In the world of professional athletes in combat sports, Gabriel Varga (11-3) is as humble and modest as they come.
That's the reason it came as no surprise that while fans and media were bemoaning the controversial unanimous decision loss to Serhiy Adamchuk at GLORY 25 earlier this month that cost him the Featherweight title, Varga was offering apologies on his Facebook page and suggesting he could've done better that night.
The five-round title fight was an ugly one -- no one will argue over that. And most will be harmonious in their incredulous thoughts on the three judges, who all gave a 48-47 score in favor of Adamchuk. That's because the Ukrainian Featherweight held and clinched the entire fight, and at times employed a headlock -- all are against GLORY rules and usually result in the appointed referee docking a point from the infracting fighter. If you initiate a clinch in GLORY, you must mount an offensive attack within five seconds or the referee will separate, administer a warning and eventually take a point.
But, referee Stefano Valenti never took a point from Adamchuk despite countless warnings throughout the fight, so he was arguably under more fire than the judges.
Varga, 30, obviously, is well aware of the rules, but he was caught up in the moment of the fight and didn't notice what everyone else was seeing.
"When I was in the fight everything felt sort of wrong and it wasn't a good week leading up," Varga admitted to MMAmania.com. "Sometimes the mindset is just not there and it wasn't for me. Things just felt off in the fight. It happens very rarely for me and because it did I was frustrated and kind of upset after the fight. I just went, ‘I didn't perform well and what are you going to do? I'll correct that next time and make sure I get the belt back.'"
However, when he returned to his home in British Columbia, Canada, and watched the fight for the first time, he understood what everyone was saying and his feelings on the matter changed.
"I watched the fight the night after and it wasn’t what I remembered," he said. "I don’t remember as much clinching or as much locking up on his side. There actually was. I stared to watch and go, ‘oh my gosh, how was there not a point not taken off.’ I’m not going to comment on whether the judges were correct or not because it was a close fight. I’m getting a lot of messages and a lot of people saying, ‘you should’ve won the fight.’
"But, bad decisions happen all the time. Whether it was one or it wasn’t, I’m not going to really comment on that. I do know that after watching it, a point should’ve been taken off for sure, which 100 percent would’ve made it a draw. In my mind (after watching the fight) it should’ve been a draw or the fight should’ve been in my favor. The main thing that I was frustrated with after watching was just going, 'Wow, how was there no point taken off?’"
Points do get taken during fights in GLORY. It's not like it never happens. In fact, GLORY Middleweight champion Artem Levin -- who is notorious for holding -- has had a point taken from him in three of his seven fights for the promotion. And what Adamchuk was doing was far worse.
Varga was asked for his thoughts on the matter and said, "I was thinking the same thing today. I remember watching Artem [Levin] and they took a point off — maybe not without warrant — decently fast."
The now-former GLORY champion has found from his experience that the implication of the rules often differs from fight-to-fight depending on the referee, and he'd like to see more consistency.
"The biggest thing that I find in GLORY—not just GLORY, but just kickboxing in general—is the discrepancy with referees and even judges. I know it’s not GLORY’s fault because they are using ISKA [International Sports Karate Association], but they really need to sort out what the rules are and say, ‘Okay, how many times are we going to allow people to clinch before we take a point off?’ "It seems odd. Artem Levin is fighting and he clinches up four times in a round and they take a point off and then I can’t remember if it was the third or fourth round of my fight, but I counted seven clinches initiated by him in the last minute and a half of the round and I was going, 'They may have taken two points off Artem in that situation.’"
Varga clarified that there was a pre-fight rules meeting -- this time with a European ISKA representative since the card took place in Monza, Italy. And according to him, all the points of emphasis on the rules regarding the clinch were discussed, as they always are.
"Yes, we did do the rules meeting and it’s always the same thing," said Varga. "If the clinch is initiated, you have five seconds of activity if knees are being thrown, But if you are initiating the clinch without any intent of doing damage than you are going to get warned, possibly get warned again, and then you are going to get a point taken off. That is basically how it is explained to us."
He has gotten an out pour of support and encouragement from fans as well as the promotion. And while that felt good, it doesn't change the fact that he is no longer the GLORY featherweight champion and the decision -- however controversial it was -- will stand.
"You put in so much effort and it gets taken away from you, but you did everything right," he said. "I’m going to watch the fight a few more times. I have been getting a lot of feedback — even from GLORY officials -- the guys out there who are pretty high up. They came up to me and apologized and just said, ‘I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how a point wasn’t taken off.’ It is nice to have the support after, and kind of know that you didn’t really lose, but ultimately you are still missing your belt. So, that is the big thing. You want the belt back."
Aside from the controversial decision and the fact that referee Valentino didn't take a point from Adamchuk for holding and clinching, Varga admitted "it just wasn't a pretty fight." And he was sure to point out it was due to him not having a willing dance partner in Monza, Italy that night.
"I sort of pride myself in fights about being able to put on a fast-paced fight that is good for the fans," he said. "I talked about that beforehand. I said, ‘I might not always get knockouts, but when I get in there you can be sure fans are going to be entertained. And I felt this one was not an entertaining fight. But, I’m not the common denominator in that for sure."
Varga has a pension for wanted to push the pace and to move forward when he fights. He is one of the tallest fighters in his division, who also possesses a significant reach advantage over most his opponents. He is aware that he abandons that edge sometimes, and he aims to make sure he uses it when he meets Adamchuk for a second time.
"Yeah, and I don’t always use it (his reach) because as soon as I see people get tired I just go, ‘you know what? I’m going to keep pushing forward.' I like fighting on the inside," said Varga. "I like putting on exciting fights. It’s sort of who I am once I’m in there and the action is going. I like moving forward. I can use my range, but next time, for him, we will train length and a little more timing. We won’t push the pace as much. If he has to come to me and I go on the defense and pick away then that is what it will have to be because I don’t want to do that fight again. I had somebody on Facebook throw up a hashtag. The hashtag for GLORY is #standupandfight, and the guy said ‘the hashtag is #standupandfight, it’s not #standupandhug.’ I don’t want to do that again and hug the whole time."
Varga won the Featherweight title back in April after defeating Mosab Amrani at GLORY 20. He gave a very honest admission that being on top had a somewhat negative affect on him heading into his first title defense against Adamchuk, and that his motivation was severely lacking during his training camp.
"I've been fighting for almost ten years and it was the first time I was like, ‘ok, where do I go from here?' There is nowhere to move up," Varga said. "This is it. I reached the top. The motivation this time was really lacking through training camp. I went out and I did everything. I'm not going to say I didn't prepare. I prepared like I do every other time, but usually I love training, and this time I was kind of like, ‘what's the motivation? I'm getting paid for this fight.' That was my motivation this time. That is what I had to use. As soon as the fight was done and my belt was gone it just like snapped right back into that sort of mindset, like, 'OK I have something to move up to and I am so motivated now.' I'm looking forward to getting this next fight lined up and I'm planning on more fights next year, not just one fight every six or seven months."
While Varga, who is now ranked No. 2 in the Featherweight division, hasn't spoken to GLORY yet about a rematch, it's likely the winner of the featherweight "Contender" tournament on the GLORY 26 card on Dec. 4, 2015, will be next in line to face Adamchuk.
That's fine by him. He already has the road back to the belt mapped out in his head, and he still feels he is the best in the division.
"I'm assuming whoever wins this next featherweight tournament will get the initial shot against him," he said. "My goal right now will be to hopefully get on the card whenever he defends his title against whoever that is. I'll fight somebody else high in the rankings. I just want to fight somebody who actually wants to fight, who wants to get out there and have a nice fight so I can get the fans interested again. I just felt like that was a bad fight and I just want to have a good fight again. And then after that, rematch him.
"I still feel like I'm on top of the weight class and I haven't been shut down by anybody. It's just a matter of timing now. If it takes another six or seven months to get the belt back it doesn't matter. I'm going to do everything that it requires and I'll get it back. It will just take a little time that's all."