KSW staff have managed to separate promotional heavyweight champion Philip De Fries from a game of Resident Evil long enough for him to conduct an interview ahead of his KSW 47 title defense and it’s startling how at ease the goliath Englishman is.
De Fries, a former UFC fighter, has made no secret of his battles with anxiety since signing for the European powerhouse. Since seeking help, he’s found himself on a four-fight winning streak and has taken out some of the biggest names in Poland to claim the promotion’s coveted gold strap.
Having effectively wiped the list of contenders clean in the maximum weight category, this weekend light heavyweight champion Tomasz Narkun will look to challenge De Fries. But before all of that, it’s KSW’s PR advisor Alan Murphy’s choice of video games that’s first in the firing line.
“Spiderman?” he asks of Murphy. “You big nerd. I don’t play kid’s games!”
It’s hard to argue with the declaration.
As a heavyweight, the margins for error are fractional and the opposition is most intimidating. De Fries remembers being in a state of “sheer terror” when he competed in the Octagon. In comparison, he now feels as though he has “superpowers” when he steps in the cage.
“I’ve got my head together now. That last fight…before I went in…it’s scary stuff. All that standing about, looking across from your opponent…I just thought, ‘You know what? I’m just going to f*ckin’ enjoy it.’ I just went out there and had a good time. This whole week has been like that. I still get spells of nerves, but I’m just having a good time more than anything.”
“It’s only four fights ago that I got treatment for my anxiety and I’ve got that beat now,” he continues. “I’ve only had four fights since then, so I feel like I’m growing with every fight. It’s not that scary anymore. I feel like I’ve started over. You may as well enjoy because it’s happening anyway, you know?”
Some of the biggest names that have fought for KSW have met their demise when facing off against either De Fries or Narkun. The light heavyweight champion comes into the contest on the back of two wins over one of the most legendary names that ever competed for the organization—Mamed Khalidov.
For De Fries, a win over Narkun would make him the main man under the famed banner.
“It’s a bit like Highlander, isn’t it? There can only be one. The Quickening can happen in the cage, you know?” he says, referencing the 1986 classic in which rival swordsmen can gain each other’s knowledge and experience by decapitating each other, an act known as “The Quickening”.
“It’s a great fight, but it wasn’t the fight that got initially booked. Tomasz wanted it, he pursued the fight, but I think he’s going to realize he’s made a big mistake when I’m on top of him smashing his face in.”
De Fries debuted with KSW as a marked underdog against Michal Andryszak, but after claiming another win over behemoth Karol Bedorf, the addition of Satoshi Ishii to the division—a man who holds a win over De Fries—shows the promotion’s intent to keep interesting opponents in front on the Englishman.
Ishii makes his KSW debut against former heavyweight champion Fernando Rodrigues Jr. this weekend, but to say that the Sunderland native is itching to set the record straight between them would be an enormous exaggeration.
“Ishii is one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet in your entire life,” recalls De Fries. “After our fight, he came out and he spent an awful lot of money on us, showed us the city [Tokyo] and he just came across as a really great guy.
“Fighting is business; it’s about making money. It is one I would love to run back, but I don’t think I’d ever call him out because he’s such a nice guy. It’s probably the logical fight for KSW to make next.”
At just 32 years of age, business is still booming for De Fries, especially when he looks at the ages of the fighters that are currently at the forefront of the international sport.
“I don’t know about that—my hair is falling out,” De Fries replies when I highlight how young he is in terms of his division. “Look at [Daniel] Cormier, he’s 40. Look at Aleksei Oleinik, I was only training with him, he’s 10 years my senior and he’s ranked No. 7 [in the UFC]. A heavyweight’s prime is 35 or 36 in my opinion.”
“I’m just getting back into the position where I can afford to visit the top gyms again,” he adds. “I’m growing again. I’m in at the deep end and I haven’t been in the deep end for quite a while. I feel like I’m going to start growing even more now, I’ll just keep getting better and better. The more I can invest in myself, the better I can be. I feel like I can fight for the No. 1 spot in the world some day.”
His quest to underline his place among the best heavyweights in the world continues with the Narkun fight on Saturday. Far from being the nervous challenger he was in the past, KSW’s heavyweight king continues to gain comfort in his own confidence.
“They always say that a good big guy will beat a good little guy, but I also think I’m better than the f*ckin’ guy,” De Fries explains. “I think all the cards are in my favor; I’ve got reach, size and everything. He is tricky, he’s tricky off his back, but apart from me making a mistake I don’t think he wins.
“Even if I do make a mistake…I’m too big…I’ll just turn him upside down and drop him on his head or something!”