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Meet the conductor of KSW’s electric light orchestra, Maciej Kawulski

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KSW

In modern day mixed martial arts, nobody puts on a show like Polish powerhouse, KSW.

It’s been 15 years since the promotion’s first event, but now more than ever, the Eastern European organization is cultivating a strong international imprint.

KSW is the brainchild of Martin Lewandowski and Maciej Kawulski. Two avid MMA fans, they put their heads together to create the brand after they met while working in a hotel. Although Lewandowski has been the more prominent face of the organization in terms of media and public relations, Kawulski is every bit as instrumental as his co-founder.

“When you have a relationship with someone for 15 years, it usually doesn’t look like it did at the beginning. It’s almost like when you meet a girl; first you want to do everything with this person, then you have love. Maybe you used to spend a lot of time with the person, but that might change,” Kawulski playfully told MMA Fighting when asked about the relationship between the business partners.

“Business relationships are quite similar. In the beginning it was a fascination we had because we had the same idea. After 15 years, we’re still business partners and we do the same job, but the most important thing is that we still have the same idea we had since the beginning. We want to popularize MMA in Poland and in this part of Europe and that’s what’s still keeping us together after 15 years.”

Nothing has underlined what KSW means to the Polish public more so than the promotion’s goliath “Colosseum” show, KSW 39, which saw nearly 58,000 people attend the event at the Polish national stadium. In comparison, the promotion’s first event in 2004 had a crowd of just 300 in the rafters.

And it’s not just the fights that perk the interest of the watching world, it’s the spectacle of the events themselves. From the public weigh-in ceremonies backed by a Nu-Metal cover band to their stunning opening ceremonies, KSW’s goal is to get the non-MMA fans attention, while also catering to the diehard’s sensibilities.

“We have a different kind of MMA, I’m talking about the production side of things. We are not minimizing our show by putting on events in every corner of the world, like UFC does. We prepare everything very well, and I feel as though each show is different from the others. I think that’s why people recognize KSW in different parts of the world; each show has a different story,” explained Kawulski.

“Poland is a difficult market. The U.S. has ten times more people than we do. We have to spend a lot of money to promote to do something big in this country. We have to be bigger in Poland than the UFC is in the United States, and actually it is. We are more mainstream in Poland than the UFC is in the United States.

“How do you do that? You have to give people more than just MMA. Normal people don’t just want to come to watch fights, they want to see a show. That’s why we want to put together the package of a show and the sport. This is the recipe of our success in Europe.”

KSW

Ask anyone that’s employed by KSW who is responsible for the promotion’s production and epic opening spectacles, and they’ll tell you it’s Maciej Kawulski. However, the KSW creator doesn’t want to take all the credit.

“This is a collective work, I don’t want to say that it’s my idea. I’m the guy that’s responsible for the direction of the trailers, teasers and grand openings, I’m kind of the creative guy for the promotion. But this is a collective job, we’ve got about 100 people working everyday for trailers and different things,” he said.

“We have a studio in-house, so we don’t need to use people from the movies or different businesses to do things for us. Everything we create is made by us, we have an A-to-Z production and that’s a big asset. Many people work on these projects; not just one or two people. To do something big like we always do, it has to be a collective job.”

Kawulski’s direction skills have led him to the silver screen. His motion picture debut, Underdog, was released early this year and starred KSW legend, Mamed Khalidov.

His attention to detail is so thorough that you could miss some of the elements he has reimagined from the typical combat sports scenarios. As he explained, even the fighter announcements at KSW events have been crafted to allow the casual viewer to get more involved with the fights.

“We have different style of announcing, we bring the fighters from the stage to the ring in a unique way and we have a different way of using teasers. For example, our announcements are backed by music. Usually, in MMA and boxing, there is music as a fighter makes his way to the ring and they wait while the announcer is doing his job. Our announcer is introducing the fighters as their entrance music is playing. As soon as the fighters meet in the middle of the cage they’re fighting. I think we have the best way for people who aren’t diehard MMA fans. If you’re not a big fan of MMA and you want to give it a try, for your first time it’s best to try with KSW. I think we can make you feel the fight more,” said Kawulski.

“Usually announcers are telling the crowd about the fighters’ weight, how long they’ve fought, what’s their record…instead he talks about the lifestyle of the fighter. He’s talking about things that you can’t see on a sheet full of statistics, he’s telling you things about the fighters that you wouldn’t know. That’s a lot more interesting to normal people.”

While there is undoubtedly a lot of time, effort and money spent on the show element of KSW, you’d be wrong if you thought that Kawulski glows with pride every time someone compliments the organization for it. As far as he’s concerned, the show is just an instrument to make the people engage with the fights.

“I feel good when people talk about the fights. When people talk about the production and opening ceremonies, this is just something that adds to the fight. We’re doing this because we want to show MMA to the biggest audience possible, to get people interested in fights. I’m not really happy when people talk about our big production, I prefer when they say, ‘Man, that fight was great!’ When people tell me that, I know that every other part of the production has done its job. For me, MMA is still about fighting. The rest of it is just our expression of the fight game.”

KSW

KSW is receiving international plaudits for its production and showmanship, but one topic that’s rarely broached is the amount of talent the promotion has on its books. Croatia’s Roberto Soldic and France’s Salahdine Parnasse are two of the most highly touted prospects in the international sport at the moment, double champion Mateusz Gamrot is undoubtedly one of the best fighters in Europe, but there still seems to be a lack of acknowledgement when it comes to the roster.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years, we have had lots of different reactions—I remember when we first started trying to do pay-per-view in Europe, that was a big shock to people. People would tell us, ‘This should be free!’ We had to explain to the people that we needed some money to produce a first-class show and first-class fighters. We were a huge target for criticism in the past, it’s nothing new to me,” he said.

“What I will say is: there is no difference between UFC fighters and KSW fighters. UFC has more fighters, but that’s all. UFC has more shows, that’s all. The level of the fighters is the same. As a promoter, all you can do is match two guys together that you think will make for a good fight; the rest of it is in the fighters’ hands. Our last show had eight or nine fights and only one decision. The first five fights were all knockouts, I don’t remember a UFC show that was like that.”

Soldic is set to defend his welterweight crown in the co-main event of KSW 49 on Saturday against Polish undefeated outlier, Krystian Kaszubowski. In the main event, Polish legend Michal Materla looks for revenge against Scott Askham when they clash for Mamed Khalidov’s recently vacated middleweight crown. As far as Kawulski is concerned, this card caters to the diehard MMA fan.

“I feel like this KSW 49 card is a little bit different. We have made many fighters Polish heroes over the years, but for this event, the fights are the hero. We have five or six fights that are hugely important to the Polish fans. I fee like this is more of a sport card. I feel like this card is for the MMA fans, but as always there will be many people tuning in for the first time and many coming to their first event, so I think we can make a lot of new MMA fans with this show.”

With such astronomical growth from 2004 to 2019, Kawulski attempted to forecast where the KSW brand would be in 2034.

“I hope we’ll be in the same position, but in a bigger market,” he said. “We don’t really feel like we have to get bigger and bigger, but we want to have the same imprint in Europe as we do in Poland. All we want to do is show the world our product; to show them KSW’s version of MMA.”