, who after getting embarrassed in Stockholm, sent Sy a photo of his limb in a cast with the admission: ‘You broke my arm with the first kick.’

“I’m not looking at [Santos’] record and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s good,’ or, ‘Oh, that’s bad,’ because, to be honest, I haven’t fought him and he hasn’t fought me,” Sy says.

“I believe that he’s going to have problems with the distance, and I believe that he’s going to be gun-shy, because I believe that my style and things that I do are unorthodox and make you wonder, ‘Okay, what’s coming now?’ So it can go three rounds, it can go 15 seconds. I’m ready either way, and I feel really, really good for this fight.”