Image Credit: Will Vanders
The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused everyone to adapt and alter their usual behaviour, so it’s a given that major MMA organisations are also having to operate differently.
European promotion, KSW, have garnered headlines and attention while growing their brand over previous years due to their refreshing approach to the fight game. By having less frequent events compared to their counterparts, every show feels unique and it becomes easier to build stars as the scramble up the KSW ladder isn’t as overcrowded. Combined with the live event spectacle and captivating opening ceremonies, it’s easy to see why the promotion has been having so much success.
The International broadcasting team of ‘Sensei’ Will Vanders and ‘The Guru’ Chris Hoekstra have witnessed much of that maturation taking place and were along for the ride way before ‘it was cool’ to show an interest in the company. Vanders, who used to commentate K-1 and produced combat sports programming for Eurosport, was asked by KSW to launch their International commentary and PPV at KSW 24 back in September 2013.
A couple of years later, impressed by Hoekstra’s technical analysis in breakdowns, Vanders suggested that he joined him cageside as the International colour commentator. ‘The Flying Dutchmen’ were born at KSW 32 inside Wembley Arena, London, which was also the promotion’s first show to be staged outside of Poland. Both Vanders and Hoekstra have called thousands of fights over their careers, so they were pleased to get back to describing the action at KSW 53 last month after a nine-month hiatus caused by the global pandemic.
“It was definitely cool to be back doing a live show, although we have both been busy working from our studios these past few months,” Hoekstra told Euro MMA Hub. “Due to that, being behind the mic wasn’t too foreign. We’ve also done KSW studio shows with limited audiences before as well, so knew what to expect in that sense.”
“I re-live K-1 fights in my sleep and KSW matches every morning for breakfast, so lockdown gave me a great opportunity to re-run some of my favorites without missing the live action too much,” added Vanders. “In my head, I re-imagined some of those bouts with different results and the subsequent consequences they may have had.”
KSW 53 took place in an undisclosed location with no fans in attendance and ‘The Flying Dutchmen’ acknowledged that they missed having a live crowd because of the extra energy that brings to the broadcast.
Neither man had any major reservations about making the trip to Poland in order to call the KSW 53 card. Some members of the public have been hesitant to travel internationally due to safety concerns. In order to mitigate risk as much as possible at different phases of the trip from England to Poland, a number of safety precautions were in place.
“KSW flew us business class and Poland had extremely low instances of COVID-19,” recounted Vanders. “We were more socially distanced throughout the trip than shopping at Waitrose! The organisation in place by the Polish authorities coupled with KSW was second to none. There were regular temperature checks, mask use was compulsory and social distancing was at the forefront of everything. It was very different but this is the new normal, so the experience was good – very good. So good we’re going back for KSW 54!”
“We had a great trip and the situation in the airports was very well managed too,” added Hoekstra. “Table delivery via QR code menu in the Heathrow lounge was an interesting experience! In some ways the trip was the same as always – we have a pretty established routine of how we prepare for the event together and how we execute doing the show once we are on the ground. Our producer, Bart, is so awesome to work with, plus all the other production staff at KSW.”
On the night, the action was fast and furious as seven of the eight bouts were finished inside the distance. In the main event, lightweight champion, Mateusz Gamrot, ended his trilogy with Norman Parke emphatically, forcing a doctor’s stoppage of the Northern Irishman. ‘Gamer’ displayed some outstanding striking skills and was totally dominant over his long-time rival, which impressed the commentary duo.
“Gamrot never needed to press the ground game, and he completely dismantled Parke with patience, accuracy, timing, and technique on the feet,” discussed Hoekstra. “Every single fight we’ve seen Gamrot improve – he is so focused on getting better every time, and that shows in every performance. I really admire his consistency and willingness to always evolve – and his ability to always execute a game plan.”
“I’m a fan of Norman Parke but he revealed a game plan of consistent and continuous striking,” recalled Vanders. “Surely the strategy would be to then go to the mat? That didn’t happen. It was almost a Sat Nav for Gamrot to follow! However, Gamrot’s brilliance cannot be underestimated or understated and with one of the best ground games around, to beat Parke at his own striking game made the win pristine.”
Elsewhere on the card, Borys Mankowski overcame Marcin ‘The Polish Zombie’ Wrzosek in a hard-fought battle to establish himself in the KSW lightweight division. Furthermore, double FEN title holder, Andrzej Grzebyk, scored a big knockout in his promotional debut and and veteran, Tomasz Drwal, had a successful return to action. However, there were some other competitors who also caught ‘The Flying Dutchmen’s’ eyes.
“Roman Szymanski is such a tough and gritty competitor,” stated Hoekstra. “His finish just before the bell in the third round of the very skilled Croatian, Flip Pejic, demonstrated once again what a standout fighter he is. In addition, Sebastian Przybysz was also very impressive – he got into a back and forth affair eventually getting the stoppage – I cannot wait to see him again. I’d also like to see his opponent Jakub Wiklacz back soon as he’s very young and skillful. Finally, it must be said what a unit Michal Pietrzak is! A stud wrestler who demonstrated he knows how to punch. People were impressed when he took Soldic to a decision on a few days notice at KSW 50. I’m very interested to see who they match him with next.”
“Sowinski was pure class juxtaposing the Matador to Szadinski’s bull,” mentioned Vanders. “Grzebyk was armed and extremely dangerous while clearly headhunting Soldic’s crown. Both of those two should carry a government health warning! It’s only a matter of time before they meet for the KSW welterweight belt!”
Both Vanders and Hoekstra are making the trip once again to Poland this weekend for KSW 54. With many of the same precautions in place this time around, the pair know exactly what to expect and intend on bringing international viewers the best fight night experience possible.
KSW 54 is set to be headlined by a title fight between lightweight king, Mateusz Gamrot, and late-replacement, Marian Ziolkowski. Former heavyweight boxing champion, Izu Ugonoh, is also scheduled to make his MMA debut against Quentin Domingos. The show kicks off at 6pm BST on Saturday evening and can be purchased online at KSWTV.com.