This is number fifty-six in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature veteran UFC light heavyweight, Krzysztof Soszynski. Soszynski has not fought since a loss to Igor Pokrajac, at UFC 140, in December, 2011, but he is still on the UFC’s active roster, training, and hopes to fight again. Meanwhile, Soszynski has also been busy with his other job, acting. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Krzysztof Soszynski: I was twenty-five years old, traveling across Canada, doing some small independent professional wrestling events. I had the chance to meet Allen Coage (Bad News Brown). He invited me to train with him in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I quickly jumped at the chance. At the beginning of our training sessions, he would make us grapple. Bear in mind, I did not know anything about MMA, kickboxing, BJJ, or Wrestling. I had never even been in an altercation. I was in Allen's guard, and all of a sudden, I was in an armbar, then a Kimura, and then on my back. This was a man with two hip replacements and who walks with the help of a cane doing this to me. Here I am, 290lbs, getting destroyed. I was in awe! I quit professional wrestling that day, drove back home to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and signed up for BJJ classes.
JB: You spent parts of your childhood in both Poland and Canada. What do you recall most fondly about both places and how do those countries compare to the U.S. in your opinion?
KS: Completely different worlds! Poland was a communist country when I was growing up. Everyone was on food stamps and we had to stand in line every day for groceries. We had to wear school uniforms and attend catechism classes on Saturdays and church on Sundays. The television only had one or two channels. I grew up in a very loving family. My parents taught me right from wrong and instilled good moral values at a young age. I was ten when we moved to Canada, and it was a huge and exciting change. Poland had a predominantly white population with strong Roman Catholic beliefs. Moving to Canada and the US exposed me to different cultures, ethnicities, religions, and freedoms not typical of Poland at the time. As for the move to the US, the biggest change has been the weather. No more snow in April and sunshine every day. California weather is perfect!
JB: You've had nearly 40 professional MMA fights. What do you recall about your first fight, back in 2003, and how prepared were you at the time?
KS: I was six months into my BJJ training and I did not know anything about MMA. Joe Doerksen was helping me with my MMA training. Our gym was a BJJ school run by Rodrigo Munduruca, with MMA training a couple days a week. I definitely did not feel ready. I was 265lbs of "scared!" The only two things I remember about my first fight were going to the bathroom at least twenty times before the fight (I was so nervous and had never felt like that in my life), and I recall getting mounted and hit in the face. It was a terrible feeling, but somehow I got out and managed to TKO my opponent. To this day, I don't know why I did not quit MMA after that fight. I guess it took a hold of me.
JB: Before entering the UFC, you fought for numerous promotions, including the IFL. What was that part of your career like for you personally and professionally and do you miss the days of fighting giants at heavyweight like Ben Rothwell?
KS: The early years of my career were tough. I jumped in quick. In the first four years, I fought twenty-seven times, and twelve of those fights were against fighters who fought or eventually fought for the UFC. It was a very tough journey with a lot of ups and downs and very little money. I was very fortunate to meet the right people along the way who helped me get to where I am today. I was promoting my own MMA shows in Winnipeg, Canada, and brought in members of Team Tompkins for a few shows. Shawn Tompkins and I hit it off, and he took me to London, Ontario, Canada, to train under him. I spent many months in London training. Through Shawn, I had the privilege of meeting Bas Rutten and I was eventually a member of his IFL team. I spent almost a whole year at Motel 6 in Thousand Oaks, California, so I could train with Bas. Fighting for the IFL was awesome. They took really good care of the fighters. It's unfortunate the fans did not take to the concept. It was a unique idea. Everything I made from fighting went right back into my training. Shawn and Bas had set up training camps for our team in Las Vegas, at Xtreme Couture, and in Temecula, California, at Team Quest. After our camp at Team Quest, Dan Henderson and Ryan Parsons asked me to stay and be a part of their professional fight team. I accepted on the spot.
Being part of the heavyweight division meant fighting guys that were taller and cutting weight to make 265lbs. There is such a huge gap between the light heavyweight and heavyweights divisions. The only perk was my never having to cut weight! As for Ben Rothwell, the man is a monster. I was 230lbs when I fought him. Rothwell quickly made me realize that I needed to move to the light-heavyweight division. I am glad that I don't have to fight those big guys anymore. They hit astoundingly hard!
JB: You entered the UFC via season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter. That particular season of TUF, with you, Ryan Bader, Vinny Magalhaes, Tom Lawlor, Efrain Escudero, Junie Browning, and a number of other talented and charismatic lightweights and light heavyweights fighting for Team Mir and Team Nogueira, was one of the more memorable seasons. What did you think about the experience at the time?
KS: Being part of TUF was an amazing experience. This is a great platform for fighters as it exposes you to like-minded individuals, new coaches, fight experience, and publicity. However, my time there proved to be more of a mental test than a physical one. We were not allowed to read, use the phone, or listen to music. Being cooped up in a house together for twenty hours a day quickly wears on you. I resorted to pranks as my outlet. I still keep in touch with a few of the guys from the show.
JB: Since you debuted in the UFC in 2008, you have gone 6-3. What has been your most satisfying performance in the UFC thus far, are there any opponents that you would like to rematch, and are there any particular fighters that you'd like to fight in the future?
KS: There are two fights that are the most memorable for me. At UFC 97, I had the opportunity to fight in front of a sold-out crowd in my homeland, Canada. I was so excited and nervous and came out with a huge smile on my face. I won against Brian Stann via Kimura and earned Submission of the Night honors. This was especially symbolic as it was one of the first submission moves I had learned.
The second event was UFC 110, in Sydney, Australia, against Stephan Bonnar. It was a sixteen week fight camp, where everything came together perfectly. I felt fast, strong, skilled, and invincible. I was doing fifteen hundred kicks a day, and my conditioning was spot on. While in Australia, before the fight, I had the opportunity to train and spar with Wanderlei Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. I received high praise from them and their coaches. This definitely added a boost to my confidence. I was in the best shape of my life. It's the kind of camp you wish you had every time.
JB: You have been part of some fantastic teams at both Reign Training Center and when you were at Team Quest. Who are some of the individuals that have really helped you evolve as a mixed martial artist during your career, and who are some of the individuals in your life who have supported your growth as a person?
KS: I have been very fortunate to learn from some very talented coaches and athletes over the years, including Joe Doerksen, Shawn Tompkins, Bas Rutten, Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Ryan Parsons, Ed Buckley, and Mark Munoz. Equally important have been my training partners as they are the ones pushing me every day. Like a good coach, we help each other grow stronger, better skilled, and more confident.
JB: Though you've managed to win fights in many different ways, one of your favorite finishes is the Kimura. What is it about that submission, your body type, and your fighting style that makes the Kimura work so well for you?
KS: The Kimura is one of the first submissions I learned. I practiced this technique from various positions and always felt powerful and comfortable doing it. I have a strong upper body and a good grip. It's one of those techniques that came naturally to me.
JB: Non-MMA fans everywhere must think that your name is "Ken Dietrich." What was it like filming "Here Comes the Boom," and what can you tell us about your future as an actor?
KS: This was a completely different experience for me. It's amazing how hard it can be to look and sound tired when you've just woken up to start your day. I gained a new appreciation for actors and their craft. I spent long days on set (12-16 hours) for approximately five weeks, and I was also training on lunch breaks for my fight at UFC 131, in Vancouver. Since the movie, I have been Mickey Rourke's stunt double in “Immortals” and I play the antagonist in an upcoming film named “Tapped” due out this winter. I have a few projects scheduled this summer and next year. I definitely hope to pursue more acting opportunities in the future. Check me out on IMDB. There are some great pictures from some of the films and TV work I've done.
JB: Last question, Krzysztof, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
KS: The last few years of my life have been an amazing rollercoaster ride. I have had the opportunity to travel the world, meet interesting people, and enjoy life to the fullest. It was always a dream to train for a living and not be stuck in a cubicle all day. My office is the gym and I enjoy going to "work." Not everyone can say that.
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