Many strikers have made the transition to mixed martial arts (MMA) in the 19 years our beloved sport has existed.
None of them more scary than Tyrone Spong.
Having just recently turned 27, the Dutch (by way of Suriname) fighter has already competed against some of the most talented kickboxers who have ever lived, and he's represented himself quite well, earning a 68-6-1 record with one no contest throughout his nine year professional kickboxing career, all while being undersized.
In his last appearance this past June, he even retired the legendary Peter Aerts with a third round knockout.
Now, after training in Florida with the Blackzilians, Spong has made the decision to make the switch to MMA. He'll be making his professional debut against 7-2 striker Travis Bartlett next month (Nov. 3, 2012) at the inaugural World Series of Fighting event in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Spong spoke with MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission last night about his upcoming MMA debut, his current kickboxing deal with GLORY and working and training alongside former opponents in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're making your mixed martial arts debut with World Series of Fighting next month. How does it feel knowing you've kicked, punched and kneed your boss in the face already?
Tyrone Spong: (laughs) Aww yeah. It's a great thing. I've got big respect for Ray [Sefo]. He's the ambassador for the sport. Growing up in the fighting game, he was a big example for me and I'm just very happy that we can do business now together.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'd be a little concerned, thinking he'd try to get some revenge for knocking him out of the K-1 2010 World Grand Prix qualifiers.
Tyrone Spong: Oh no, no. I'm not worried about that at all. I know Ray as a professional. He's a big sportsman and I trust him and he wants to put on a good show for all the fighting fans out there. In order for him to put on a good show, he needs me to be the best shape I can be. He needs me. I need him and we're working together. Besides being the big man, he's also my friend. I was in Vegas a couple weeks ago and even did some training with him. Me fighting him was just part of the business.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Everyone's excited about your MMA debut but they might forget that you're still planning on kickboxing with GLORY yet. I've heard rumors about a fight in December, is that correct?
Tyrone Spong: Yeah. That's correct. I signed with GLORY and I have four fights that I for sure will still be kickboxing. My first upcoming fight is probably gonna be against Remy Bonjasky. I just found out that a few days ago. For me, it's the best. I like challenges and it's the best kickboxing league out there. The best strikers in the world compete in that league and for myself, it's just good being considered one of the best strikers. It's, for me, to test myself to see where I'm at.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): GLORY has picked up some of the best kickboxers on the planet. When you look at that roster, is there anyone else you want to make sure you fight during that four fight deal?
Tyrone Spong: For myself, I don't need to prove anything. What I've achieved and proved already is I moved up to the heavyweights. I was not a natural heavyweight. I had to work hard to get to heavyweight. A lot of training and a lot of dedication. I fought the best in the heavyweight division and I beat most of them plus the fights that I have lost were great, competitive fights. I think they're going to give me only tough fights in that league. They want to see who's the best out there. I think they have the best strikers in the world. The few they have are the cream of the crop. Whoever they give me, I'll fight. That's me. It's whatever. I just want to put on a great show for the fans.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of moving up to heavyweight, you'll be making your MMA debut at 205 pounds next month. Have you ever had to deal with cutting weight before? Will that be new to you?
Tyrone Spong: It's something that's new to me. Back in the day I used to cut weight because I fought middleweight, cruiserweight, light heavyweight and welterweight. I fought in all those weight classes but for the last few years, I didn't cut weight anymore. This is something new, walking around at 230 and cutting down to 205 is something new. For me, I'm just curious to see how it's gonna be for me to cut weight but I know one thing, if I have to cut off a leg, I don't care. I'm gonna fight and that's one thing that's for sure.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You see a lot of these great strikers transition to mixed martial arts. How confident do you feel in your ground game so far?
Tyrone Spong: Mmmmmm, I'm pretty confident. I train with the best team in the world right now, the Blackzilians. We've got the best guys out there right now, the best coaches. It's just time for everything and everybody to settle in a little bit, get used to each other and work a bit and then all the potential that is in this camp and this team and all those fighters will eventually come out big time. I truly believe that. I train with some of the best guys in MMA. Rashad Evans is one of the best wrestlers in MMA. We've got Jorge Santiago. We've got Braulio Estima. We've got JZ Cavalcante. You name it, we've got it. I'm pretty confident about my ground game and it's maybe not where I want it to be yet but I'm still learning and I'm eager to learn from these guys and I think in a few years, you're looking at a future champion in MMA here.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): With your ground game, are you at this point more focused on the defensive aspect instead of the offensive aspect of takedowns and submissions?
Tyrone Spong: I'm just working on my overall ground game. It's no secret that everyone knows I like to stand and bang. I'm a striker. I'm a kickboxer. I would prefer just standing and strikiing but I'm working on my ground game to get to the point where even if it goes to the ground, I'm still comfortable there. I got some of the best guys to train with and they help me out so it's all good.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How different does it when you're using the four ounce gloves for MMA? Does it almost feel like you're completely free when you're striking?
Tyrone Spong: Yeah. I feel like I'm completely free but I've never been in a fight. I'm gonna see November 3rd for the first time. It's like....man...I've just got to wrap my hands good. I know I've got to wrap my hands good because I like to bang. I've got to make sure I wrap my hands good because either his head breaks or my hand breaks.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How did you approach training alongside Alistair Overeem at Imperial Athletics and calling him a teammate considering your history at the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2010?
Tyrone Spong: It's no big deal. Me and Alistair, a few years before the fight we used to train together. We trained together for seven years and we both grew and became heavyweights and he is a huge heavyweight. We had a fight but after the fight we buried the hatchet. Actually, I approached him because of my manager Glen Robinson to come over here and come train with the team. Now we're teammates. He's a great guy and a smart fighter who knows what he wants. He made this transition already and for him to help me with his experience that he had is a big deal for me. He's helping me out tremendous. It's no big deal training with him. We used to train before, we had a fight, and now we're training again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You had so much success in kickboxing. What was it that made you want to try out mixed martial arts? Were you just training with the Blackzilians and picking things up well?
Tyrone Spong: I came here to help Rashad Evans for his camp and I started to train on the ground with wrestling. All the coaches and Rashad saw my potential. On the ground, I was picking it up real fast. I'm just a natural athlete and I saw how good I did in the practices. I figured I'd give it a try. I needed something new to motivate me and I just thought, "Let's try it out." Right now, I'm happy I made that decision because it's going real good and I'm just excited to make my MMA debut.
You can follow Tyrone on Twitter @Tyrone_Spong.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Are you excited to see Spong make his MMA debut? Do you think he'll be able to make the complete transition and keep his ground game up to snuff to hang with the big boys?
To listen to our complete conversation with Tyrone Spong, click here (interview starts at 32:00 mark)