Although Krzysztof Soszynski decided to try out for ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ on a whim—with no expectations of making it through the casting process—it has turned out to be, arguably, one of the best decisions of his life.
Prior to his run on ‘The Ultimate Fighter: Team Nogueira vs. Team Mir’, Soszynski, who had competed in TKO, Strikeforce, and the IFL, had established himself as one of Canada’s most talented mixed martial artists.
As a member of Team Mir, Soszynski, who also made a name for himself with a number of practical jokes during his time in the ‘TUF house,’ registered victories over Mike Stewart and current UFC contender Kyle Kingsbury before eventually being submitted by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Vinny Magalhães in the semi-final round of the tournament.
Since leaving the show, Soszynski, with victories over Shane Primm, Brain Stann, Andre Gusmao, Stephan Bonnar, and Goran Reljic, has established himself in the thick of the UFC’s 205-pound division and is currently slated to take on Igor Pokrajac at UFC 131 on June 11 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Krzysztof Soszynski about, among other topics, the origin of ‘The Polish Experiment,’ coming to Canada from Poland, his days as a professional wrestler, and, of course, his upcoming match in Vancouver.
I was hoping to get a bit of clarification on your nickname—what is the origin of ‘The Polish Experiment’?
When I first started mixed martial arts training, I was 25 years old and I was just finishing up with some professional wrestling that I had done.
I was about 285 pounds and built like a truck. In professional wrestling, cardio is very important; our matches take 30 or 40 minutes sometimes. I had really good cardio and I went to my first training session and I was able to maintain my cardio for quite a while.
Usually, most guys that are 285 pounds and are built like trucks are done in about three or four minutes, so the guys at the gym started calling me ‘The Experiment’—because I was able to maintain with my conditioning and keep going with them for hours and hours.
Two or three weeks later—we had been talking and getting to know each other—and they found out that I was Polish. Therefore, ‘The Polish Experiment’ came to be.
Do you like the nickname?
I do. It’s a little long—which is too bad—but I definitely like it, because I think it brings me back to my Polish roots. I didn’t come up with that nickname myself; someone gave it to me—which is pretty cool. I like the nickname—sure.
Do you remember a lot of your life growing up in Poland?
Oh, of course—for sure.
Did you enjoy your life in Poland?
I grew up really well; I had a great, loving family—my parents took great care of my brother and I. Poland—at the time—was under a Communist regime. The reason that we left Poland was because of that; my parents wanted a better life for their two sons and themselves as well.
My dad went over to Canada when I was seven years old and got his citizenship. Once he got that, he was able to sponsor the rest of us over to Canada. We lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada—my parents are still here to this day.
Three years ago, though, when I was 30 years old, my wife and I moved on from Winnipeg to California to pursue mixed martial arts.
What were your first impressions of Canada?
I loved it. I couldn’t believe how big Canada was. What shocked me the most was the supermarkets; I had never seen anything like it before.
In Poland, there are small stores and you’ve got to wait in line for food and everything was, basically, on food-stamps and you could only get a certain amount of any given thing—depending on what you had.
In Canada, all of a sudden you see big supermarkets with everything you want—all that candy and everything—I was impressed by all of that.
How would you describe your life growing up in Winnipeg?
It was great. When you grow up with loving parents that work hard to give you a better life than they had before—it’s great. My brother and I get along very well.
My parents worked very hard—they still work to this day—and they set me up with good values; I appreciate them for that and I really thank them for that.
What sparked your interest in professional wrestling?
It was kind of funny; I was 10 years old—when we were new to Canada—and there was this man in the yellow tights and the yellow shirt and Hulk Hogan comes out and you’re just like, “Wow!” There are all of these people that are going crazy and chanting—I just fell in love.
I basically started watching professional wrestling when I came to Canada and I followed it up until now; from time to time, I’ll watch it to see what’s going on. When I got a chance—I was 21 or 22 years old—I was into weightlifting and bodybuilding.
I met someone who said, “Holy smokes. Would you be interested in doing some professional wrestling?” I said, “Yes,” and I went to train for a year-and-a-half or two years and did some shows across Canada and had a blast doing it—I met some great people.
Do you think, had you stuck with wrestling, you would’ve had a future in the industry?
Not really. I didn’t have the charisma that you need to pull further. I had all the moves and I was a big, muscular dude—I had the look.
I was just never one of those charismatic guys that was able to grab the microphone. I was really nervous in front of people, but that was the only thing that was holding me back from becoming a good professional wrestler.
Do you think there are any parallels between professional wrestling and what you do now?
A little bit. The thing that I took from professional wrestling, was that I was able to work in front of a big crowd; I was at shows with well over a thousand people in the audience and that really helped me when I was fighting in front of bigger crowds.
Fighting in front of big crowds is really hard; it’s really intimidating when there are a bunch of people watching you—it gets tough-mentally on you. That helped me out, but as well as the conditioning aspect; with long matches in wrestling, it definitely helped with my cardio.
Do you enjoy one over the other?
No—not really; I enjoy both. I’ve had more injuries from professional wrestling than I’ve had from mixed martial arts, though. Don’t get me wrong; I get beat up and tired when I train, but I got a lot more hurt in professional wrestling.
Slamming your back on the mat constantly day after day after day definitely took a toll on my body. I’m glad that I chose this path over that one.
What inspired you to try your hand at mixed martial arts?
It’s kind of funny; I had a chance to meet and learn from Bad News Brown—a wrestler from the 80’s—who won a medal at the Olympics in judo, very knowledgeable in hapkido and everything. I had a chance to go train with him in Calgary when I was getting my wrestling going and, basically, when he started training his students, he made them grapple.
I never watched the UFC too much back in the day. It wasn’t my thing, because I didn’t really understand the whole Jiu-Jitsu and the gi-thing. He showed me the kimura, he showed me the armbar, he showed me the anaconda and I instantly became hooked. I was like, “You guys can actually do this?”
I quit wrestling that week and I drove in a Greyhound bus from Calgary to Winnipeg and I took my first class in Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 25. After six months of training Jiu-Jitsu, I had my first fight. It was a completely nerve-wracking experience for me, but I fell in love and I just pursued it more and more. Six years of hard work has taken me to the UFC.
Has the determination ever wavered in your mind?
No—not really. There were a lot of ups-and-downs in my career; if you look at my record, I’ve had 11 losses and there was a time when four of them were in a row. I fought some tough dudes when I wasn’t really ready for such fighters—I took those challenges and I lost.
It was really heavy on my mind, but I was able to meet the right people along the way; guys like Bas Rutten, Shawn Tompkins, Randy Couture, [Dan] Henderson, and the guys from the Reign Training Centre with Mark Munoz.
It was a really long and grueling path with a lot of ups-and-downs, but I’m really happy that I stuck with it. I have a great family that supports me; they’re very happy for me and they support me every way they can. Without them, I don’t think any of this would be possible.
In the beginning, was this something that you thought you would be able to make a career out of?
Joe Doerksen was one of my main training partners and he brought me over to be in his corner for one of his UFC fights. My friend and I drove to Las Vegas from Winnipeg—30 hours—just to be in his corner and get that experience.
When I was backstage, I said to myself—and I told all of my coaches and my teammates—“One day, you’ll see me in the UFC.”
Nobody really believed that at all; they said I was too old—at the time I was 25 and just getting started—but I pushed myself and I decided to leave Winnipeg when I met the right people and I’m really happy that I did.
Looking back, how big of an impact did that trip to Vegas have on you?
It was huge. That was the changing point. When I first walked into that arena and sat down and looked at the Octagon in the middle, I just got shivers; it was the most incredible feeling that I had ever had—it was an incredible moment.
It was just me, myself, and I sitting in the stands, looking way down at the Octagon, watching Joe Doerksen and Jeremy Horn train. I just got the shivers for a good 20 minutes, just thinking how incredible it was.
That was an incredible moment and I’m so glad he took me there. To this day, I’ve always been thankful for that and it was a definitely an important moment in my life.
Did Joe win his fight?
No. That was one of his first fights in the UFC and he lost, but it was a great fight. I went to the hospital with him—and it was actually pretty funny—he had a concussion, so we were talking about the same things over and over and over again. Whatever the outcome, though—it wouldn’t have mattered.
What inspired you to try out for ‘The Ultimate Fighter’?
That was my wife. I felt that I was too old and I felt that I was a little too experienced; having over 30 fights at the time. I was living in Temecula with Dan Henderson and a lot of guys from the team were trying out; Jesse Taylor made it on the show.
She thought that since these guys were making it on, then the least we can do is make a tape, so she brought the camera out, we talked for a bit, she sent the tape in, and we drove to Los Angeles to talk to one of the producers of the show and talk for a bit.
Later, they called and said that they wanted me to come out for the medicals and the rest is history—I made the show.
Did you think, realistically, that you would make the cut?
No—not at all. I thought I was way too old and I thought I was way too experienced. I watched ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ for many years and they always look for younger guys; guys with a lot less experience than I’ve got, but it was in the stars, I guess, and it was meant to be.
I always believe that everything truly happens for a reason and it did for me; it was a great experience.
On your way to Las Vegas—when you were going for ‘The Ultimate Fighter’—what was going through your mind?
A lot of nerves. I had seen the show before … I know Gabe Ruediger really well and he helped me get ready with my videotape and he—and Jesse Taylor—talked to me about the show.
I was really nervous; I had six weeks away from everybody with no phone, not knowing what’s going on with your family and everything—it was very stressful. I was very excited, but very nervous at the time.
Just because you go to Vegas, because you had to fight to get into the house, doesn’t mean that you get to stay [laughs]. It was tough.
Did you eventually get comfortable in the house?
Yeah—for sure. I felt really good in the house. It was much more mental than it was physical; when you’re stuck in the house with the same people for six weeks and you’re with them for 24/7 and there’s nothing else to do—it gets kind of rowdy, kind of crazy.
There’s weird stuff going through your head all of the time and some guys are getting sleep apnea—because you’re sleeping during the day and you can’t sleep at night.
Then people lose their fights and they go crazy and things get out of hand, but with me being the older guy, I never did anything too out of hand. I’m glad that I did it; it was a good experience and it got me to the goal—which was to make it to the UFC.
Was there anything else that you took away from your time on the show?
Just the fact that I was never around so many cameras, so that really helped me learn how it is to have a camera in your face all the time and not let it bother you so much.
At the start, it was hard not to be bothered by it and be open about everything and talk to all of these guys with cameras in your face, but after a while, you start to get used to it. It was a unique experience and one that I’ll never forget.
If you could change anything about your experience, would you?
No. I pulled some stupid pranks and did some stupid stuff like that, but I had a lot of fun doing it—I had a blast. I lost to Vinny—which was upsetting—but that’s part of being a fighter; growing from your mistakes. I would never change anything; if I had the chance, I would do everything exactly the same.
The main goal, for me, was to make it to the UFC and making it to the semi-finals and losing to Vinny gave me an opportunity to make it into the UFC. I knew that if I could beat Shane Primm, I’d make it to the UFC and I’d get a contract, but if I lose, then I’m out.
Fortunately, it was my night; I won the fight by kimura—I got Submission of the Night. It was a great night for me; my family was all there—it was fantastic.
Do you think you would view your time on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ as a success had you not made it through to the UFC?
No. As a fighter, everybody dreams to make it to the UFC—whether they sign you as a free agent or if you’re coming from the show—so if I didn’t make it, it would be upsetting; I would be heartbroken for a while.
I’m not sure if I would’ve continued on with mixed martial arts; if I didn’t make it to the UFC, that’s how my career could’ve ended, but it didn’t end that way. Like I said, the whole experience was worth it.
Do you ever think about how your life may be now had you not made it to the UFC?
I think about that kind of stuff a lot; what if I wasn’t a professional wrestler? What if I didn’t meet Bad News Brown? What if I never made it to Canada from Poland?
There are definitely a lot of things that go through my head when I think of how much my life has changed; coming from Poland as a very shy, quiet kid to a 230-pound tattooed bald guy who’s fighting for a living.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride and something that a lot of people don’t believe.
Did you ever think, in your youth, that you would be afforded so many opportunities in your life?
Definitely not. I thank my parents every day for the opportunities; without them, I would never be in this situation. Like I said, when you’re in Poland, you’re in school—and school is very hard—and you try to move on.
I’ve been back a few times and I’ve seen my cousins and they’re all doing really well and having a great time, but I wouldn’t have any of the opportunities that I’ve had had I not come to Canada.
What does fighting in the UFC mean to you?
It definitely means that I’m one of the better fighters in the world; I’m in the upper-echelon in the mixed martial arts world. The UFC is the top company in mixed martial arts—it’s where all the top guys fight—and, on top of that, I’ve got a pretty good record.
I’m very proud of myself for all of the hard work that I’ve done over the last six or seven years. Coming from a background of really nothing associated with martial arts and getting to where I am today, I feel is a great deal and it shows how hard I worked to get there.
I’m very honoured and very proud to be fighting for the UFC and I’m looking forward to some big things.
How do you feel about what you’ve been able to accomplish in the UFC so far?
I feel really good. I’m one of those fighters that’s not about winning or losing; whether I win or lose is not the most important thing.
Don’t get me wrong; losing sucks and I don’t like losing, but I’m more about making sure that the UFC and the fans of the sport get what they paid for and enjoyed what they came to see. That’s the reason why I fight the way I fight; I don’t fight to not lose, you know what I mean?
I fight to win and I fight to put on a great show for the fans; you’re not going to see some lay-and-pray from me or any stalling tactics or anything like that—I’m going to go out there and swing for the fences and punch and kick and submit my way to victories.
If I win, then that’s great, but if I lose—it is what it is; eventually you’re going to lose in mixed martial arts. I just want to have fun and let the people know that I go out there and give it my all every single time.
Have you always had this outlook?
When you lose fights early on in your career, it’s not about winning or losing anymore; it’s about making sure that you’re entertaining and you get more fights.
When I went through those four straight losses, I thought to myself, “You know what? I’m just going to go in there and let them go.”
My style was a little different at first; I used to take guys down and beat them up a little bit that way—I never did too much striking or anything like that—but once I got my striking down, I thought that I would just go out there and have fun.
I’ve been working really hard and I’m enjoying my life, so obviously I’m doing something right; I’m signing with the UFC and I’m getting all of these great fights. It’s been a good ride, so I may as well stick with it.
How are you feeling going into your upcoming fight?
I feel fantastic. I always work really hard; my camps are usually 13, 14, 15 week camps, so I can start off slow and peak at the right time—I don’t have to go all-out in that short period of time. I take a nice long time to get my body going.
I’m 33 years old—I’m not the young pup that I was back in the day—so my body needs a bit more time to rest and heal; that’s why I like the long camps. I feel fantastic; Igor and I are going to have a great fight and I’m really excited about fighting back in Canada.
What problems do you feel Igor poses to you?
I don’t know if he poses any big problems, but—and this is the thing that I like about Igor—he’s well-rounded; he’s got good hands, he’s got decent wrestling, and a pretty good ground game.
That’s what I like—it’s going to make for a fun fight. I have decent hands, my wrestling is okay, and my Jiu-Jitsu isn’t too bad. I think we make a great match-up on paper and—if he and I are willing to go toe-to-toe, it’s going to be a great show for the fans.
Do you feel that Igor has anything that you haven’t seen before?
I’ve fought so many times against so many big, tough guys and I’ve seen it all—that’s why I have no problem when the fight gets changed on me and I have to fight someone else or if I have to take a fight on short-notice.
I’m just going out there and having fun and putting it on the line for the fans; whatever happens happens.
Do you have a prediction for how it’s going to play out?
No—I don’t predict fights or anything like that. I just know that I’m going to go out there and give 100 per cent and put it all on the line and, like I said, whatever happens happens.
What would a win at UFC 131 mean to you?
My family is going to be there and I’ve got a tonne of friends that are coming out for the fight, so I definitely want to get a ‘W’ so they can enjoy themselves after and go out and have fun.
After you lose a fight [laughs], you’re a bit down and you’ve got to get yourself back up by hanging out with your family, friends, and fans. It would be great to win—I’m 1-0 in Vancouver—but like I said, it’s all about putting on a great show.
What would putting on a great show mean to you?
It would mean, hopefully, main-card status after this fight; 6-2 in the UFC is a great record and I think a lot of fighters would love to have that kind of record in such a big, tough company.
I would hope to get main card-status after this and never have to fight on the undercard again [laughs].
Assuming you win, where do you see yourself in the UFC’s light-heavyweight division?
I’m definitely—if we do win—close to top-10. I’d love to fight somebody that’s just on the outside of the top-10 or someone that’s ranked 10th, ninth, or eighth—just to test myself. I always look forward to a challenge—not just a physical, but a mental one.
I’ve fought some tough guys and I would love to continue to test myself against some of the top-10 guys in the light-heavyweight division.
What do you feel you can achieve in this sport?
Like anybody that gets into the sport, I want to be a champ. One day, if I get the opportunity to fight for that title—whether it’s against Jon Jones or whoever the champ is—it would be an absolute honour and I would fight my butt off.
Realistically speaking, though, I know that I don’t have the talent of guys like Anderson Silva. I’m just going to go out there and continue to train hard and, hopefully, one day get a title-shot.
When it’s all said and done, what will you be satisfied with?
I will be satisfied when I know that—with every fight I’ve had—I went out there and put it all on the line. Regardless of the outcome, fans will always know me for being a very entertaining fighter.
Nothing makes me happier than—in between rounds—when the fans stand up and applaud and continue to push me in the fight.
When I’ve had those big wars—like with Stephan Bonnar—the fans are always standing up, cheering, and going crazy.
You definitely get motivated from that—you get pushed from that. I enjoy when the people enjoy themselves watching me fight.
How would you like to be remembered when it’s all said and done?
Just what I said; being remembered as a really tough fighter who likes to entertain the fans and puts it on the line every time.
There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that—every time you watch me fight—you’ll be getting your money’s worth.
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