It's On! Spong Vs Carnage

International Kickboxer Magazine Vol. 17 No.3

Tyrone Spong is certainly the man of the moment. He has a mystique that precedes him on a number of different fronts; he has, by the tender age of 23, amassed a professional record of 87 fights for 82 wins, held a slew of titles and is currently moving into the world’s premier stand-up martial arts arena, the K1. This foray has co-incided with Royal Rumble Magazine (the premier Dutch fightsports publication), naming him as the best pound-for-pound kickboxer in the world. Any opponent he draws will be of interest, simply by the light they are cast in when standing alongside him. Nathan ‘Carnage’ Corbett is one of the world’s only other fighters, let alone of the same weight class, that can claim similar standing. While he has roughly half of Spong’s pro fights to his credit, he enjoys a similar win/loss/draw ratio and a similar mystique.

There is another aspect to this match which is of particular interest; Corbett also looked as if he might make the transition into heavyweight after blitzing the field at the Scandanavian K1 two years ago. Carnage stood firmly on his achievement in this very magazine, saying that he wasn’t going to make the jump; “You have to chase your own dreams, not somebody else’s”. It’s a fair call to make, and indicates a restraint uncommon in professional athletes, let alone those with the kind of fairytale success that Carnage has been able to achieve. Given that Corbett is very near to being the star at the top of the cruiserweight tree and won’t try his luck in K1, this is the definitive fight both for him and for fightsports fans internationally.

Cruiserweight is a transitional division for many fighters. It has been a tide pool for many of the heavyweight division’s greatest; Hoost, Aerts, Bonjasky and Hari have all swum through it. All these fighters had significant height on their side, however, and eventually stacked as much as 15kg onto their frames. Height and reach is a major factor; let’s face it, when Hari KOed Stefan Leko, he looked like a cruiserweight with stones in his pockets. Neither Spong or Corbett has that outstanding height. In fact, when Corbett suffered his second only loss to American heavyweight Alex Roberts, it looked like a mismatch when the two stood opposite each other for the referees instructions. Corbett dominated, however, until Roberts caught him with two big round kicks, the first to the body and the second to the head. Corbett and Spong are much closer physically. Spong is slightly taller, and will therefore more evenly carry the extra weight. What he does with it though, remains to be seen. This is a close fight in every aspect other than experience. It will be fought mainly on technical and psychological fronts.       

Spong versus Carnage is part of the ‘Champions of Champions II’ tournament, being held in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It is the only fight not being fought for a world title, an issue which is creating a lot of noise. Apparently, Spong’s ‘management’ agreed to five rounds of three minutes fought under modified Thai rules. Because of the ‘no elbow’ stipulation, the fight won’t be contested for a world title. And Carnage, as his name suggests, is a virtuoso of the elbow strike. He has put up his WMC world title as inducement to Spong, asking him to agree to elbows and make it a world title fight, along with every other fight on the card. He hasn’t received an answer as yet. Carnage is taking this fight under a few other conditions which are to his disadvantage, also. He has also had to give away weight; the fight will take place at 92kgs, which is 6kgs over Corbett’s preferred weight of 86kgs.

Spong wouldn’t want to fight with elbows for a number of reasons, mainly because he’s watched Carnage surgically dismantle numerous opponents with them on Youtube. In addition to this, he hasn’t fought full Thai rules in over three years. It does seem unfair of Spong to stipulate this; after all, it reduces the scope of the fight. Elbows haven’t been a feature of Spong’s skill set for some time, and with the exception of both fighters having fought and knocked out Kaoklai Kaennorsing (Spong managed it in the first round while Corbett waited until all the way into the second), they have fought very few of the same opponents. The Netherlands, outside of Japan, is the stage for the toughest competition in the world. Spong has learned his trade there and sharpened his skills on some of the toughest fighters anywhere. The bulk of his opponents have been Europeans, with the occasional Thai.

Spong made his much-hyped entry into K1 with a masterful points win over Zabit Samedov, one of the most exciting fighters in K1. After only one K1 fight, albeit a convincing points victory, Spong found himself swimming at the deep end of the world’s biggest pool; the under 100kgs K1 Heavyweight title. Also in the water were hard-nut regulars Melvin Manhoef (on the back of two stunning KO victories over Paul Slowinski and Mark Hunt, the man who had never been knocked out), Chalid Arrab and, the shark to end all sharks, wunderkind Badr Hari. Circumstance playing the part it does meant that ‘Die Faust’ was out due to Visa issues and Hari because of his personality disorder. The opening round saw Spong facing little-known but much-vaunted Gokhan Saki, another man coming into the ring on the crest of a two and a half year winning streak, not to mention a stunning sophomore performance in the 2008 GP final.

Saki, while suffering the same size and weight obstacles of fellow maestros Karaev, Samedov and Spong himself, turned out a characteristically spectacular display in what will be one of the most technically outstanding fights the heavyweight division will see this year. After three rounds of equal trade Saki caught Spong with a crisp hook that sent him down at the climax of their extension round. Saki proved that regardless of hype, Spong has a chin like everyone else and can be beaten.       

Corbett has not done a lot of fighting overseas, but has not suffered for quality opponents. He has fought many more Thais than Spong and many more opponents under Thai rules. Many of the world’s best have made the trip down under to test their mettle against the Australian, and all of them have been sent home disappointed. Consequently, his career has caused a lot of excitement in the international community, culminating in his victory over three opponents in Sweden at K1 Scandinavia in 2007. Corbett fought Azem Maksutaj (a recent Spong victim), knocking him out in the first round of the draw before going on to defeat Ashwin Balrak in the finals. (Balrak is a very dangerous man. He is currently training under Ernesto Hoost and has a number of European titles under his belt. He was K1 Prague tournament champion in 2008, the year after he was defeated by Nathan).

K1 success was a real milestone in Corbett’s career; it showed that he isn’t just a pair of nifty elbows and has all the skills to make it on the world’s biggest stage. In my opinion, this is where the Corbett-versus-Spong matchup starts to look really viable on paper. While Corbett does not have the advantage of training in the cauldron of the world’s best, he is capable of fighting and beating them. Furthermore, Corbett has the higher KO ratio. 

Spong will enter the ring in Jamaica as he did in Yokohama; super confident. He knows he has the record, the buzz and the rules on his side. He also enjoys an extra one-and-a-half inches worth of height and reach. He will, however, still be smarting from his loss to Saki, who he is set to rematch later this year in Amsterdam. As with all super-confident fighters, insecurity will be on the flip side of his coin. Corbett, on the other hand, enters the ring at the very top of his trade; Spong’s ‘management’ refusing to fight elbows is a tacit declaration of this. Both fighters are strong, fit and technical, good off both the attack and the counter. The bulk of international opinion will be behind Spong, but Corbett’s record proves that he is one of the best because he has beaten the best, and Spong is the last rung on his ladder. This fight will be a major intersection in both of their careers, and the definitive fight for the cruiserweight division. If Spong wins it will be another brick on the road to an uncertain, if exciting future in K1. If Corbett brings it home, the K1 question will return… what if?

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