In just a few days, Tomasz Drwal will make his long-awaited return at KSW 53.
The bout will go down in Warsaw, Poland, on July 11, and it will feature the former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight’s return to competition more than five years after losing to Michal Materla in a championship fight at KSW 31. “The Gorilla” (21-5-1) confessed that right now, he feels like Rocky Balboa when Balboa went to Russia to prepare for Ivan Drago in “Rocky 4.”
“It’s like going back to ten years ago when I could just focus on training,” he said to Sherdog. “I went back to my old gym, back to my old trainers. It all started from here. I can feel the smell and the history of this place. The training camp was completely different this time. After I tore my ligaments, I had several surgeries to clean the mess with my knees. Right now, I’m feeling excellent. The preparation for this fight was crazy, but even with the national lockdown, I managed to get at one hundred percent.”
The 38-year old recalled the long path that brought him back to the cage. Shortly after his unsuccessful KSW debut, he should have met Aziz Karaoglu at KSW 33. Destiny had a different path in store for him.
“Ten days before the [Karaoglu] fight, I was jumping knees to the chest to warm up. I landed and tore my ligaments. I had to undergo surgery and take a break. Two years after that, I had to fix my other knee, so I stayed on the sidelines for another year. In the meantime, I became a businessman who owns four places between my city and other cities. Once you start having children, once you start getting older, and you start also looking at things from a different perspective.”
Drwal is one of the MMA trailblazers in Poland. He was the first Polish fighter to compete in the UFC, making his debut in the Octagon against Thiago Silva at UFC 75 back in September 2007. That night, “The Gorilla” tasted defeat at the hands of the Brazilian by knockout in Round 2. After that, Drwal went on a three-win run at the expense of Ivan Serati, Mike Ciesnolevicz, and Drew McFedries. The Polish fighter's foray in the UFC ended after losing to Rousimar Palhares and David Branch at UFC 111 and UFC Fight Night 22, respectively. Although he lost his roster spot after the defeats, “The Gorilla” arguably started the second wave of Polish MMA.
“When I started, if you mentioned MMA or the fact that you fight in the cage, everyone started thinking that you were a criminal, or you were one of the guys working for the mob,” Drwal said. “There were fewer events and fighters. Besides the UFC, now a lot of Polish fighters are competing in KSW and Bellator and more than a thousand local shows around the world. There is no question that MMA in Poland is a big deal, and that Polish fighters are all around the world.”
While he understands the business related to it, the Polish fighter confessed that he doesn't like trash-talking.
"[What] I don’t like is the way everybody is about trash-talking to promote a fight. It brings nothing good to this discipline. In my MMA gyms, I teach people the values of martial arts, about respect. I always ask my students: imagine you have children and you want them to train in MMA, which school will you chose for them? The one with the master who talks bulls---? Or would you prefer the school with the master who teaches your children all the values of proper training, diet, physical and mental education? Imagine if football players talked like MMA fighters. I know it’s good for business, but does it help our discipline? I think not."
Drwal plans to ask for a rematch with Materla as soon as possible. But first, he has to overcome Lukasz Bienkowski (5-3), a fierce fighter whose ruthless aggression earned him the nickname of “Polish Wanderlei.”
“I know he’s got some heavy punches, and he can be dangerous,” he added. “For me, this is a good matchup since he also didn’t fight for almost two years. He is a tough guy, he is younger, and I have full respect for him because everybody is dangerous. To be honest, I don’t think he’s not the same level of Materla, Khalid, or other KSW top-level fighters. Everyone wants to win, and that's what I’m going to do on Saturday.”
Drwal seemed to really care about giving a clean image of the sport he loves. More than anything, the longtime vet wishes for the public to understand and appreciate the “art” in mixed martial arts.
“I want to prove to everybody that MMA is more than just fighters with tattoos fighting in a cage. There is more than fighting in MMA, like running, lifting, stretching, mental exercises, and following a healthy diet. MMA is not only smashing someone’s head and rough stuff like that.
“The problem I have here in Poland is that when you invite someone for training, they are always scared,” he concluded. “They think MMA training, it’s like a real fight in the cage with no protections. Everybody knows football rules because everybody plays football since they were kids. Imagine if everyone knew the rules of MMA. You can train MMA everywhere if you know what to do. You can do it in the park, alone or with a partner."