On a cold Sunday afternoon within the massive OSIR Bemowo sports complex in Warsaw, herds of fans and a determined handful of journalists collected around a circular cage with the KSW logo emblazoned across the canvas. Within the cage, the enormous frame of Mariusz Pudzianowski towered over the promotion’s Polish ring announcer Pawel Wojcik as he answered questions with a typically balanced dose of sarcasm and brusqueness.
Though Pudzianowski is no longer headlining shows, he remained the main attraction for Polish crowds, even at media events such as this one. He exuded little effort – sparse interviews, a few autographs, and even fewer smiles – yet somehow continued to entice them with his mystique. On this occasion, the World’s Strongest Man was nursing a head cold, which contributed to his gradually souring mood. Once the in-cage dissection was complete, which included a photo-op staredown with his opponent, renowned Polish rapper ‘Popek Monster,’ Pudzianowski walked his 280-pound frame several feet to the left of the cage for his final obligation of the day: media interviews.
When faced with similar questions on a regular basis, and at the alarming frequency that his stardom demands in Poland, it is all that Pudzianowski can do to add a little humour to the proceedings.
“I took some singing lessons,” the strongman said through translator Wojslaw Rysiewski when asked about what differed in his preparation for an opponent with little MMA experience. Sensing the confusion from his left-field response, Pudzianowski reverted back to unambigious responses.
“Seriously, there was nothing new in my preparations. I prepared myself as if it is a fight with the world champion. It doesn’t matter if this is one or other fighter. I do my best always. In the heavyweight division you can be knocked out by everyone, even by a less experienced fighter. Like I said, I prepare to every fight one hundred percent.
“I’ve been in this sport too long to disregard anybody.”
There was a sense of finality in Pudzianowski’s words. Amalgamated into the constant regularity of fight week and the redundancy of media obligations, there was little to discuss that hadn’t been talked about before. Yet while the strongman has faced the drastic contrast of questions after wins and loses, this was the first time he faced the media on a two-fight losing streak. His skid began last year in London, when Pudzian lost to Peter Graham on Halloween night. A win would have likely earned him a title shot against heavyweight champion Karol Bedorf. The loss permanently scrapped those ambitious plans.
While Mariusz’ technical knockout loss to a capable Australian kickboxer put aside as a tough loss to a more experienced foe, his second loss six months later baffled most. Pudzianowski fell to fellow Polish favorite Marcin Różalski, who was riding a two-fight losing streak himself and on the cusp of retirement. Instead of the expected send off from the sport, the striker submitted the strongman for his first win in over two years. Pudzianowski was left to contemplate the shocking defeat, while his legions of fans questioned whether he would ever grace the KSW cage again.
Convinced that his losses were tactical errors, Pudzianowski returned to the drawing board.
“I’ve changed some details in my training but not a lot. In both of this fights I lost because of my mistakes,” he explained. “Every day I work hard to make a little progress step by step to become a better fighter.”
Despite his recent athletic downtrend, Pudzianowski remains a firm favorite in his upcoming fight. Popek, whose real name is Pawel Mikolajuw, is 2-1 as a professional fighter and last competed in MMA eight years ago. Mainly celebrated because of his artistic background and achievements, Popek infamously tattooed his eyes and had scars surgically added to his face. And while the match-up has all the makings of a freakshow encounter, the duo helped sell out Poland’s largest arena – over 17,000 strong will be in attendance at Krakow’s Tauron Arena. Yet given the vast contrast in experience and ability, Pudzianowski is aware that another loss could be his last.
“I don’t think about losing this fight, but if I do lose, this should be signal for me that something is ending.”
Rooted in the realistic assumption that his time in the sport, for various reasons, is drawing to a close, Pudzianowski has no intention to stick around unnecessarily. Ironically dressed in a ‘No Fight, No Life’ t-shirt, Pudzianowski is prepared to give up fighting and move onto the next stage of his life. However, assuming he earns himself a lifeline with an emphatic victory in Krakow, he would consider other intriguing contests – including a long rumored heavyweight clash against the legendary Fedor Emelianenko.
“I always take one fight a time and don’t make plans for the future, but if the right offer comes to the table, I’ll definitely consider it.”
Yet after nearly two decades of entertaining crowds with his feats of strength, Pudzianowski is already preparing for his retreat from public life. Beneath the pounds of muscle lies an introvert with little interest in attention or temptations. He owns various blue collar businesses, which will take up the bulk of his time. The rest of the time will be dedicated to family, select friends, as well as peace and quiet.
“I am satisfied with what I did in the sport. My retirement is closer than ever. It may be time for me to get some rest, finally. But we will find out on December 3rd.”