July 11 marks the return of KSW with the comeback of Tomasz Drwal, after spending the first half of 2020 away due to the global coronavirus pandemic
with KSW 53: Reborn. But it won’t just be the KSW itself that resumes on that night, as it will also feature the return of Tomasz Drwal after a five-year hiatus from active MMA competition.
Drwal will battle Łukasz Bienkowski in a middleweight contest prior to the KSW lightweight title fight and co-main event. It will be Drwal’s first professional MMA bout since suffering a loss to Michał Materla in a KSW middleweight title fight back at KSW 31 in May 2015.
Tomasz Drwal making comeback as KSW makes its return with KSW 53
Drwal suffered ligament injuries in that contest and was forced to the sidelines for at least two years after the surgery “wasn’t perfect.” More leg issues and focus on his family and martial arts school made his absence from the cage even longer.
But Drwal, in an exclusive interview with FanSided MMA, said he was able to train with no injuries for two years, and at that point, a spark was reignited.
“I think that there was a reason that I [got] hungry to come back,” Drwal told FanSided MMA. “I want to fight again, so I decided to come back. If you are in this business for like 12 years, and you have a break [for] five years, you start missing these feelings before the fight, around the fight, feelings you get during the preparation for the fight.
“There [are] a couple of reasons, but the most important is the passion for this sport. I decided to come back in because of that. And secondly, it also helps me to run my business, which is connected with martial arts. So, it also promotes my school, my name, and my fights, too.”
As a martial arts practitioner for years and a veteran MMA fighter, not to mention running a martial arts school, the comeback plans and training weren’t too much of a bother or adjustment on its core.
Tomasz Drwal on dealing with pandemic restrictions during comeback prep
What did give a setback to Drwal, who made his MMA debut back in 2004, however, was the coronavirus outbreak forcing quarantines all across the world.
“I refreshed my old roads with my old coaches,” Drwal said. “We started to cooperate again like a couple of years ago. And in the first days of [the coronavirus] restrictions, we had to train without people, without commercial clients in our gyms. It wasn’t a big problem, but the problem was with sparring partners and the rest of the people from other towns because we cannot train with sparring partners. But after all this, the preparation was good. No injuries, no overtraining situations.”
Of course, the pandemic still in effect to some degree also means no fans in attendance for the KSW’s return show. Rather than a traditional arena, KSW 53: Reborn, will take place in an undisclosed studio in Warsaw, Poland.
And while this means Drwal won’t get a hero’s welcome in his return in terms of a crowd reaction and their motivation, he says it’ll be easier to compete in front of a zero. In fact, he adds it’ll be easier on the event’s younger fighters as well.
“From [the] fighters’ perspective, it’s easier because it’s not gonna be, I think, as huge [a] pressure like 10,000 people watching you live,” Drwal said. “So it’s going to be tougher sparring in the gym. that kind of situation. So, I’m also interested in how it’s gonna be without our audience. I think it’s gonna be easier, faster, no pressure. And especially if you know I have a lot of experience with a big audience…it wasn’t a problem for me, but, you know, for these youngers, it’s going to be for sure, especially when they make their debut.”
Tomasz Drwal reflects on his experiences with UFC, dealing with management
In the western hemisphere, Drwal is perhaps best known for his six-fight stint with the UFC between 2007 and 2010, signing a deal with the MMA promotion after a 13-fight win streak, with most wins coming via a finish, in Europe.
Drwal was stopped by Thiago Silva in his UFC debut at UFC 75, but he rebounded to win three fights in a row, scoring a first-round knockout of Ivan Serati at UFC 93, a Knockout of the Night bonus-earning first-round finish of Mike Ciesnolevicz at The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale and a second-round submission of Drew McFedries in a middleweight bout at UFC 103. Drwal then dropped back-to-back fights to Rousimar Palhares and David Branch before his UFC contract expired.
“All my time in the UFC was good memories,” Drwal said. “[Whether] I lost or won, there were a lot of interesting things during the fights and preparation because I had the chance to live in the United States. So, from the poor guy from [a] small village in Poland, [I] was given the chance to see the world, to see how it’s working in the best and the biggest organization in the world.”
Obviously, the UFC that Drwal competed in was different from the evolved juggernaut that it is today. As of late, the UFC has come under fire from a number of fighters — including some of its own in Jon Jones and Jorge Masvidal — taking issue with fighter pay. In addition, several other MMA fighters have come out with their own horror stories in dealing with former matchmaker Joe Silva.
Drwal said he’s unable to relate to any of these problems — citing how helpful the UFC and its lawyers were in settling his own issues and contracts with his first manager in Poland. Drwal said it would make sense that some problems would arise with how much a promotion changes over time, but notes sometimes fighters themselves can be problematic.
When giving advice to promoters and to today’s fighters still making their way through the sport, Drwal reminds the two sides that they have to work together. Drwal added that MMA has become so much different in terms of style, athletes and popularity from his 2004 start, and he believes that there is still an opportunity for the sport to grow even further.
“I think, in the next 10 years, it has a chance to be one of the most popular spots on the world,” Drwal said. “Promoters and managers work for fighters, and fighters have to be aware that they are also working for promoters and managers. We all play in the one basket. Also, we’re all trying to build something big. And we all want it to reach as [much of the] public as we can. So, only that way [can we] build [a] big environment, the audience, and big sports like MMA.”
Tomasz Drwal ready, confident for KSW 53 return bout with Łukasz Bienkowski
Drwal’s opponent in his comeback fight, Bienkowski, is himself coming off his own long layoff, having not fought in an MMA bout since February 2018. Bienkowski won five of his first six professional MMA bouts, and he’s a perfect 2-0 in KSW so far, but he’ll enter this contest on a two-fight losing skid. Some would compare Drwal and Bienkowski’s experiences and records and might want to take this comeback bout into question. But Drwal says having an opponent who is also coming off a long break is good for him and says he didn’t know too much about Bienkowski but approached this fight like any other — studying his opponent’s style and coming up with a solid gameplan for the fight.
“For me, he’s an unknown guy,” Drwal said. “I know what he can do in the stand-up game. I know what he can do in the grappling game. He can be dangerous, but we studied his style and I think we know what to do on Saturday with Lukasz.” Some may consider it kind of appropriate that Drwal’s career is “reborn” at a KSW event, but Drwal says he will reverse the judgment on that remark until after he competes. On that note, however, he does think that the KSW’s return, working with the restrictions they will still have on them, is a great thing for all parties.
“I think the whole environment was missing shows like KSW, especially after this coronavirus, which has not ended yet,” Drwal said. “And now there is like a society, stakeholders…you know, people are afraid, yeah? People are afraid, fighters are afraid, fans are afraid. And not only in the sport; all over the world, business is slowing down. But we have to do something with it. We cannot just sit in a corner and [wait] for…nothing was going on.”