KSW’s expansion continues this weekend as the leading European promotion lands in Croatia for the very first time. With a complete stranglehold on the Polish market, the biggest room for growth now comes internationally for the company. KSW 51 marks a significant milestone for the promotion because it is the only time they have put on back-to-back shows outside of Poland in their history. The event takes place at Arena Zagreb on Saturday night and one of the bouts with significant local interest sees Antun ‘Killer’ Racic challenge for gold in his home country.
Racic (23-8-1) is a veteran of the European scene and competed all over the continent before arriving in KSW two years ago. He is currently riding a five-fight winning streak which is the best form of his career up to this point. The 29-year-old puts this down to the fact that he is now in the right environment to facilitate his growth as a martial artist at one of the fastest rising, and often unheralded, gyms in Europe.
“I am currently on my longest win streak which I think is because I changed teams a few fights ago,” said Racic. “I’m training much harder now with one of the best teams in Europe, UFD Gym. We are based in Dusseldorf, Germany and we are home to many great fighters including Roberto Soldic, Abus Magomedov, David Zawada and Martin Zawada. They have helped make me a much better fighter and I’ve grown up a lot.”
“Also, we have one of the best boxing coaches around, Suku Aksu, and have an amazing grappling coach in Leozada Nogueira,” continued Racic. “Our head coach, Ivan Hippolyte, is highly regarded in teaching striking around the globe too. Every fighter here works really hard two or three times a day and the coaches push us harder every practice.”
It was through training at UFD Gym that another great opportunity arose for Racic which opened the door for further progression in his career. One of the most respected MMA coaches in the world, Firas Zahabi, taught a seminar in Dusseldorf and that is when the pair met for the first time. After that moment, Zahabi called the bantamweight to see if he wanted to go out and train at Tristar in Montreal, Canada alongside fellow teammate and KSW welterweight champion, Roberto Soldic. For this fight camp leading up to KSW 51, the man also known as ‘Killer’, spent three weeks at Tristar working with some of the best fighters in the world before finishing his preparations back in Germany. There is a risk of a mixed martial artist’s game stagnating if they don’t regularly add variety to the bodies they work with and Racic echos this sentiment.
“This was my first ever trip to Tristar but I’m definitely going to go back because they are a great team,” explained Racic. “They have amazing coaches and quality fighters, especially in my weight division at bantamweight. I worked with Aiemann Zahabi, Zach Makovsky, Georges St-Pierre and Mirsad Bektic. Sometimes you have to change your sparring partners and Tristar is the best gym for that. It was a great experience for me because I improved as a fighter a lot. I hope that they were also happy with me as I gave my best there to give those guys a new look as well.”
KSW 51 has a theme based around ‘The Balkans v Rest of the World’ and that is what much of the promotion leading up to the show has focused on. The Balkans are a small selection of countries in Southeast Europe including Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. Most of the support inside the arena will be towards athletes based in the region. Racic is looking forward to having the crowd on his side and is hopeful that they will provide a memorable atmosphere at the final stage of his quest to make history.
“The MMA scene in Croatia is really big,” discussed Racic. “We have a huge star in Mirko Cro Cop and a lot of other great fighters. Now that one of the world’s best MMA organizations is coming to the capital city, it will only help the sport’s growth. Croatian people like fighting sports and MMA so I hope the arena will be full with a crazy crowd as they know how to support their athletes.”
Standing in Racic’s way on Saturday night is UFC veteran and the widely regarded number one Polish bantamweight, Damian Stasiak (11-6). After being released from the UFC last year, Stasiak bounced back with a first round submission victory which led to him getting signed by KSW. He is a talented grappler who has won 8 of his 11 professional bouts by submission which is an area some would say Racic can be vulnerable in. However, Racic hasn’t lost by submission since 2015 and is undefeated in KSW, where he has turned back the challenge of many of Poland’s top bantamweights. The last time that Stasiak competed in Arena Zagreb, he stopped Croatian, Filip Pejic, so will be looking to repeat that feat and silence the partisan crowd once again. Racic is relishing the chance of competing against such an established fighter but believes he can more than hold his own wherever the contest goes.
“Damian Stasiak is a great fighter and he’s competed for the biggest promotion in the world,” stated Racic. “He’s dangerous and has some good skills in the stand up but his main strength is down on the ground and in the wrestling. Despite that, I’m not scared to fight with him in any position. He is a submission specialist but this is an area where I have learnt a lot. I have lost some fights by submission but a couple of those came in weight divisions too big for me. I’ve had some bouts at lightweight so those guys were stronger than me which is why I lost. In every defeat, I learnt something which made me grow as a fighter and consequently improved my ground game in some way. I don’t see Damian having a chance to finish me.”
When the pair meet, the inaugural KSW bantamweight title will be up for grabs as the promotion adds a title for a seventh weight class. They have been teasing a belt at 135lbs for the past year or so but with Racic’s winning streak combined with Stasiak’s credentials at the highest level, now is the perfect time to introduce the gold. This is a moment that Racic believes his career has been leading up to and he will try his utmost to ensure this opportunity doesn’t fall by the wayside.
“Winning the KSW bantamweight title would be a dream,” stated Racic. “I’ve worked a lot to get to this moment and I’ve won four fights straight in the promotion. I beat every fighter who KSW gave to me so I deserve this title shot. I’m very excited about this fight and I hope to win. I want to beat Stasiak and become the first ever KSW bantamweight champion!”
KSW 51 can be purchased at kswtv.com around the world on Saturday and kicks off at 6pm GMT. Fans in the US can buy the event on the same website at 1pmET/12c.