It’s been nearly nine years since Tyrone Spong last competed in mixed martial arts but that will change on Friday night when the kickboxing legend returns to headline Eagle FC 44 from Miami.
With experience in several combat sports, Spong has bounced around a lot in his career but from 2015 through 2019, his sole focus was on boxing where he put together an impressive 14-0 record with 13 knockouts. His 15th fight was supposed to be the biggest of his career after Spong was contracted to face Oleksandr Usyk in a bout that could have potentially led to a title fight against one of the premiere champions in the sport at the time.
Sadly, Spong never got his chance after adverse findings in two drug tests performed by VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency) claimed he had trace amounts of the banned substance clomiphene in his system. The fight against Usyk was cancelled immediately but Spong was later exonerated after a third test was taken by VADA and another test administered by the Illinois State Athletic Commission both came back clean.
By that time, Spong had been pulled from the fight, Usyk went onto demolish late replacement Chazz Witherspoon, and less than two years later, he defeated Anthony Joshua to become the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight champion.
“Of course, I’m still upset but I’m not mad about it anymore,” Spong told MMA Fighting when addressing the Usyk fight that was taken away from him. “We all know what happened.
“In my opinion, I got robbed from a huge opportunity but it is what it is. You can’t make a lemon more sour than it already is. So it is what it is.”
Just a few months after that fight was supposed to take place, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Spong struggled to find many opportunities to compete anywhere regardless of the sport.
Even when events started to resume, Spong still couldn’t seem to get anybody to sign on the dotted line to face him, which only exacerbated his frustration as he tried to get active again.
“All I know is, and [my manager] Ali [Abdelaziz] could testify to this, whenever the f*cking phone goes and they get a call to face me, it doesn’t go that easy,” Spong said. “I think in the landscape right now, it’s a lot of pick and choose.
“I’m just cut from a different cloth. I never pick and choose my opponents. I took whatever option was in front of me as a challenge to compete and to prove myself right.”
While he was still focused on a return to boxing, Spong got a call from his manager pitching him on the idea of returning to MMA as former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov prepared to launch his promotion in the United States.
To raise the stakes, Spong was offered the chance to not only fight in MMA again but he would headline the show against Bellator and PRIDE veteran Sergei Kharitonov.
“Opportunity arose and I took it,” Spong said. “I had a journey in boxing, I’m still active as a boxer. With COVID hitting and no promoter and no shows that were being put on for me, Khabib [Nurmagomedov] and I obviously share the same manager in Ali Abdelaziz, this opportunity came by and it’s a big challenge.
“I’m fighting a giant. He’s a polar bear. It’s something that appealed to myself and my team so I said let’s do it.”
Spong admits that since he turned his attention to boxing that MMA has largely been in his rearview mirror outside of helping some of his teammates with striking at times while operating under the same roof.
Jumping right back in the deep end required Spong to immerse himself in grappling for the first time in several years but he’s never been afraid to push himself to the breaking point.
“It’s not been easy but I’m happy where I’m at right now,” Spong said. “It’s been a long time since my last fight and then coming back as a MMA fighter after a long layoff and then before that just doing straight boxing, is a huge transition for myself.”
If all goes well for Spong on Friday night, he will surely be pursued to remain with Eagle FC as the promotion starts looking at potential title fights in the future while also embarking on a very ambitious schedule throughout 2022.
Like always, Spong is open to whatever opportunity is presented to him but he definitely has plans to return to boxing so he can chase another massive fight like the bout against Usyk that was taken from him.
“I would definitely like to test myself against guys like that cause I was right there,” Spong said. “I was ranked No. 3 heavyweight in the world and I had a huge opportunity. I didn’t get it but we’ll see how it goes now. There’s different things going on in the fight game now so who knows.
“I for sure know what I could do cause I sparred, I trained with the best of the best in the heavyweight division. I know myself as a fighter cause obviously sparring and training is different, but I’m a guy when the bright lights are on, that’s when I show up.”