Every mixed martial artist has a base. For some, it’s wrestling or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but in the case of 27-year-old Tyrone Spong, it’s kickboxing. The Suriname-born, Netherlands-raised fighter is still a top-10 competitor in the striking world, but he has now shifted his focus to the world of MMA.
“It’s a whole different ballgame,” Spong said of his transition in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “Kickboxing is second nature to me; I’ve been doing it for such a long time. I’m trying to do the same with MMA now. I’m looking forward to showcasing that on Nov. 3.”
On that day, Spong will make his debut for the upstart World Series of Fighting promotion, which hosts its first event at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
“I’m really excited,” expressed the striking stalwart. “They’re making their debut and I’m making my MMA debut on the same show. It’s going to be showcased on NBC [Sports Network] and I’m fighting on the main card.”
Across the cage from Spong will be fellow light heavyweight Travis Bartlett, who carries an MMA record of 7-2. Despite a lack of experience in MMA, Spong has competed at the highest level of combat sports under the K-1 and It’s Showtime banners.
“I think [the experience] will help me,” declared Spong. “Either you’re a fighter or you’re not. I think that I’m a natural-born fighter. We’ll find out.”
To ease his transition into MMA, Spong holed up with the Blackzilian camp in Florida to train with his close friend Rashad Evans and numerous well-established MMA combatants.
“I couldn’t do it without those guys,” admitted Spong. “I have a great team to train with. They have champions in every aspect—wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Braulio Estima, Jorge Santiago and ‘JZ’ Cavalcante are great BJJ artists. We have Mario Sperry as a coach. On the other side, we have a lot of great wrestlers in the gym. Rashad Evans is one of the best wrestlers in MMA. All of those guys bring something to the table that I benefit from training with them.”
So what has been the easiest aspect of learning the MMA game?
“Putting on the small gloves,” he said with a laugh. “I’m a perfectionist, and I want to do things right. It’s all hard if you want to do it properly.”
“The ground game is something else,” he quipped. “You have to put in a lot of work if you want to master it, and I’m still working hard to do that. Both wrestling and jiu-jitsu have small aspects that you have to pay attention to. From the outside, it just seems like it’s two guys scrambling on the ground, trying to submit each other, but it’s very technical.”
Another factor that has helped Spong feel comfortable in his new sport is UFC heavyweight Alistair Overeem. Like Spong, Overeem learned his striking prowess in Holland and has competed at the highest level of kickboxing.
“He’s a great teammate and he helps me with the ground game,” Spong said of his relationship with the former K-1 champion. “Because he comes from the same background, I understand him quite well. If he shows me something and explains it, I understand it because I know where he’s coming from and he knows where I’m coming from.”
However, unlike Overeem—who now competes exclusively in MMA—Spong isn’t ready to call it quits on his kickboxing career. In fact, just a few months ago, Spong scored a knockout victory over one of the sport’s legends, Peter Aerts.
“I now have a four-fight deal with Glory,” said Spong. “They’re the biggest striking organization worldwide. It’s just in my nature to compete among the best. It gives me the opportunity to still make money kickboxing and, at the same time, build up an MMA career.”
Having experienced what it’s like to prepare for fights in both sports, Spong isn’t ready to say that one is harder than the other. And he thinks that others might follow his lead and try their hand at both sports.
“Preparing for a fight is always hard. You have to put in a lot of hard work,” he said. “It’s definitely different than preparing for kickboxing fight. Of course it’s difficult, but more difficult? I don’t know.
“There are talented kickboxers who can make that transition, so why not? They can bring added excitement to the MMA game.”
Spong will look to do just that in his MMA debut on Nov. 3. With a victory over Bartlett at WSOF’s inaugural event, Spong can validate his assertion of being a natural-born fighter.
Top Photo: Tyrone Spong (Ben Pointer/Glory)
Top Photo: Tyrone Spong (Ben Pointer/Glory)