In the grand scheme of things, it’s a little surprising that Mariusz Pudzianowski — Poland’s cult icon who won the World’s Strongest Man competition five times — is still fighting in MMA. When he debuted nearly 10 years ago at KSW 12 against Marcin Najman, it was a novelty of eye-popping proportions, a chance to see a guy with veins the size of ropes try and use that expansive power to darken somebody’s day.
And why not?
Back then, lots of big men were entertaining the idea of competing in MMA, and some of them were even doing it. Shaquille O’Neal was flirting with a fight against Hong Man Choi. Jose Canseco actually did fight Choi in Japan, and got his ass handed to him somewhat unceremoniously. Eric “Butterbean” Esch, boxing’s beloved globe-shaped figure, was taking MMA fights anywhere from Laredo to Fort McMurray, and handing out occasional whoopings. And of course Brock Lesnar successfully segued from the WWE to the UFC, and began breaking pay-per-view records.
Pudzianowski was among that initial wave of colossi who were testing a new market from wherever it was that gained them fame. With the exception of Lesnar, all the aforementioned have long since retired or given up the fancy to fight in a cage. Yet “Pudzian” remains. He takes on Szymon Kolecki on Saturday at KSW 47, in what will be his 20th pro fight. His record since beating Najman is a respectable 12-6 (1 NC).
Nobody could have predicted that Mariusz Pudzianowski — the guy who is built like a cartoon villain — would continue fighting so long that he’d be celebrating milestones.
“For me, it’s not like 10 years,” Pudzianowski told MMA Fighting this week. “When I started it, I thought it would be something short — something that wouldn’t last that long. I’m kind of surprised that I’ve fought for 10 years and that I’m still active. I want to go on competing.”
Granted, there’s a B-movie flare to what Pudzianowski has achieved — a kind of campy appeal here in the States that comes with fighting guys like Esch and Sean McCorkle (not once, but twice). But in Poland? Pudzian is a rock star. He is a burbling beaker of human awe, not unlike what Hulk Hogan was in the 1980s-90s for the WWF. When Pudzianowski is on the card, the marquee means something. The light shows are dialed in. The feel of an “event” is in there air, with a magnitude that doesn’t diminish through wins and losses.
Being the specimen is the thing. The specimen that at 42 years old remains the face of KSW. It’s the specimen that sells, but hates doing media. When he does, he usually speaks in exaggerated terms, using words like “ambulance” and “cold-blooded” — you know, terms that excite the sense of side-reality doom, which says a lot without saying anything.
For instance, when asked about his last fight, which he lost via Kimura in the first round against Karol Bedorf at KSW 44: “Well this time Karol was better, he was cold-blooded and he deserved to win — he was better that night.”
The other thing is that Pudzianowski — and KSW, for that matter — likes to play up is that Herculean strength. You will know he’s a former “Strongman” within seconds of any conversation surrounding him. When people around the promotion talk about his power, they may as well be talking about somebody who routinely chucks pianos out of fifth-floor walkups. Whoever is unfortunate enough to be standing in the way is going to get smashed. And during the tale of the tape, it’s not uncommon to see Pudzianowski kiss his own biceps with an intimacy that borders on profane.
For his fight against Kolecki, a fellow Polish fighter who will have a small faction in Lodz on Saturday, Pudzian’s best sales pitch sounds like a pamphlet on roulette (with fine print).
“I expect that in the first two minutes we’ll throw bombs and if anything connects from myself or from [Kolecki], it will be a knockout,” he says. “But if the fight goes a little bit longer it may change into a chess match, one of us will out-strategize the other.”
The marvel is that Pudzianowski hasn’t just survived 10 years fighting in MMA, it’s that he has carried his celebrity into other sectors of recognition. It’s thought that he’s a top-five most recognizable figure in Poland, and he continues to be a fascination — on many levels — globally. Back in the day, when he was winning the Strongman competitions, his feats were being aired to over 100 countries worldwide. Those countries are in the very least aware of him, in the way they are aware of Elvis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
For Poland, he is a celebrated national figure who continues to perform. Everything is exaggerated about his fights in the best way possible. “These guys are so big you could show a film on their backs,” the commentators said as he and Bedorf circled early in his last fight. In fact, they wear fully legible advertisements between their shoulder blades, where the letters move with the rolling of the muscles in the way the leather does from the rolling mechanisms within a massage chair.
“I don’t like to plan or expect a knockout, because if you are focused on just on knocking out your opponent it usually doesn’t work out that way,” he says. “It’s better to concentrate on your strategy and if the knockout comes, it comes naturally.”
That’s the best you’re going to get from MMA’s great secular giant, who successfully parlayed his world-class strongman status into the cage 10 years ago, and has just kept going. It’s a shame America only got to see him once before he tucked himself away in Poland, which occurred back at Moosin: God of Martial Arts in Worcester, MA in 2010. It was only Pudzianowski’s third pro fight, and he lost via a barrage of punches from former UFC champion Tim Sylvia in the second round. Because Sylvia had fallen so far from grace by that time, Pudzianowski was easily dismissed as another novelty on the scene.
If he is, he’s the kind of novelty that knows what the hell he’s doing. Speaking of burbling beakers, check out this promo clip for Saturday’s show and tell me KSW doesn’t know how to market its man.
It’s not only been a long, crazy ride for Pudzianowski, it’s been a surprising one. He is a lot of things — a spectacle with a right hand, a barge of humanity who flexes for fans wherever he goes, a strongman who has lived numerous lives, a cartoon villain, a lab experiment, a media-hating Bane — yet above all else, somehow, he is an MMA fighter.
All these years later.
How long does he plan to go on?
“It’s a tough question,” he says. “I actually don’t have a set date or a set age that I want to retire. As long as I’m active and able to compete, I want to continue doing it.”