On Saturday evening, the National Stadium in Warsaw hosted #KSW39 on a night where records were broken, good fights played out and moments that will live long in the memory were created.
The buzz slowly built in the city throughout the whole week. Posters, adverts on TV, children wearing #KSW t-shirts—Warsaw was alive for the event and as each fight week event passed, it became increasingly apparent what a huge night lay ahead.
Those unfamiliar with the KSW product were given a stark taster of what was to come on fight night at the Friday night weigh-ins. Hundreds, maybe a thousand, turned up at the small outdoor (luckily sheltered) venue and people were packed shoulder-to-shoulder just to get a glimpse of their favorite fighters.
Played out by a live rock band, all twenty-two fighters took to the scales, but this was no normal weigh-in. Pushing matches, fake play fights and the KSW owner even jumping on the shoulders of one of the monster super heavyweight fighters to stop him from attacking his opponent—it had it all. It was likely all preconceived drama and theatrics, but more importantly, it was fun and entertaining for the crowd that turned up to watch.
Unlike fighters in other promotions who are whisked away from the fans also immediately after stepping on the scales, every fighter on the card stayed for over 45-minutes meeting and greeting the fans and signing autographs. It said it all when a monsoon like downpour suddenly struck the area and one half of the main event, Mamed Khalidov, stood out under the canopy getting soaked to his skin for ten minutes signing autographs. This was not done out of the demand of the promotion, but a personal decision he made to reward the hundreds of loyal fans who were themselves happy to stick it out despite the extreme weather conditions.
Then came fight night.
KSW Owner, Martin Lewandowski, said that come fight night, he expected the final attendance number to be upwards of 58,000 and suffice to say, the stadium was packed. The setup and configuration of the arena was fantastic and even those up in the nosebleeds would’ve had a good view of the action with aid of the gigantic screens above the cage. The atmosphere was electric from the get-go and even the first fight of the evening had roughly half of the crowd already sat in their seats.
Speaking to Norman Parke afterward about what it was like fighting in front of 58,000 people, surprisingly, he said that he didn’t notice it. Walking down from the elevated stage from the back, he said he focused on one small light at the top of the arena while he walked to the cage and then once he was in it, he said it felt like “any other fight." Parke, like others on the night, had the duty of dealing with a Polish opponent, but that didn’t mean he was on the receiving end of abuse or a negative vibe from the crowd. The Polish strongly supported their own, but this is no atmosphere like Brazil where all non-Brazilian fighters must put up with feeling like public enemy number one from the second they walk out the back.
It would be great to say the evening was perfect, but such is life, nothing ever is. An enthralling main event between Mamed Khalidov and Borys Mankowski ended with the KSW middleweight champion Khalidov getting the nod unanimously on the scorecards. While the rest of the evening had passed as if almost like a dream, what followed was the harsh reality of the world we live in 2017.
Boos could be heard from every corner of the stadium as Khalidov was asked to speak on the microphone--he subsequently left the cage without addressing the crowd.
Did they not like the decision? Apparently, that was partially the reason, but sadly, it was not the root cause. “It’s because he’s a Muslim,” was the reason provided by many Polish people after the event, albeit all of them off the record.
Perhaps it was a fitting bump back to the real world after watching six hours of drama, action, fighting and all-out entertainment.
It was a timely reminder that MMA lives in the real world, but it was nowhere near enough to spoil another classic night hosted by KSW. The question was asked—how can KSW possibly top their KSW 37: Circus of Pain show last year? They certainly surpassed it at KSW 39: Colosseum, but the same old question remains—where can KSW go from here?
#KSW39 was everything it promised to be, but everything good has to come to an end and Saturday night finished with quick bump back to the real world.