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Tales from the Vault, Pt. II: Yoel Romero vs. Michał Fijałka

Romero vs. Fijałka

In fall of 2010, a young promoter by the name of Krzysztof Halemba assigned me the task of putting together a country-versus-country battle between Poland and Germany, aptly titled “The Eternal Struggle”. At this point, I had already gained some valuable experience of sending a full “national team” into battle by working with the German team that competed in the M-1 Challenge 2008-2009 season.

I had quickly matched jiu-jitsu wizard Maciej Polok, tough Chechen Kerim Abzailov, young up-and-comer Mateusz Teodorczuk, .500 heavyweight Karol Celinski and Polish wunderkind Marcin Held, but I was struggling to find an equal opponent for Berserkers Team light heavyweight Michał Fijałka. The man they call “Sztanga” (eng. “barbell”) had opened his career with six wins, including triumph in a KSW rookie 8-man single-night tournament. Even though he had just suffered his first setback, a controversial submission defeat at the hands of eventual UFC fighter Hans Stringer, Sztanga had the reputation as a fierce competitor, so German light heavyweights were not exactly lining up to face the hulking grappler.

Having established a good rapport with gyms in the Nuremberg area, I had learned of a Cuban wrestler by the name of Yoel Romero, who had defected to Germany a few years earlier and who was looking to get into MMA after a long and storied wrestling career that yielded him a World Championship as well as an Olympic silver medal. Even though he had not trained in ground fighting at all and no known boxing training either, Romero had won his MMA debut against a much more experienced opponent by knockout in less than a minute.

With the help of my longtime friend and BJJ black belt Franco de Leonardis and his partner Achilleas Chalkidis, we got the “Soldier of God” up to speed and not only did he dominate and win, he also became MMA community meme material by hitting an ankle pick on his much more experienced opponent. Romero would go on to become one of the top contenders in the UFC, while Sztanga had a very solid career himself, defeating many top opponents on the European circuit like Dave Dalgliesh and Hracho Darpinyan (twice).

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