Denis Kang, a veteran in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts with over 50 fights under his belt took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with Bleacher Report about his career as a fighter and his budding career on the teaching side of the sport.
Kang has been fighting professionally for close to 13 years and has fought in many of the major promotions including Pancrase, Pride Fighting Championships, Dream and more recently the UFC.
It's not often that one gets a chance to talk to someone who is so well travelled in the sport, and it is a great opportunity to learn a little bit about the evolution of the sport through the evolution of a fighter over a long career.
Kang is more than well travelled in the sport of MMA his childhood was a bit of a whirlwind. He was born on the French island of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon just off the southern coast of the Canadian province of Newfoundland. From there, he moved to the Spanish Canary Islands northwest of mainland Africa and finally to Vancouver, Canada where he spent the majority of his youth.
Due to the constant relocation, Kang learned many languages, French, English, Spanish and Portuguese and more importantly how to fit in with the different cultures of the world.
"It's [moving so often] taught me to deal with people that are different, especially in terms of languages and adapting and things like that," Kang told Bleacher Report. "I mean everyone in my family speaks at least three or four languages, because we moved around so much. I’m good at communicating with people, even if I don’t speak the language, I can always kinda get my point across, be it from sign language or just saying the English word with that person’s accent [laughs], it usually works."
In line with the constant relocation during his youth, Kang has fought all over the world as well, from the United States and Canada to Japan, Korea, Australia, The United Kingdom and even in Russia. With that world experience under his belt, it is interesting to find out where he thinks the MMA scene is the strongest.
With the massive success of UFC 129 and UFC president Dana White's constant references towards Canada as being the "Mecca of Mixed Martial Arts" one would think the biggest MMA scene is in fact in Canada. Although MMA in Canada is big, Denis Kang feels that calling it the Mecca doesn't necessarily speak the truth.
"It [Canada's MMA scene] is very strong. I wouldn’t call it the mecca, but it is very strong, and it is on par with the US. I don’t think there is a mecca just yet, if there is I would say it is North America not Canada by itself," Kang said.
Obviously, Kang put Canada right up there but doesn't feel that a mecca exists just yet.
Having fought and lost to American Jesse Taylor in Nanaimo, Canada this past May—Kang isn't one to sulk around and take a long layoff, getting back on the horse so to speak is what works best for him. He is already scheduled for a fight in Korea this July 24 with Road Fighting Championship, a Korean-based promotion.
"I like to fight a lot," Kang said. "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but I wasn’t injured so just because you lose doesn’t mean that you’re going to sit there and cry and mope around; it’s not going to do anything good for you."
This will be Kang's second fight with the promotion since signing a non-exclusive deal, but this time, he will be fighting at his natural weight class; he simply wasn't feeling his best at 205 pounds, despite beating his Korean opponent Eun Soo Lee.
"Honestly, I don’t think I will be doing it [moving up] again," he said. "185 or around 185 [pounds] is the right weight for me; at 205, I am a little slower. It’s definitely easier to not be cutting weight. I am more comfortable cause I can eat whatever I want, but 185 is the better weight class for me."
Although his appetite may be saying 205 pounds, Kang's in-fight experience tells him otherwise. Kang's next challenge is at 185 pounds where he will be meeting with Korean fighter Seung Bae Whi. Kang knows a bit about Whi already and is expecting a tough fight.
"Yeah, I know him; he is a teammate of the guy that I last fought over there," Kang said. "He’s pretty tough. He’s a brawler, he’s pretty muscular and thick for a Korean. Most Korean’s don’t come big like him; he does a lot of fitness and weight lifting and likes to brawl, he has good cardio. He’s not that well known and doesn’t have that many fights outside of Korea, but he’s tough, he’s coming to fight, he’s coming to win."
Having had such a long career that seems to have come full circle, Kang reflected a bit on whether or not he had any regrets over the years.
"No not really, I’ve enjoyed [my career] [pauses], well you know what? Now, being smarter and knowing a lot more about how to manage a fighter’s career, there are probably some fights that I wouldn’t take early on because back then I had no idea what it was like to be a professional athlete. I didn’t even know what a manager was—to me you just took fights and you fought and that’s it," Kang said.
Despite making some decisions early on in his career that maybe weren't the wisest, Kang is still happy with how things have gone.
"There was no strategy with building up a fighter or things like that," he said. "In that regard, I would maybe change somethings in retrospect with some of the fights I would have chosen to fight, but you know, it’s not that big of a deal, I’m not unhappy with my career at all."
Kang went on to elaborate on some of the fights he would have turned down in his early years and how his development and training during that time was pretty hit and miss as well.
"Well, probably some of the fights in Japan, my first fights in Pancrase [I should have turned down]. I was working part time then, I wasn’t really a full time fighter. I didn’t really know how to train for a fight. I was just a Jiu-Jitsu purple belt and trained mostly jiu-jitsu with the Gi, and then maybe a few weeks before the fight, I would just start training no Gi and hit the bag, that was my cross training," Kang said.
How times have changed; training and preparing for a fight has become a science, and without a good camp, it is very hard to be successful, but back when Kang started out, the sport was in it's beginning stages.
"Back then, there wasn’t that widespread knowledge of how to train for a fight like there is today," Kang said. "Nowadays, the fighters benefit from having almost a set way of how to train for a fight, whereas, God I hate saying it, but back then, back in my day, if you knew how to train for a fight, you were usually down in California. Most guys in Vancouver didn’t know how to train for a fight so It was kind of hit and miss. I did the best I could, for a guy with no previous professional sports experience with the coaches that I had I did the best that I could."
Obviously, the pinnacle of the sport is getting into the UFC and despite having fought there in the past; Kang isn't in a hurry to get back in to the promotion.
"If I do get any offers from the UFC, I definitely wouldn’t say no," Kang said of a potential return to the UFC. "Right now, I’m not setting any long-term goals, I’m just taking it one fight at a time. I just want to get some consistent wins and take it from there." Kang said.
This is where Kang went on to explain the fact that he has other plans besides fighting that have to do with the teaching side of the sport.
"As you know, I am also starting to branch out a little bit more with my teaching, (it's) kind of my second passion," Kang said. "I don’t want to say I am taking less fights, actually I guess I will be taking less fights because I will be focusing a little bit more on the teaching, you can’t fight forever you know."
Kang knows a fighter's time near the top is short lived because of the dedication and physical sacrifice required to compete at the highest level; he wasn't afraid to say he feels that his career is slowly winding down.
"I feel it [fighting] on my body man, definitely. I can probably fight for another fiver years max, but I would say realistically maybe two or three. It depends on the types of fights that I have, but it’s really the training for the fights that takes its toll on you, it’s the training, day in day out and staying motivated, people don’t understand." Kang said.
"Being a competitor, let’s say you play for the Canucks, you can kind of be on the team, and you don’t always have to try and be the best. You can just kind of be absorbed in the team and disappear amongst the other players. When you are an MMA fighter, it’s an individual sport; you have to always try to be the best, you always have to be motivated, always try to be at your peak and learn new things. That kind of mentality, that kind of intensity is very draining, after a while, you just want to be normal."
Knowing where Kang stands with his career and what his future plans include, he took the time to tell Bleacher Report a little bit about his involvement with Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness Academy in Kanata, Ontario, Canada.
"Well, I already have a really good relationship with Stephane d’Amour, who is the owner and head teacher at Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness Academy," he said. "He was already one of my representatives. We sat down, we talked about it, he made me a good offer and it made sense."
Kang expressed his desire to transfer his knowledge and help young up-and-comers achieve their goals in martial arts.
"I really like the atmosphere there," Kang said. "I like the students and it’s an honor for me to be able to come in there and kind of take these guys under my wing and coach them. Throughout all these years, I have trained at a lot of different places and with a lot of different people, and I have accumulated a lot of knowledge, so I really want to pass it on."
The MMA scene is pretty strong in Ottawa between Wreck MMA shows and all the schools that exist and Kang was quick to agree.
"MMA is alive and well In Ottawa; you have those shows in Gatineau and Hull and stuff like that. There is more than a few schools there already; there’s a bunch of schools there," Kang said.
It is kind of interesting that MMA has entrenched itself in Ottawa, considering it is the capital of Canada, primarily known as a government city. Some people will go as far as to say that the city of Ottawa is a boring place. When asked about the situation in Ottawa Kang had the following to say:
"The government, that’s the biggest saddest bunch around [laughs]," Kang said. "No, but really, I guess, it is a bit surprising, but like you said, Canada is also a bit of a hot spot for MMA."
With his teaching moving more to the forefront, one can think of the successes Matt Serra and the Gracie family have seen by opening their own schools, and this is definitely something Kang would like to do down the road. Where he would open that school is still up for discussion.
"That’s exactly what I’d like to do [open a school]," Kang said. "It depends; it could be Ottawa, could be Montreal, could be both. I’ve also toyed with the idea of going back to South Florida, I love that place, and it could also be Vancouver where I am from."
South Florida does sound inviting, regardless of where Kang opens his first school teaching your life's passion has to be one of the most gratifying things one can do in life.
Before closing off the interview, Kang took a bit of time to talk about the school in Kanata and what his role will be there.
"If anyone wants to come train, they are going to be exposed to the real MMA, no attitude, no arrogance; people who want to have fun and learn the real techniques of a professional sport," Kang said. "I will focus more on jiu-jitsu, the ground stuff, but there will be some instances as well where I will be teaching some of the stand up and wrestling."
When asked if there were any names at Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness Academy to watch out for, he had one student who stood out and his name is Peter Grajcar.
Leon Horne has been contributing to Bleacher Report for three years now. He focuses mainly on mixed martial arts, but he has also written about tennis, football and hockey. Just send him a message if you want to talk sports or discuss any opportunities. You can follow him on Twitter for updates: https://twitter.com/Leon_Horne