The co-founder of Poland’s premier MMA organization has major aspirations, and penchant for high drama.
Founded in 2004, KSW has been one of the most consistently entertaining promotions in Europe. They’ve put on major spectacle events with some of the top talent in Poland, and have expanded to shows in London and Dublin and added plenty of international fighters to their roster.
Yet KSW’s events have gotten grander and showcased a higher skill and entertainment level in recent years. They’ve maintained a standard of quality and entertainment that remains consistent, and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. After the success of their last event (KSW 43), co-founder Maciej Kawulski and KSW communications rep Wojslaw Rysiewski sat down with Bloody Elbow to discuss the state of KSW and what they aspire to work on moving forward.
Victor Rodriguez: Last time around we saw another fantastic show. We saw a lot of development and a little less of the grand show that we’ve seen in previous events but a lot more substance inside of the cage. I wanted to know what your thoughts are about events going forward – are things going to be more varied, or are we going to see a few events that are a little more toned down?
Maciej Kawulski: No, if you’re asking if we want to make some smaller production, it’s not true. We are changing all the time, our way, how we create the show and how we see the show. So basically, we try to make some symmetry between how big the venue is and how big the production is. If we are in a venue for 50,000 people, we’re making big stages just so everybody can see what’s happening there. Last show was free to air via Polsat TV, and it was quite a small venue with like, six, seven thousand people. So we did something smaller and concentrated on the video marketing. Our next show will be back at the big venue and the production will be as big as we used to do and as you remember.
VR: Well, you did mention this, you focused on production and you ended up being #1 on Polish television. I trust you expected something along those lines considering it was put out free to air, am I correct?
MK: You know, when we’re preparing – this show should be, for us, something like promotion for young, prospective fighters and we tried to promote them for for the mainstream. So our idea was to create new stars, or the beginning of new stars. But anyway, we always believed that MMA is getting bigger and probably, if you asked me a few days before the show if we would do better than TBN and our public TV, the first channel and the second channel, and beat them all? I’d say no. Probably, I would say we’d be quite close or something like that. And that’s a big surprise for us because the best channel had 10% of the market and we had 15%. When we started all this shit 15 years ago, it was 44 channels on Polish television. Now we have 247, so everything’s changed a lot. We’ll probably not get the same ratings we got five years ago because everything’s changed. If you’re first in your market, it’s something big, always.
VR: The success that you’ve had recently is a testament to your ability to scout a lot of fighters that perhaps a lot of international (outside Poland/Europe) fans may not be very familiar with, but it’s paying off greatly because that have been truly spectacular to watch. You have your women’s flyweight champion Ariane Lipski, you have Damian Janikowski being perhaps one of the best natural athletes that we’ve seen in a very long time. Has it been very difficult to find these fighters and put them in a prominent position in your broadcasts?
Wojslaw Rysiewski: Well, for us it’s been it’s always a little bit difficult to promote someone that’s not from Poland, obviously. Especially for mainstream shows on network TV, while Polish guys always attract a bigger audience, but we noticed that the public is also changing. They are not only focused on the Polish guys, but they appreciate foreigners as their own heroes and guys like Roberto Soldič and Salahdine Parnasse, and you mentioned Ariane Lipski, are also becoming stars among the Polish public.
MK: But anyway, we can see right now that everything is getting faster and faster and MMA is growing faster and faster and probably what I’m sure is going to be in a situation where there are no Polish champions in any category (weight class). We come from Poland and our fans mostly are from Poland, but in five years all are champions will probably be from other countries. This is normal because the world is big.
VR: It makes sense. I mean, it’s an easier process to explain to your television partner within Poland and say “We have these Polish fighters“ because they obviously want to have the local audience more involved…
MK: You can make footage with them, you can do interviews with them, you can move them to TV stations, feature them in newspapers or radio, it’s much easier to work with them (locally). The UFC has, you know, 70% or 80% of their fighters are from the United States, or let’s say 60%, yeah?
VR: True. And they’ve had many international champions, yeah. Well, the next event is going to be KSW 44 and we saw the poster between Karol Bedorf and Mariusz Pudzianowski, a very interesting fight at the top of the card. Borys Mankowski is set to make his return from what I understand, and it’s going to be at the Ergo Arena. I gather it’s somewhere from 11,000 to 15,000 people that the stadium has a capacity for. Do you have any sort of major planned theme, sort of like what we saw before the Coliseum show?
MK: You mean the production of the fight card?
VR: Well, I’ve noticed that in some events you have a particular theme. We had the Circus of Pain, we had the Coliseum, will there be a main overarching theme for this particular event?
MK: For sure, each area will be something bigger because we’re trying to build the fight card like, something for everyone. This is what we’re trying to do, one fight card for real fans, one fight for everyone, one fight for those who like strikers, one fight for those who like the game between a striker and some Jiu-Jitsu player… we try to build a nice fight card for everyone because it’s the beginning of the summer, so people treat this show usually as a kind of a weekend event. Of course the production will be something special. Right now we’re preparing footage this week, we have all the fighters and a press conference, we’re preparing the trailers, etc. So at the end of the next week, probably you’ll see something.
VR: We just saw Dricus Du Plessis collect his third championship belt in a major organization, are you concerned about his schedule? Is he exclusive to KSW now, how would this work? If he’s not exclusive, does it concern you with him travelling back and forth to defend all three of his belts?
WR: Well, when we started dealing with him, obviously he’s the champion for EFC, so he has a clause that he can defend his titles there and as far as I know he will be defending his middleweight belt in the summer. But we are confident that he’ll come back in the second half of the year to defend the welterweight title here.
VR: Just going to finish this off with this final question: what is the biggest dream scenario that you see for a KSW event moving forward?
MK: We want to stay in the same position that we are, but for many years. We don’t want to work like everybody that has some peaks and some valleys, this is normal everywhere. But we’re trying to put Polish MMA and MMA in Europe at the same (high) level. We’ll probably be back in the national stadium once or twice a year. And if we shows with around 15,000 viewers (in attendance) for like, four shows (per year), this is something really big. Only the UFC can have the same kind of success in tickets and PPV. So this is OK, this is OK for us. We’re just trying to keep it at the same level of audience fascination.
KSW 44 takes place on June 9th, live from the Ergo Arena in Gdansk, Poland. Confrirmed bouts for this card include actor and bodybuilder Tomasz Oswiecinski vs European fitness model Erko Jun, as well as a rematch between Marcin Wrzosek and Kleber Koike Erbst for the KSW featherweight title.