ISTANBUL -- It's Thursday afternoon on fight week at Hotel Suadiye and the GLORY 15 press conference has just let out. Tyrone Spong -- who faces Saulo Cavalari in the semifinal round of the light heavyweight tournament on Saturday -- suggests heading toward the hotel restaurant for this interview.
GLORY's No. 1-ranked light heavyweight cleans up well for a heavily tattooed fighter. His blue suit disguises most of his ink, save for work he's had done on his neck. He walks with confidence and holds himself well. He's feeling good today. Along the way he stops to say hello to fellow fighters and trainers among the kickboxing fraternity, shake hands, give hugs and exchanges a few words and laughs.
He grabs a seat at the nearest table inside the restaurant and checks his phone and places his water bottle and Beats headphones on the table. It's widely known at this point that the Dutch-Surinamese fighter has had to cope with the loss of his uncle, as well as one of his close friends leading up to the GLORY 15 card.
Spong has been broached on the topic before, but emotions can be very tricky for fighters. Now that the fight is only days away, he was asked if he thinks it will aid him with positive energy or be a distraction.
"I'm a professional," he answers calmly. "The closer the fight comes, the more focused I get. It goes automatically. It's going to be there for a while man, it's not going to... It was very tragic. To lose people like that it's hard. Even now when I talk about it I'm like man... It's hard for me to accept. Death is natural. That is part of life. Somebody dies because they are ill or in an accident, you have to accept it, that's life, but when somebody gets killed, coldblooded... It's like a father figure, my uncle was a father figure to me. That is hard. That's really, really hard, and difficult to accept."
"I didn't get the chance to say goodbye," he says, followed by a long pause. "My kids will... That hurts me a lot because he loved my kids so much. My kids were never get the chance to experience him anymore in any type of way. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes when I look at my kids and I think 'you are never going to see my uncle again.' That's hard."
A father of three children, ages three, six and eight, the 28-year-old fighter's expression is a clear indicator of how much he loves them and the rest of his family and how hard the past few months have been on him. Last summer at GLORY 9 New York -- the last tournament he won -- his children were there to see it. This time around, "they will be probably be home watching on TV with their mom," he says. "It's too far and they have school."
He won't be without support though, as his close friend, UFC light heavyweight Rashad Evans will be in his corner. "Always," Spong says about Evans accompanying him for fights. "He's my brother."
The Team Blackzilian fighter said it last year after winning the GLORY 9 eight-man tournament by running through Michael Duut, Filip Verlinden and Danyo Ilunga in New York and he won't hesitate to say it again almost a year later.
"I don't like tournaments at all," he says, shaking his head. "I'm used to the eight-man tournaments where it's three fights a night. That being said, I'm kind of happy it's one fight less."
Doing something that you don't like to do, usually pisses a person off, or makes them resentful of the fact that they are doing it. For Spong, he's admittedly edgy on fight week anyway, so the tournament isn't going to make it worse.
"I'm always pissed when I have to fight," he admits with a grin. "I always hate everybody when I have to fight. That's just me. It's one fight at a time. That's how I'll go in it and I'll do my thing."
In the opening fight of the GLORY 9 tournament, Spong was caught with a punch by Michael Duut and floored in the first few seconds of the fight. A mistake like that against Cavalari and Spong's night could be a quick one.
How does he make sure he prevents that from happening again?
"Be sharp from the get go," he answers. "Duut caught me good, but I wasn't hurt. It was a good shot, don't get me wrong, but I wasn't hurt whatsoever. But still, something like that can be fatal in a fight."
Getting knocked down usually leaves a fighter on the wrong side of a 10-8 round, making a decision victory all the more tougher to achieve. "Not only that, you can get knocked the fuck out," Spong said emphatically. "You have to be sharp from the get go."
In his last fight at GLORY 11 in Chicago, "The King of the Ring" knocked out fellow tournament participant, Nathan Corbett, with a vicious left hook. The two were seated next to one another at the presser, and were talking and laughing throughout.
"I grew up so much you know," he says, in regards to not having any more bad blood with Corbett. "It's a sport. It's a job. Everybody has a job. You wake up in the morning and you go to the office or wherever you do your interviews and you write your articles. I wake up and I go to the gym. Fight day I show up, and do my thing. Act -- sort of -- in the ring. It's my job."
And as the top dog of the weight division, it's his duty to make sure he keeps himself there. The multi-combat sport athlete had his first fight when he was still a teenager. He knows what it is like to rise up through the ranks like his opponent Cavalari, and go against the best of the best.
Perhaps Spong sees some similarities from when he was in that position.
"No. I'm special," he laughs. "He's a young up and comer. I know he's very hungry and very motivated. But, at the same time, does he have the skills to do what he needs to do against me. I don't know. We will see on Saturday."
Cavalari is now 2-0 in GLORY, and the Brazilian has absolutely nothing to lose in the semifinal matchup. On the contrary, a loss for Spong would be tough to swallow. That adds pressure on him to perform at a high level and continue to win. Heavy lies the head that wears the crown, as they say. Except if your as unflappable as Spong, it's not that heavy.
Now heading into his sixth fight for GLORY, and well past 100 overall, he remains unfazed by the magnitude of the moment. It's a job, like he said. He knows his duties and he knows what's required of him and it's more than obvious he loves being the guy everyone wants to take out, and for him, that is quite easy to accept.
"That's my spot," Spong said. "It comes with the territory. That's my spot. I'm the champ. I'm the number one. I'm the champion in this division. I just accept it. That's what it is. Everyone is gunning for my place. Every fight that I fight, I have to defend that spot."