GLORY featherweight contender Gabriel Varga is not your typical fighter. Ask the Canadian kickboxer and he will tell you the same. He is the very definition of a man who marches to his own drummer.
The No. 3-ranked GLORY featherweight, who is one of the very best at his weight class, will be vying for the inaugural featherweight title at GLORY 20 against Mosab Amrani today (April 3, 2015) in Dubai.
Varga, 29, is soft spoken with a calm demeanor. Outside of the gym, you wouldn't guess that he is a fighter, but inside the ring it's easily apparent that he can scrap. In his latest GLORY 20 preview video, he is seen playing the piano. GLORY has been going further beneath the surface for their current promo packaging, as opposed to their usual training and fight highlights.
"My personality is much different than other fighters, so they just wanted to focus on that. Sort of show that I'm not the typical fighter," Varga recently told MMAmania.com. "It's great because that's what draws people in to 24/7s and All Access. There are fights I'm not even excited for and I'll watch those and then I'll be so excited for the fight. So if they can do that for the GLORY fighters that would be a big stepping stone. Something that I feel they've been missing."
So, what exactly is it that makes him different?
"I'm different in so many reasons," said Varga, who won the GLORY 17 four-man tournament last June. "I've told people before I don't even honestly like fighting. It's not something that I get a lot of enjoyment from. Aside from the fact that I like the competition. From getting in the ring, I don't get an adrenaline rush. I don't enjoy it that much. I enjoy the training so I guess I'm more of a martial artist in that respect.
"I've never been in a street fight. If I wasn't doing this... You hear a lot of people give the cliche line 'if I wasn't doing this I'd be in jail or prison or jail or dead or something.' If I wasn't doing this I'd be at University. I'm very laid back and I'm an introverted person. I'm a little different than people. I don't drink. I don't swear. Just a little bit odd, I guess."
A lot of fighters would be jumping up and down with the thought of winning a title. Not Varga. This fight against Amrani in Dubai will be treated no differently than any other fight he's had.
"I've always done that for my title fights," said Varga, who has won five amateur titles and a WKF and WKN as a pro. "Everything I've ever done, it's a fight. Train the same way you always train and don't get too excited or anything for it because at the end of the day you just have an opponent across the ring and you don't want to get distracted by anything."
Varga, 29, grew up in Toronto and currently resides in Victoria, a city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. He began training in Shotokan Karate early on in his childhood because, well, he didn't really have a choice in the matter.
"We had two rules growing up -- at least from my dad: You have to get your black belt and you have to play an instrument," explained Varga, who began playing piano in the third grade and is a black belt in Shotokan. "Those two things weren't up for debate and obviously those two things stuck with me. I love martial arts and I still love to play the piano."
Another unique part to Varga's life is his families involvement in his career and the support system that he has. Many Canadian kickboxers will tell you of their struggles to get fights in their home country. Most have to travel to further their career. Varga's father was his manager when he started. He put on fight cards and also flew in fighters from Romania and Australia for his son to fight.
"He was the guy who was calling K-1 and emailing GLORY to let them know that I was here," Varga explained. "Without him I would never have gotten the opportunity to fight for anybody because locally here you just don't get opportunities. Nobody wants to fly you out if you are going to beat their guy. Everybody wants to fly you out to take your title or to have somebody to beat. I got those opportunities through him."
Varga's brothers are also part of his camp and training regimen. HIs younger brother Aaron helps him train a few times a week, he says, and is his corner man on fight night. His older brother Jacob is a member of the National boxing team, who he flew him in for a couple weeks to help him finish off his preparation for Amrani.
"Lots of help from my family which is nice," Varga says. "That's the way I like things. I function really well around family. I don't do classes for training. I haven't done classes with anybody. It's just me with a pad holder or me with a sparring partner. I meet up with one person or maybe two. We do our work and that is just how I like to train."
Unlike, well, pretty much every fighter there is, Varga does not have a head coach. His brothers and his pad holder, Craig McWilliam -- who has worked with him exclusively for the last six years -- combine to fill that role for him. And It has worked successfully thus far.
"It's just a little bit of everybody giving their little bits and it sort of accumulates to one person. It works great for me. When you have a main coach I think they aren't available all the time and they have a very set style that they want to teach you. I don't need to always have everything set. If it's worked. I feel like everything has been successful in my career. If it's working... What's the expression? If it's not broken don't fix it."
The 10-2 fighter (4-1 GLORY) has one more important supporter in his life. As the old saying goes: behind every good man is a good woman. For Varga, that would be his girlfriend of four years, Rachel. The two were introduced by a mutual friend and prior to dating him, "she said she would never date a fighter," Varga explained.
But his friend talked him up, so she knew before they dated that he was a kickboxer.
"It's funny because she said she would never date a fighter," Varga laughs thinking back on it. "She's top of her class at University, just getting ready to go to dentistry school, really smart girl. So she already knew that I was and apparently, according to her, Googled me. When she met me she realized that not all fighters are the typical guys that drink and swear and stuff like that."
Varga's opponent at GLORY 20, Amrani, will be his toughest test yet and it's a matchup he has sought after for some time now. He can be unpredictable, has a unique style that is tough to prepare for, can attack while switching stances and he has knockout power.
"He's a good opponent and a guy that I've wanted to fight for a while because he's been one of the top guys in GLORY. I like the match up between us I think it will be interesting. Like you said, he's an interesting guy to try and do research on because he changes everything up so many times, but the main thing I've been preparing for is if he wants to come and brawl. If he wants to play a technical game that works even better in my favor I believe. If he wants to brawl that's what I've been preparing for."
"Lots of distance fighting," Varga continued on about the match up. "I've noticed he likes the range where he get throw the long sort of looping hooks. I just want to stick with straight punches from a distance. And then I've noticed if you get really, really tight on him where his looping punches aren't as effective, then he is not great at that distance either. So, I think he has one distance that is ideal for him and I want to do just my best to stay out of that range and fight my fight."
Amrani's style has been hard for Varga's sparring partners to emulate throughout this fight camp also.
"It's a different style and it's not something that is easy to have opponents to re-create," said Varga, who has sparred with GLORY lightweight and fellow Canadian Josh Jauncey in preparation for this fight. "It's always hard to have people re-create guys at this level. They are always so good at what they're best at. So, just do the best you can. I have a few guys that are trying to replicate it. Nobody can do it. I've had a few guys that I'm sparring with and they try to do that brawling style like him, but it's just not a problem with those guys."
The five-year veteran feels he has fully prepared for Amrani and is ready to battle for the vacant GLORY featherweight title.
"In your mind you are always kind of going 'oh man I should've done this, this and this.' I always do that every camp," he says. "I'm always coming up with extra things I need to do and work. I know from experience now that I push myself so hard and I always take the time to make sure I'm watching videos and doing the proper work so yeah, I'm feeling good now."
Should Varga prevail, he would be the second GLORY champion to hail from Canada. "Bazooka" Joe Valtellini is the current welterweight champion. There are also some Canadian contenders coming up the ranks: Robert Thomas in the middleweight division and Josh Jauncey at lightweight. And Simon Marcus--who is one of the best to come out of Canada--will be fighting in the four-man middleweight contender tournament at GLORY 20. He is proud to be representing the red and white flag with the maple leaf at GLORY 20 and said he's always "felt that Canada was just kind of hidden under a lack of opportunities."
"We had the talent," he continued. "So, GLORY has given Canada the opportunity to shine and I am grateful to them for that because without them really we would probably have people around the world going 'Canada and the States there are no good kickboxers there.' But really there are. We knew there were but now we get to prove it."