On June 21, Glory 17 will go down in Los Angeles. There will be two title fights and an 8-fighter middleweight last-man-standing tournament for their first PPV. The Spike TV portion of the card will feature a 4-man featherweight tournament.
Facing off in a highly anticipated fight in first round will be the #3 ranked Yodkhunpon Sitmonchai from Thailand taking on the #5 ranked Canadian, Gabriel Varga.
This should be an incredible fight. Yodkhunpon brings a more traditional Muay Thai base into the Glory kickboxing ring. While Gabriel brings a more varied karate/boxing background with him.
Gabriel was kind enough to take some time away from his training to talk with me.
Train, Train, Train…
Those were the first words from Gabriel when I asked him to take us through a typical day in his life. As you talk with Gabriel it is easy to see how important training is to him and his life. He does not just train for a fight, it is also a way of life for him.
Living and eating healthily has been a base for him since he was a child. It started with his parents and grew with him.
Both of my parents were doing all of the organic produce, everything we would eat was really healthy, fresh not frozen and everything local including meat. Since that was the way I was brought up food is really easy for me and when it came to fighting I just had to learn how to cut 10 pounds.
My dad had a gym when he was younger, but not a big competitive career. He ran a little boxing gym for a couple of years and taught us all of the karate/boxing basics when we were younger.
We did the progression from the point fighting when we were kids to what they used to call continuous point fighting in our teen years. Then sort of moved into the full-contact with no head punching in our late teens.
They scored the flashy techniques really high back then if you were throwing a punch to the body you were getting one point but if you were throwing a spinning kick then you are getting three so those techniques were always important and I realized that they are not the most effective techniques but they are fun to throw and the crowd always likes it.
This progression has also included the different styles which has led to a naturalness and ease to Gabriel’s striking. It carries over to the way he blends his kicks and punches together within his combinations.
That is just years of a number of different martial arts…I have been doing it for so long they are the start of everything…When I was 7,8,9, and 10 I was like most kids. I went to karate a couple of times a week and I had fun with it. Then when I was 12 I started training six days a week and I would do two classes in a row with the adults. Then doing Aikido at a different gym on Saturdays. I just love the training and going to the gym everyday. I have been doing it since I was 12 years old.
I like kickboxing the most. I know Muay Thai is close, but I really like the hand combinations which I really appreciate. I have had people approach me a couple of times about becoming a professional boxer. I have gone down and trained with a couple of guys so I really appreciate boxing, but kickboxing is what I love. I appreciate boxing and Muay Thai.
I also teach kids Aikido which I always really enjoyed. Not a practical martial art in my opinion, but really fun to learn the rolls, the jumping rolls and the break falls. Then I did jiu-jitsu but I did really like it. I didn’t like somebody rubbing in my face with their Gi. I like the technique but I would rather get hit in the head with a punch then have somebody scuffing me up with their Gi around my eye. All of the martial arts really in some way. The only ones I have not done before are Kung Fu and a couple of other things like that but the ones that you can compete in, I really like those.
You hear Gabriel use the word effective a lot when talking about his style and what techniques he uses. That all changes based on the situation and the opponent. His background with all the different styles gives him a larger arsenal to work with in the ring. He can capitalize on the openings when they present themselves. Precisely because he has the knowledge and the skill to execute the right technique at the right time.
Personally it is just that much easier to throw a body punch and land a lot more of them and it takes so much less energy. It is just easier. When I fought Lerdsila, I was told to train spinning backfists just because it might work on him because of his style. So, if I know that something might work on an opponent then we will train specifically for that but most of the time it is the basics that wins fights.
When it comes to figuring out what will work against a specific opponent, Gabriel is involved in that process. He is actually very involved with all aspects of his career as he does not have a head coach.
Luckily I have a number of people who help me but all of them have full-time jobs and I have to work around their schedules. So everyday is just a two-hour run cardio session at some point. Usually myself or with my brother (Jacob) who does amateur boxing. Then at some other point in the day sometimes it’s morning, sometimes it’s afternoon meeting up with one of my pad holders and work in the kickboxing for a couple of hours.
I have three different guys that corner me including my brother (Aaron) who just recently moved back here from L.A. They all have fun time jobs but one them can always make it.
I do a little of both. I look at the videos myself. I am just one of those guys, I like to take a peek at what they can do. When I go in to face them mentally I know I have watched videos and I am not at all intimidated by the guy. I know some people say they don’t watch videos of the other guys, and I always wonder; isn’t it just easier to have watched them a number of times on video? To the point that you are like; Huh, I can deal with that and so I like to just watch it at some point I have watched it enough and I just go ‘ehh, that is not going to be a big problem,’ and I have all the three guys who corner me also take the videos and deconstruct them and give few little things they think will work best for each opponent. Everybody helps out.
I was always told when I was young it is nice to put a face to the name you hear the name all of the time and I personally just like to see their face and watch them fight and know exactly what I am getting into. Everybody has their own thing and that is just what works for me.
Gabriel essentially deconstructs the legend and myths around his opponent and looks as having flaws and weaknesses like everybody else. That is important for his next opponent, the first matchup in the tournament. Yodkhunpon comes from the Muay Thai world with quite a reputation at such a young age. Here are some of Gabriel’s thoughts on him and his upcoming fight.
I have watched his videos; I realize he is fast, he’s explosive, he throws hard but like everybody else I have fought, I just have to look at where he is weakest. Then I train specifically for what he is best at to keep him at bay and make sure that he is not able to control the pace of the fight.
In his last fight in Glory he came in a little slower and let the guy sort of control the rounds with his hands until a little later. Then he started to pick up his rhythm but his opponent had also let his pace slow down a little too much. Anytime you fight a Thai fighter the key is to be first and he did that really well in the first couple of rounds. Then he sort of slowed the pace down and let Sitmonchai take control.
I am training right now to that it’s going to be a three round cardio war because I am going to have to push the pace of the fight. That is what I always do is train the cardio really hard so that is really not that much different. I think technically there are few holes in hand defense but the best way is to take the fight to him. Make sure he is not getting off his flying spectacular techniques, and make sure that my hands are really tight so when he does throw as hard as he throws it is off of the gloves.
He has been through the Glory tournament before making his Glory debut at Glory 8 in Tokyo. There, Gabriel defeated Abdallah Ezbiri in the first round but dropped a tough fight to Yuta Kubo in the finals. Here are some of his thoughts on the tournament format and opponents.
I think a tiny bit on who might be next. The first time in the tournament I just focused strictly on my first opponent and that worked out good for that fight. I was prepared for him one hundred percent.Then when it came time to fight Kubo I was like, I wished I had watched at least a couple of videos, because he does have an awkward style and I just wanted to know what I should have done against him. I should not have played his game which I did, and I played a slow pace game.
At one point I had already trained against Shane Oblonsky last year so I have an idea what he is like and the new guy (Marcus Vinicius) that is in the tournament I guess I met him over in Japan. I have seen him fight a couple of times as well. The only guy I did not have much information on was Miguel Torres but he is out now.
They both are slightly more scrappy fighters then maybe your average guy and they have some pretty wild hands from what I have seen. A lot of it will be about keeping a tight guard and just always a fast pace. I find a lot of times I try to prepare specifically for each opponent and a lot times it ends being back to the same thing for me. Maybe it is more of my style; a fast paced fight make sure you take it to them and keep a really tight guard, try not to get hit much and try to make sure I push them out of their comfort zone.
The unknown element is part of what make the tournament format so exciting for fans but makes it difficult for the fighters. Gabriel is as prepared for it as a fighter can be. A big part of that comes from the perspective he has on the sport and life. You can see that he is very much about getting the job done and making things work whatever the circumstances might be. He does have help and support from his family and friends but it starts with him.
I just recently picked up a manager from England but I really do all of the scheduling stuff by myself and my dad has always helped. He deals with a lot of the requests and passes things along to me, and then I have my brother and one of my buddies in town who went to Thailand with me and started holding pads for me six years ago when we got back.
Then about five years ago i went over to Ontario and I trained with Alin Haimagean. A few years ago I was researching who were the best kick boxers in Canada and I heard about Shane Campbell. I wondered who his coach was so I found out about Alin and I went over…. I don’t get to train with him that much, I have only been over there twice for about two weeks both times. He is great, he makes an effort to get to each fight and it is perfect now with Glory because they fly in two people and I can fly in somebody from Victoria, and Alin from Ontario. We just do a little chit-chat once in a while and make sure training is going well and any advice he might want to give me on my opponent.
I don’t want to say I am strictly by myself, that discredits all of the work everybody does for me, but I do not have a traditional coach like the other fighters do I guess. I am lucky to have the support of my friends and family.
One of the elements that have been a key to Gabriel’s success is his mental approach to the sport and the fight.
I like to always go in with the mindset that I cannot lose the fight, that is what I am trying to create through my fight camp. Sometimes it comes really easy. As soon as I watch a video of the guy and I know I am in prime shape it is super easy. Then I am, “you know what I can’t lose.” It is not that I don’t realize there is the possibility that I can lose. I am not saying I am unbeatable. I am just saying that is the mindset that I want when I am going into a fight when I am walking up the stairs that is what I am feeling.
You know, as you start getting higher and you are fighting guys that are at a certain level that little doubts can trickle in. “What if he is as good as everybody says?” And I find that watching the videos over and over and just putting a face to the opponent and looking at his body type.
Some people when they get in the ring say, “whoa that guy is so scary looking or so muscular.” I noticed when Kubo fought Noiri, they did an interview with him and Kubo was saying he wasn’t intimidated, but he made a comment about Noiri being a scary looking guy. I was going “that’s weird, that’s a weird thing to say.” He didn’t say it like it was bothering him just that he was a scary looking dude, but I don’t like that mindset. It seems like you have already so given in to the fact that yeah he is a scary looking guy and he might be able to intimidate me to a certain degree. So, I just like to remove that element.
There are two quotes on Gabriel’s Facebook page “Don’t just “be a fighter” for 8 weeks prior to each fight. Be an athlete year round and train to improve even if you don’t have a fight in the near future.”
There are fighters and there are athletes. The fighters like to fight and they train so they can fight, and they don’t continue their training around the year. Once they do their eight week training camp they don’t get any joy out of pushing themselves and getting in better shape.
The actual athletes, which does not always mean they are the most successful, there are guys who can just train sometimes and do beat the athletes, but I have a lot of respect for the guys that are training all of the time. Even if you need to get a break from the kickboxing then let’s train straight conditioning or something new just to become a better athlete.
That’s what I always try to do. I am fortunate in the fact that after years and years I actually like running and I like going in and doing my pad work so I try to maintain it throughout the whole year. It has been a little harder for this camp because back in November I ripped up my back.
I had to go off for four months to get back and right now [I’m] just trying to get back over that hump shape wise. I love the idea like all other sports the guys are training year round and they might have a little offseason but they have coaches that are working with new things with them. I always try to tell the younger fighters that is the most important thing, you can train hard for six weeks and that is no problem but if you are only getting three or four fights a year and then you can’t be off drinking and having a good time and thinking you are going to be as good when you comeback compared to if you are proper athlete and just keep training all of the time.
The other quote I posted on my Facebook which I know isn’t always true but it is quote from Buakaw, “whoever trains the hardest wins.” I know it is not always true because I mean a lot of times skill is much more important than training hard, but I do like to know that I am training as hard as I can.
That is what is the most important thing is that you are training as hard as you can. The other guy might be doing a little more. I know in Thailand, I know the Thai guys train like animals. You know they are out there doing their 10K run. I was there for eight weeks, I never saw anybody run 10K twice, but there are rumors about that. You know they are doing their crazy Thai thing but I try to do it differently. I try to adapt it.
When I did research I looked at what Andy Souwer was doing. You don’t have to train three hours in a session. Go hard, make everything explosive, jump from one thing to the next. Not doing ten rounds of bag work at fifty percent, instead I go three rounds at the bag and I go really hard, really hard, really disgusting. Once you have done that, then to some pad work, maybe some drills and a few disgusting cardio things.
I may not always train harder than the other guy but I make sure I am training harder and more properly for a Glory fight. We have three rounds. I don’t need to go out run for forty-five minutes. I need to go and do maybe twenty-five minutes, go out and do 400 meter sprints 800 meter sprints and 200 meter sprints and really get used to that Glory pace.
Again, many fighters have a coach to coordinate their training schedules, routines and training partners. For Gabriel, not only does he manage to get his training in, but he pushes himself to be the best.
I just have to decide everyday what I am going to do. I have to call this pad holder, and if he is not free today that I call another one. If he’s only free at night that means I will do my cardio earlier in the day.
I create my own running routes and routines and I find it benefits me. When I go to other places and I finish a run or a routine or a whole kick boxing session I am like, that is it? We are done? I find when I put my own routines together I push myself harder. What a coach taught me to do was to push myself and do this and this and this.
The only time it is a negative is when I start to burn myself down when I push myself too hard. That is when it is good to have a coach that can tell you, “okay you need to pull back today because you have been going too hard,” but I am starting to get a little older and a little smarter. I train smarter now, I go in and today is going to be a technical day. I don’t need to burn my body down. I am just getting a little smarter and I always enjoy coming up with my own routine and pushing myself.
I have lots of mean mean things I like to do to myself. It is kind of a thrill to me… I love it…I just have to make sure I don’t burn myself out. Every camp I come with some disgusting little routine to push myself. Stew, my buddy, helped for one camp. This was my mean routine for this one camp. We took a deck of cards and flipped one over and that is how many round kicks I would do. If it was red it indicated left, if it was black it indicated right. I would just go until the card deck was finished and if I flip it over and it is Queen I would do 12 kicks and then flip over the next.
I did that for one camp and then on to the next. For this one I am doing a new mean routine and I just always like coming up with fun mean things. I always keep it fresh and I never do the same routine two days in row, very rarely even in a week.
I always do different running routines, we are lucky out here, Victoria, it is always warm generally rainy but it almost always at least five degrees in the winter. I can go out running through the forest. I can run on the beaches; there’s hills, mountains, stairs and I can go to the track if I need. There is always something new and exciting to do here it is a fun spot to be.
Keeping it fresh and fun is important to him.
It works for the Thai’s. I don’t know how it does, they are just over there running slow pace and I would be doing it and how is this helping me, I know it does but I would rather get the benefits of the hour jog in twenty minutes and really elevate my heart rate, but it works for them they have some of the best fighters in the world. I cannot take anything away from them but every fighter has to do what they enjoy. If I had to go out and do a 10K run everyday I would not be in this sport for very long, I would be getting up and going a 10K run again – this is stupid.
Here are some more of Gabriel’s thoughts on the upcoming Glory 17 four-man featherweight tournament, his opponents, fighting in tournaments and how the night will go.
This one right now I always look to watch the opponents last fight and try to recreate what I would do. I never prepare for a first round knockout. If that does not happen, then you are like, “oh no he didn’t go down in the first round.”
So, I always prepare for going into a three round battle. Not like I am just to stand there and slug it out with him, but go in there, throw my strikes fast and hard, try to pick away at him and keep the pace high. So, that the opponent gets tired even if we both get tired, that is what I want to do is push a fast pace I am guessing that is what it will be like for both fights.
I will go in to the first one and push the pace and show Yodkhunpon that it is not Muay Thai anymore. That he is in Glory and it is different. He will have to improve his hands a little more.
In the second fight we will see what kind of damage the two guys will do to each other. I am kind of glad because they had me against Shane Oblonsky first and Sitmonchai on the other side. Then they switched it and I am glad I am against him first.
I realize he is probably the biggest threat in the whole thing and I would rather get him out of the way first, maybe it would work out better the other way. There really are not any easy fights now. You know, if they were to have kept me against Shane he likes a fast paced fight and he is a little wild it would have been a tough fight.
Instead they just let the two other guys who are a little more wild fight first and I go against the guy that is more technically sound. Even though he maybe the better fighter there is less chance of injury. I will go in and have a good battle with him and take the break. Then go and fight one of the other guys.
He talks a little bit about some of the lessons he learned in his first Glory tournament and advice he could have used before it.
In general I was talking with Josh Jauncey who trained with Andy Souwer, and Josh was saying that Andy gave him some great advice when he had his first tournament. I never got that before my first one, and that is “don’t celebrate once you win your first fight.”
It is hard not to as a fighter. When I was over in Japan and I won my first fight I wasn’t celebrating jumping up and down, but you know Glory told me for that first fight just come in and show us that you belong here. Even if you don’t win just put on a good show and we will bring you back.
I won my first fight and I felt on top of the world. I had come to Japan and done what I wanted. I just wanted to win my first fight and by that time I was already kind of going if I lose my next fight I don’t even mind. It was the exact wrong attitude.
Looking back I am not going to fault myself because that was my goal go to Japan win my first fight and I did it. This time that is not my goal. It is not come in second but to win the whole thing. Get past the first guy and once that happens I still have a tough fight after that. I just have to make sure I don’t become complacent and don’t get happy with just winning one fight.
This led to Gabriel giving us some thoughts on the rankings and what is important to him.
Yes, he [Sitmonchai] is ranked above me but he just entered the Glory rankings and they really don’t mean anything. The fights the fight, and the rankings the ranking. What really matters is just trying to get the title shot at the end of the year. If you are ranked number 2 or 20 you are not the champion and that is all that matters is being number one. If you are not number one that is the big thing is to be the champion. That is the goal in this one, to get in the position for the title shot.
I realize the money is in the tournament. Money is not the reason I fight, it would be nice to get some money for it. Besides the money factor, I actually like a proper five round fight. The tournament is so much up in the air. I mean one guy fights a little harder than the other guy or the one guy is not quite in condition to fight multiple times.
I like a single five round fight. I just want to do a title fight that is my goal.
Winning the Glory 17 featherweight tournament would get him very close to that title shot. Gabriel and Yodkhunpon are guaranteed to put on a great fight in what could be one of the best fights of the year. He has put in the work and now Gabriel is ready to show the world on Saturday June 21 that he is ready to fight for that Glory world title.