Tarik Solak: Return of the Super-Promoter!


International Kickboxer Magazine, Nov/Dec 2013

Tarik Solak is back on Australian soil with a new show and new fighters. To put it simply, he’s excited.

“It’s the A1 World Grand Prix 2013,” he says. “This year, we’ve had qualifiers all around the world; Australia, Dubai, France and Turkey. There have also been some single fights; all these guys getting ready for end of year. I want to put on a live show, showcasing the highest talent. That way, we’ve got the best fighters, which will produce the best ratings for Fox.”

As usual, Solak is the man with the plan.

“The show will be held at the Melbourne Pavilion on December four. We’ll be going live-to-air on the night, which is the first time Fox has had a live kickboxing show. We’ll kick off at about 8pm and the whole show will wrap up by 10:30.”

That two-and-a-half-hour time slot promises to be action-packed.

“The show will feature an eight-man eliminator, showcasing the best talent from around the country.” The eight-man eliminator will also feature one of Solak’s new up-and-coming Turkish talents, Vedat H.

“Just put ‘H’ for his last name,” Tarik says. “He’s nineteen years of age and weighs somewhere between seventy-five and seventy-nine kilos. He’s got a stellar amateur record and has nineteen pro fights for nineteen wins. He’s the current A1 world super-middleweight champion.”

Tarik is bringing another Turkish fighter Down-Under with an impressive record and setting him up against a similarly intimidating opponent.

“His name is Cihad Kepenek. He’s also nineteen and he’s super-heavy.” When asked for a more precise number, Tarik replies that, “He’s getting bigger every day.” Cihad has a strong amateur career, boasting over sixty fights. His professional career has been short but distinguished with ten fights for nine wins.

“He fought Patrice Quateron recently. He weighed about ninety-four kilos, which was about twenty kilos less than Patrice. Cihad lost on decision, but punched it out with him ‘til the end.”

On December four, Kepenek faces an opponent of similar stature; former Quateron foe Paul Slowinski.

“I asked him what sort of opponent he wanted; an easy fight, a hard fight, and he said, ‘the hardest’. That is why I gave him Paul Slowinski. He wants very hard opponents because he wants to get to the top as fast as he can.”

Some would dispute Tarik’s confidence, but as always, Tarik has an answer.

“I like taking chances; that’s how you build heroes. They either stop before they start or they go all the way. Look at it like this; you remember the English fighter, Chris Allen? He fought Wayne Parr on my Crown Casino Palladium show. This was after Parr got back from Thailand. Chris gave him something like one hundred and fifty stitches. After that, Allen fought Prince Amir, who when he was offered the fight, took it straight away. On paper, it looked bad, but when they fought, Amir demolished him.”

Tarik has been promoting kickboxing shows in Turkey for the last few years. When asked why he has returned to Australian shores, the answer is surprising.

“There’s three reasons, actually,” Solak begins. One, there’s a new boss at Foxsports and, I understood from his talking, that Australian kickboxing needs me. Two, he gave me a deal I really wanted, and three, he’s put his trust in me and I don’t want to let him down.”

As far as delivering on his promises, Tarik has put his score on the board for all to see.

Tarik and his family emigrated from Turkey in 1969. He stood out at Sydney airport, even at five years of age.

“I got off the plane at Sydney airport dressed in a Turkish soldier’s uniform with a Turkish flag in my hand. It pulled a lot of attention; someone took a picture I still have. I was invited to the Anzac Parade in Sydney; I wore the uniform and got a hell of a lot of attention. In Turkey last year there was talk of making a film of my life story and [the producers] wanted to start with that scene.”

Tarik lived with his family in Sydney for two years before moving down to Victoria and settling in Brunswick. In the late seventies, Brunswick was a tough suburb.

“I didn’t go to school much; actually, I didn’t finish my high-school certificate. I did the hard-yards. It’s a jungle out there and you survive the best you can. You learn to defend yourself. I’m thankful for it; it made me the man I am. I have done very well for myself and the people around me.”

The school of hard knocks bought Tarik to a hard realization on his twenty-ninth birthday.

“On my twenty-ninth birthday, I was in gaol again. I’d never had any money under my name and I never had a job. I was training a lot of successful fighters for other shows and I decided to use my IQ and talents to do for myself. And boy, was I right!”

Tarik is not embarrassed or ashamed of his roots because, he says, “I’ve never been charged, gaoled or interviewed over anything that’s embarrassing. I’ve only been to gaol on assault charges. Put it this way; if I can face my mum, I’ve got no problems. If I can face my mum, I don’t give a fuck about anyone else.”

“I put on my first kickboxing show at the Billboard nightclub in April of 1993. We expected to get about four-hundred people; next thing, it was a full-house with another two-thousand waiting outside, wanting to come in.”

Tarik has never been a stranger to controversy. In fact, he has successfully harnessed it to ensure that people don’t just come to his kickboxing shows; they also talk about them. One of the most common topics on people’s lips is the subject of race. While the subject is inflammatory, Tarik remains philosophical.

“In Australia, there are over two-hundred nationalities, and people like to support their own. It brings in a big crowd. You’ve got to have a big crowd, and you can’t get them without Greeks, Turks and Croatians. Then you’ve got five thousand-plus people, and then you’ve got a big show.”

Tarik has a strong grasp of controversy as a promotional tool.

“If it’s a healthy [controversy], yeah. There’s nothing better than matching up a fight when you got people that strongly believe ‘A’ will beat ‘B’, and ‘B’ will beat ‘A’. And when they start arguing, with the internet, people start passing the message across the world, it creates momentum. Then again, there are some stupid arguments that start and it’s best to try and stay out of the stupid ones.”

In the early nineties, Australia had kickboxing fever and it was particularly strong in Melbourne. Tarik’s shows grew in proportion with the audiences and, at the end of 1993, he had his fateful meeting with the management of the K1 organization.

“In December of 1993, I had finished a show and I took a couple of fighters to Japan [to fight]. A couple of days later, I attended the K2, which was the weight class under K1. Thanks to Peter Lewis, who was the ISKA representative at the time, I became a judge. The organization looked at my credentials as a former fighter, coach and judge, so they made me a judge.”

“After that, I started going to Japan regularly. I took Gurkan Ozkan to the K3, at seventy-five kilos, in 1995. There was no dominant Japanese fighter at that time, and the Japanese didn’t like that. Then, in December of 1999, we struck a deal for me to do the K1 Oceania.”

The Oceania scene was growing from strength to strength and it wasn’t long before Solak’s stable featured some outstanding fighters of international quality.

“On June 16 in 2001, I promoted the K1 Oceania at the Vodaphone Arena in Melbourne as a leg of the World Grand Prix, which went live-to-air on Fuji T.V. in Japan. It featured Mirko Crocop, Ernesto Hoost and Mark Hunt.”

Tarik has been integral to the careers of many of Oceania’s greatest fighters. It’s hard to know which one to ask about first, but it makes sense to ask about the Super Samoan, Mark Hunt.

“To be honest, I’m disappointed he didn’t stay in touch and let me know how he was going over the years. For his first fight, I got him five hundred dollars, the second was nineteen thousand, the third was twenty-nine thousand, the fourth was sixty-four thousand, and the last one was one million. The bloke didn’t even wear shoes when he met me!”

“In fact, the first time he won K1, we came back on the plane business class and he wasn’t wearing shoes. He told me someone knocked them off. I asked him why didn’t he tell me; I would have bought him some. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll buy some in Sydney for a much cheaper price.’ I wish him all the best. It will only make me proud because I was involved somewhere along his career. After all, I make my money while they are doing what they do.”

Kickboxing was going from strength to strength but Tarik is not a man to rest on his laurels. A conversation at the wedding of K1 managing director, Ken Imai, led to more exciting prospects.

“Mr Ishii and I discussed the possibility of doing a seventy-six kilogram weight tournament. The seventy-six kilo weight limit is a very special weight class, in my opinion. We agreed to get something happening and, when I came back to Australia, Mr Ishii was gaoled for tax fraud. Mr Tanikawa became the new president, and he decided that K1 didn’t what to go ahead with the idea. For that reason, I started the A1. ‘A’ is the first letter and ‘1’ is the first numeral, which everyone understands to mean ‘the best of the best’.

“Another step forward was taking kickboxing to Turkey. When I started it going, it wasn’t pro, let alone on television. By the time I was finished, kickboxing had fifty per cent ratings in a country of eighty million people. Then, we got one hundred thousand people turning up at the live shows.”

Tarik’s success was meteoric. When asked what motivated him to make such a gamble, he says simply,

“I always thought kickboxing would take off in Turkey, and it did. Forbes Magazine wrote that the sport had kicked off a ‘kickboxing economy’ and it is now the biggest sport in Turkey, next to soccer.”

Tarik’s Australian return comes at a pivotal time for kickboxing. In the recent demise of the FEG owned-and-operated Japanese K1, two organizations have come to the fore, hoping to create another international league with similar credibility. How does Tarik view his own aspirations in this context?

“K1 is bankrupt; finished. The truth is, a television contract is what keeps a fighting organization alive. Glory is out there at the moment, not for a long time, and they’re trying to buy up as much t.v. space as they can. But so far, it’s peanuts.”

The discussion of television causes Tarik to segue into the hot-button topic for all people involved and interested in fighting sports.

“In 2006, I discovered that the UFC were working with Spike TV. Spike TV had invested two billion dollars in getting the UFC up and running and it’s been a great success. Fighting sports live and die by their television contracts.”

That said, does Tarik see MMA as being a possible feature of up-and-coming shows?

“Never. For me, the goal is to be the best in the world. No one can compete with the UFC. I’m fifty now – why try? I’ll stick to what Australian television can pay and do the best I can from there. I’m making a lot of noise with what I’ve got.”

Love him or hate him, no doubt Tarik’s return will be heard by everyone, Australia-wide.


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