by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, Pride superstar Denis Kang was out with an injury and it looked as if all the momentum he had built up in 2005 may have been lost.
A year later and Kang has not only returned, he’s returned with a vengeance. Not only has he won all his fights this year convincingly, he’s propelled himself into the semi-finals of Pride’s 2006 Welterweight Grand Prix with a win over Amar Suloev at Bushido: Survival Round 2 last month.
Kang is the #5 middleweight in the MMAWeekly Rankings. MMAWeekly caught up with Denis during one of his few breaks since returning home to Florida to discuss the fight and what the rest of 2006 holds for him.
MMAWeekly: First off Denis, you had a convincing win over Amar Suloev at the last Bushido event. How do you feel about it?
Denis Kang: I was pretty focused going in, but before I was a little nervous because I had seen his fight with Murilo Bustamante. But as the fight got closer, I got more focused and confident. Everything went well during the fight, so you can’t complain about that.
MMAWeekly: You’re currently riding a 19-fight undefeated streak and you still get nervous?
Denis Kang: [Laughs] It still affects the best of us. I think everybody gets nervous, but the difference with us experienced fighters it’s about what you do with that nervousness. You can overcome it, control it, and use it to your advantage.
MMAWeekly: It looks like every time you’ve fought in Pride you go out and make a statement. Is it a conscience effort to go out there and prove something?
Denis Kang: I want to prove it to everybody else and to myself, so yeah it is a conscience thing. One of the main things about me is that I not only want to win, but I want to make myself a better fighter. I want to increase my skill and become as close to perfection as I can.
MMAWeekly: You’re one of the few fighters that almost every time we see you, you showcase some new skills or some refinement. How do you feel about your development as a fighter?
Denis Kang: I think it’s been real good. If you remember, I’ve been doing this for a long time now, almost 10 years. I’ve taken all criticisms, from coaches to friends to training partners, and I analyze it. I’m always analyzing myself and the mistakes I’m making. If a coach tells me if I’m doing something wrong or how I can do something different, I take it upon myself to work on it and listen to my coaches and use it in training as well as a fight.
MMAWeekly: Let’s talk about the finish against Suloev itself for a second. You beat him with a half-choke/one-armed strangle type move. Is that a transition you’ve worked on in training or was it purely improvised?
Denis Kang: It’s not really improvised, but then again it’s not something you really train for. It’s just a counter. I tried a regular rear naked choke and he grabbed my hand, so I just choked him with one arm. You don’t see it too often because it’s not a high-percentage move, but every now and then you’ll get one of those in.
MMAWeekly: How do you feel about the remaining field of fighters in the Grand Prix: Kazuo Misaki, Akihiro Gono and Paulo Filho?
Denis Kang: I think everybody that’s left is really good. Everybody has something they’re really good at, but I think my chances are as good as anyone’s or better. I think because I have a wide range of skills that makes me better against anyone that comes my way. I usually have something that I do better than the other guy, at least one thing.
As far as the Japanese fighters Misaki and Gono, I think they are the best fighters Japan has to offer right now at the weight class. For Paulo Filho everybody knows he does just one thing, but he does it real well. He’ll take someone down and he’s real good at controlling them. So I’ll see if I can deal with that.
MMAWeekly: Have there been any preliminary talks with Pride about who you may be facing in the semi-finals?
Denis Kang: No, but I think we can safely say that I’m going to be fighting one of the Japanese fighters. They are on the same team anyways, so I don’t think they’ll have them fighting each other. So I think it’s going to be me and Paulo against the Japanese fighters in the semis and the winners of those in the finals.
MMAWeekly: For training, will you train as you normally do and then tailor it specifically when an opponent is officially named?
Denis Kang: My training doesn’t change that much. Maybe a little bit when I try to get used to what an opponent may throw at me, so I don’t get caught off guard. The main thing that changes is the strategy for the fight. As far as training goes, I train for anything anyways.
MMAWeekly: Did you have any time off after your win over Suloev or was it right back to business?
Denis Kang: I took this past week off, but I started back to training on Monday and I’ll probably pick it up at the start of October about four weeks before the fight.
MMAWeekly: With current Pride Welterweight Champion Dan Henderson losing to Kazuo Misaki, that puts him in the position of possibly having to defend the title against the Grand Prix winner at Shockwave ’06. Should you win the tournament is that what you’re going to shoot for?
Denis Kang: Absolutely, that’s what I want. The Welterweight Grand Prix is good, but you have to keep setting new goals. That’s my short-term goal right now [to win the tournament]. Once that’s done, its time to set a new goal and that’s to win the Welterweight Championship that Dan Henderson has right now.
MMAWeekly: Thanks as always for your time Denis. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?
Denis Kang: I want to say thank you to American Top Team, Marcus Soares, everybody in Korea and the fans in the US and Canada as well. As for sponsors, I want to thank BNS, Everlast, and MoneyBets.com.
MMAWeekly: And it’s shaping up to look like Denis Kang’s year right?
Denis Kang: That’s right, it started already, it’s already Denis Kang’s year.
MMAWeekly: They’ll have to add a new symbol to the astrological calendar for you.
Denis Kang: Yeah…Year of the Kang.