There aren’t many fighters out there who possess the natural abilities that Tyrone Spong does, but there are many that see his position in the GLORY Light Heavyweight division and want a piece of it. Last year Tyrone Spong worked his way through an 8-man tournament at GLORY 9 New York where he went over the former It’s Showtime 95kg Champion, Danyo Ilunga, in dominant fashion. This secured Spong’s spot at the top of the heap in the world of Kickboxing’s Light Heavyweight division, which was only compounded upon when he met Nathan “Carnage” Corbett in the ring at GLORY 11.
Corbett has long-been considered the best at that weight class in Muay Thai for many years, with Corbett rarely ever competing in Kickboxing rules. A rematch against Tyrone Spong within the GLORY ring was too much for him to turn down, though. The first fight with Corbett turned into a learning experience for Spong, who showed in the rematch just how much he learned since then. He completely dominated Corbett at GLORY 11, which only makes the GLORY 15 Light Heavyweight Championship tournament that much more exciting for Kickboxing fans across the world.
Heading into the GLORY 15 Istanbul tournament you’d expect Tyrone Spong to feel overly confident, but Spong is intent on taking it very seriously. While other side of the bracket features a man that he decimated back in November against a guy who is dropping to Light Heavyweight for the first time, in his hometown, with all of the pressure being on him, Spong still sees both men as very dangerous opponents. That being said, the first thing on Spong’s mind is the very tough Brazilian fighter Saulo Cavalari. Spong realizes how big of a fight this is for Saulo, which makes him incredibly dangerous, in Spong’s view:
“He’s young, he’s hungry and this is the biggest fight of his life,” Spong explains. “But for me? This is just another fight. You know, I’ve fought the best, I’ve beaten the best in the world, so this is just another fight for me. For him this is the biggest fight of his life. That makes him very dangerous.”
If you’ve been following Tyrone’s career trajectory, you know what the big match would be for this card; a rematch against Gokhan Saki. The two fought back in 2009 when Tyrone was first making a push into K-1’s then-stacked Heavyweight division, where he put on a great fight before being stopped in the extension round. What is fascinating is that we’ve gotten to see the personal and professional growth of Tyrone Spong over these past few years. At age 28 what we see in Tyrone Spong is an accomplished fighter who has a positive outlook towards fighting, trying to shy away from participating in the trash talk part of selling a fight.
Simply put, Tyrone Spong is one of the few fighters out there that doesn’t need to sell his fights with words, because his actions in the ring sell his fights for him. It was no secret heading into this fight that Tyrone was unhappy with the decision to place Gokhan Saki into the Light Heavyweight tournament on his first fight at Light Heavyweight in his hometown while the former It’s Showtime 95kg Champion Danyo Ilunga is excluded. All of this doesn’t matter when it comes down to it, though, he admits, insisting that we ask him how he feels about it after the show is over.
“You know, I could speak up and say a lot of, well,” he pauses for a second, before laughing. “A lot of shit, but my mother taught me that actions speak louder than bullshit. We’ll see what happens, though, anything can happen in a fight.”
His gaze is fixed on walking out as the GLORY Light Heavyweight Champion, although he feels like he is already the GLORY Light Heavyweight Champion heading into the fight. “Let me ask you,” he responds when asked if he considers himself the champion already. “That is how we’ll decide this; do you think that I’m the Champion.”
The only response I could muster was an honest one; “Absolutely. You beat Danyo Ilunga.”
“Well good then,” he chuckles. “So you and me think the same thing.”
As focused as he is on his upcoming fight on Saturday, Tyrone Spong has big plans for 2014 beyond claiming the GLORY Light Heavyweight Championship. His next MMA fight is actually scheduled for World Series of Fighting 11 on July 5th. Beyond that, he also plans to make his professional Boxing debut within the year. Spong has been working with renowned Boxing coach Pedro Diaz.
“You know, I’m really happy with how my Boxing training has been going,” he explains. “I’ve been sparring with Heavyweight Boxers a lot and my Boxing coach is happy with how everything is going. So, we’ll see. There’s a pretty big talent pool here in the States and he’s said that I’m one of the most powerful fighters out here in the States now. You know, I’m just very happy to have this privilege and opportunity..
“I never envisioned this when I moved out here a few years ago,” Spong reflects on his success since moving to Florida. “I didn’t come here with that purpose, I just came here, I was like, ‘fuck it, I’m moving.’ But now that I’ve been here for a while I’ve got this following in Kickboxing, MMA and now Boxing, so that makes me very unique. You know, I’m just happy. I’m just happy man.
“You know, I have a great team,” he continues. “I’m here with the likes of Rashad Evans, Anthony Johnson, Vitor Belfort, you know, all of those guys. You know, all of those guys are great athletes, the top of the top. For me to be able to compete with these guys every day in the gym, you’d have to be pretty fucked up if you weren’t picking stuff up!”
But things haven’t all been easy for Tyrone Spong over the past few months. Spong was a very public figure throughout the last year, with the video documentary series “The King of the Ring” helping to increase his notoriety among fans here in the United States. Then the videos just stopped and it’s been months since the last episode. Spong has gone through a series of difficult losses over the past few months which have caused him to pull back from the public eye a bit. Not only did Spong have to deal with the crushing loss of a good friend, but he also had to deal with the sudden death of a family member as well.
Kickboxing fans will remember in late January when Kickboxer Tarik el Idrissi was gunned down in the Netherlands. Tyrone and Tarik knew each other from their earliest days of training, forming an instant bond between the two. The loss of el Idrissi was a crushing one for Tyrone:
“He was actually my first training partner,” his tone begins to shift a bit, reflecting on his deceased friend. “He was a great fighter, I learned a lot from him. He was one of the best out there and he was a big supporter of me, too. You know, he had to stop fighting because he broke his shin bone twice, so he had to stop, but he still supported me. He loved me and he was so supportive of me because, you know, we were just boys, like fourteen years old when we were training together. For him to pass away in such a tragic way -- it wasn’t like an accident or anything -- but just being murdered, killed like that, my uncle as well, it fucked me up a lot.
“You know, my family is hurting right now,” he explains in regards to his uncle, who was murdered just two weeks later in South Africa. “It has been a tough time and I wasn’t ready to show all of that. So that’s why there hasn’t been a new King of the Ring, but there will be one soon. I’ve gotten a lot fans out there and they all want to know more, so they won’t have to wait much longer.
“It was really hard for me to get going, though,” he explains about his training for GLORY 15. “Especially with my uncle, I was so close to him. I spoke to him a lot and he was very proud of me, so, yeah,” he pauses. “It was very rough to wrap my head around training and fighting again. It’s part of life, but for me to lose two people so close to me in that way, that close together, man,” he takes a deep breath. “It was something else, but now I’m focused on what I have to do, which is to win that title.”
For many fighters suffering such tremendous losses would put them out of action for a while, but for Spong he knows that opportunity is knocking for him right now and that the loss of his loved ones is no excuse to stop. He plans to continue making them proud when he steps into the ring at GLORY 15. In a way, it is inspirational to see just how positive Spong’s attitude is going into GLORY 15, that he has been able to channel his setbacks into something positive and that his will is nowhere near broken.
Dave Walsh has been covering MMA and Kickboxing since 2007 before changing his focus solely to Kickboxing in 2009, launching what was the only English-language site dedicated to giving Kickboxing similar coverage to what MMA receives. He was the co-founder of HeadKickLegend and now LiverKick. He resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he works as a writer of all trades.
His second novel, Terminus Cycle, is available now via Kindle and Paperback.