Ten years ago, Polish featherweight Rafal Dudek (19-11, 9 KO's) had a fight which would change his life.
He faced Amsterdam's Murthel Groenhart in the opening fight of an eight-man tournament, losing by KO in the third round but giving a good enough account of himself to catch the attention of Groenhart's trainer.
Groenhart, now a GLORY welterweight title challenger, steamed through the one-night tournament, stopping all three of his opponents to claim the top spot. After the show was over, his coach Mike Passenier – head of Amsterdam institution Mike's Gym – came to see Dudek in the dressing room.
“Mike asked me where I was training and who I was training with. I said I didn't have anyone, really. I was training myself at that time. He gave me his card and told me to call him sometime. So I did; that's how I started training with him,” he recalls.
“Training there has been really good for me. Typically I will go there for three weeks or so out of a training camp and do the rest of my training at home in Poland. I've had good training there and good opportunities.
“I like Mike and he likes me. He's given me fights in Morocco, Japan, you name it. I think no other Polish fighter has fought in as many places around the world as me!”
Now aged 34 and having started his amateur career at the age of 17, Dudek notes that he has spent literally half of his life fighting. He says he was originally attracted to it because he was “a high energy kid” who combined athletic ability in sports with a pugnacious attitude in the playground.
“I was not a big kid. But I wasn't afraid of anyone older or bigger and if they tried to bully me then I gave them a good answer!” he laughs. “And though I was good at soccer, team sports were not really my thing. I prefer individual sports. That's why I chose kickboxing.”
Dudek had 140 fights under amateur rules and for a while, because of the Polish system, was competing both under amateur rules and professional (“My amateur career earned me a stipend from the Minister of Sport in Poland,” he explains) before deciding to turn fully professional.
As a professional he has fought for numerous respected organizations, including Dutch promotions It's Showtime and Enfusion Live. He took part in the latter's reality TV series several years ago, spending time on a Thai island along with other fighters as their numbers were whittled down by weekly fights until an overall winner was crowned.
He is a former amateur and professional national champion in Poland. In 2012 he won a bronze medal in the WAKO European Championships 2012, held in Ankara, Turkey, and he has also competed as far afield as Trinidad, Tobago and Japan.
Poland is a country with a strong warrior tradition. Amateur sports have always been prominent there and since coming out from under the Soviet heel with the collapse of the communism, professionals have been making more and more of an impact. The sport of MMA is now huge in Poland and kickboxing is hopefully following a similar path.
Several Polish fighters have competed in GLORY to date but Dudek represents the most experienced of the bunch so far. He hopes to meet with success in his debut at GLORY 43 NEW YORK so that he can pioneer a Polish breakthrough in the rankings, bringing other fighters through and then eventually bringing a GLORY show to his homeland, where he lives with his wife and two children.
“I hope to get many opportunities in GLORY,” he says. “I want to show that Polish kickboxing is a good level and that we can fight with the best in the world. Of course, in America there are many people who are from Polish heritage and fighting in front of them would be an honor. Likewise if I can fight on a GLORY show in Poland for the fans there.”