Krzysztof Soszynski Smiles

(Soszynski celebrates following his UFC 98 win over Andre Gusmao. Courtesy of Zuffa, LLC)

Bas Rutten told him to relax and UFC light heavyweight Krzysztof Soszynski listened.

The Polish-Canadian was never completely comfortable in professional wrestling—his first career choice—and the same was true for MMA. In the cartoon world of pro wrestling Soszynski was “The Smashing Machine,” bald-headed, heavily tattooed and 290-pounds of muscle. He had the look but was a shy kid lacked the charisma needed to progress in the sports entertainment world despite having the in-ring talent. On the real fighting front, he recalls his first bout—a TKO win over Matt Lafromboise in 2003—and the nerves that went along with it.

“That was the most scariest experience of my entire life,” says the International Fight League veteran. “To be honest with you, before I got into this sport, I never got into a street fight. I never punched anyone in the face. This whole thing was new to me.”

It didn’t get easier for Soszynski either. He was always a nervous wreck before fights and he kept drawing hard luck hands.

“The Polish Experiment” tried out for The Ultimate Fighter season two at heavyweight and didn’t get a second call back. He accepted a fight against Mike Kyle in Strikeforce on less than two weeks notice and arrived in San Jose, Calif. a week early to get his medicals in order. He was without a coach and in a place he’d never been before. He met his corner man just an hour before the fight, which ended after two kicks to the groin twice and an eye poke disqualification technical draw. He left the Bay Area with a corneal abrasion that required some time with an eye patch.

There were no hard feelings for Kyle, who apologized profusely contrary to his bad boy reputation. That’s when a turnaround came for Sosyznski; he joined the IFL and met Shawn Tompkins and Bas Rutten for the first time.

“The very first day [Bas] met me, he told me what he used to write,” says Sosynzski, referring to the famous ‘R’ Rutten wrote on his backhand during his legendary Pancrase run to remind him to relax. The Los Angeles Anaconda heavyweight followed suit. “Now I’m so comfortable I don’t do that anymore,” he adds.

“It put it into perspective how the fight should be fought—you should enjoy the fight. All the hard work you put in the gym, that’s the hard part. The easy part is the fight,” he says of his IFL coaches’ influence. “Ever since then, its becoming easier and easier and easier for me to where now, if you’ve seen me for my last—basically all my fights in the UFC, I come out with a big smile on my face. I give my opponent a hug and stuff or a big handshake and we go at it.”

He’ll have a chance to hug fellow TUF alumni Stephan Bonnar at UFC 110 on Feb. 21 from the Arcer Arena in Sydney, Australia. Soszynski respects Bonnar’s contribution to the sport and describes him as “durable,” pointing out “The American Psycho” has never been finished in his six career losses over 17 bouts. Despite his first UFC loss in four contests to Brandon Vera at UFC 102 in August, Soszynski feels breakthroughs in head movement, footwork and the constant grind of Team Quest wrestlers are shaping the relaxed fighter into a real test for 205-pounders.

“I’m very close to climbing that ladder and becoming a contender,” he says. “I think in two or three fights from now, you will see that I will be a contender in the 205-pound division.”

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