They were the kind of fights that cut years off a career, grueling battles that took Krzysztof Soszynski and Stephan Bonnar to places where only the most mentally and physically strong can bear to stand for more than a moment or two.
But when the two light heavyweights finished up a two fight series that began in Sydney, Australia in February and ended in Las Vegas in July, Bonnar stood tall, hands on his waist, staring out at a cheering crowd, and Soszynski, despite losing the second of the two fights, simply took a breath as if to say, ‘man, let’s do it again.’
“It was very special for me,” said Soszynski, who won the first bout with Bonnar via third round TKO before being halted in the second round of the rematch. “I’ve always wanted to be in a fight like that and to have the chance to be in them back-to-back with Stephan Bonnar was amazing. It definitely put my name up there with some of the tougher fighters who are able to just grind and keep coming and keep throwing without stopping, and that’s what I want to be known for. I want to be known as an exciting, action packed fighter who puts it on the line every time.”
Soszynski then stops for a second, and almost chuckles as he utters his next line.
“And I have a feeling that those kinds of wars aren’t over yet for me.”
That realization would be enough for us civilians to run for the hills, but fighter like Soszynski live for moments like these. When you have a fight like that, no one can take it away from you, and when you’re 75 years old and sitting in your rocking chair, you can smile knowing that for one night, two nights, or even more nights than that, you showed the world what it was like to be a fighter, and even better, you lived it. The saying is as old as sport itself and it has its number of variations, but when it comes down it, scars heal, but glory is forever. And even though knocking out your opponent in a minute is impressive in and of itself, a war is what builds your own personal legend.
“Don’t get me wrong, it would be great if a fight can happen and 30 seconds later you’ve finished your opponent, there are no bruises, no cuts, and everything is good,” said Soszynski. “But nowadays in the UFC, every fight is tough. Yes there are a few fighters who are coming away with quick victories, but those don’t come by too often. Most of the fights are grueling, they’re tough, and I’m expecting another one.”
Soszynski’s next potential slugfest comes this Saturday night in Oberhausen, Germany, when he steps into the Octagon against Croatia’s Goran Reljic. It’s a classic ‘must win’ situation for Reljic, who returns to the light heavyweight division after losing two in a row at 185 pounds, and Soszynski knows that his opponent will be going for broke in order to get back in the win column.
“With Goran Reljic and watching his last few fights, and on top of that him being 0-2 in his last two, he doesn’t want to get to 0-3 and maybe get released by the UFC,” said Soszynski. “So I have a feeling he’s gonna be going in there and pulling out all the stops, throwing everything he can at me, and I think it’s gonna be one of those fights again where he’s bloodied, I’m bloodied, he’s bruised, I’m bruised, but at least we’re hugging and shaking hands at the end of the fight and congratulating each other on a great fight. That’s what I think is gonna happen, that’s what I’m looking forward to, and I don’t think it’s gonna be an easy fight by any means.”
It’s hard to translate through the written word, but as Soszynski speaks, it’s with an almost giddy anticipation of what’s to come this weekend. Following 19 minutes and 12 seconds of intense battle with Bonnar, you have to wonder why he would feel this way, but as he explains, he’s been through a fight with an opponent on the verge of desperation, and though he lost that one, the 33-year old is not in the business of making the same mistake twice.
“By my understanding, my last fight with Stephan Bonnar was a do or die for him and look at that fight,” he said. “I had him hurt, I had him out in the first round, and he came back strong. He’s so durable, so tough that he just keeps coming. So I’ve had that fight, I know what it’s like to be in there with a guy who’s going to do anything he can to get this W. I know what to expect now and I know that I’m going to have to be a hundred percent ready, a hundred percent in shape, and most importantly mentally ready for anything he throws at me. We studied his tapes, we know what he likes to do, and we’re just focused on that and ready to go.”
Call it the next step in the education of Krzysztof Soszynski, an eight year process that has seen him take more than his share of bumps and bruises before finally coming to the grips with the fight game around the time he earned a spot in the Ultimate Fighter house during the reality series’ eighth season. But even as he emerged as a semifinalist and then earned a UFC call back and a contract, to some, he was simply a journeyman who lucked out.
“Anytime you come off the Ultimate Fighter show and you start looking at what people are saying and stuff like that, it’s almost like you didn’t pay your dues to get into the UFC,” said Soszynski, 20-11-1, who turned pro in 2003 without the combat sports background most of his peers enjoyed. “It was more like a reality TV show where if you’re one of the top four guys in your weight class, you’re most likely going to get a chance to get a contract with the UFC. I feel like I’ve paid my dues. I fought in the IFL, I fought a lot of tough guys – I think I fought about seven guys who were in the UFC at one time or another before I even got in the UFC. And for me, the hardest part was that I only started this sport at age 25 with absolutely no background in anything. So it took me a good five years before I even knew what the sport is and how to fight in the sport. So I feel like I’m just coming into my own slowly. Even though I’m 33 years old, I feel my body’s peaking, and I’m slowly becoming the real fighter that I’m supposed to be when I first got into this sport eight years ago.”
And unlike boxing, where a glossy unbeaten record is the only way to sail to the top, in mixed martial arts, the top fighters in the sport wear their defeats as painful badges of honor that taught them the lessons they needed to learn to move forward. Soszynski is no exception to that rule.
“The way I learned the sport was through those tough, hard fights,” he said. “When you’re fighting Mike Kyle and Ben Rothwell when you have no idea what to do in there, you’re gonna eventually learn from those guys. And even though I may have lost a fight here and there and my record is not great with my losses, those losses made me the fighter I am today, and if it wasn’t for those losses, I wouldn’t be here because I wouldn’t know how to fight.”
4-2 in the UFC since coming off The Ultimate Fighter, Soszynski knows how to fight and he knows how to win. He expects to do both against Reljic on Saturday night, and this time he’ll be the one dishing out the fight game lessons.
Krzysztof Soszynski - A Fighter's Education
"Nowadays in the UFC, every fight is tough. Yes there are a few fighters who are coming away with quick victories, but those don’t come by too often. Most of the fights are grueling, they’re tough, and I’m expecting another one.”