Denis Kang is like the Michael Jordan of Korean MMA. Or maybe the Michael Bisping of Korean MMA? Let's just say he's big in Korea and be done with it. But after making a huge name in, you guessed it, Korea's Spirit MC promotion, Kang struggled in his early UFC bouts. Now the once promising prospect faces The Ultimate Fighter 3 winner Michael Bisping in Bisping's home country. Kang took the time, just before hopping a jet overseas, to talk with Heavy.com's Adam Morgan about his life, his fight, and what it takes to succeed… and a little Kimbo Slice for good measure.
Heavy.com: You've referred to your upcoming fight with Bisping as probably the biggest fight of your career. What is it about this fight that makes the stakes so high?
Denis Kang: A few things, you know, like you said it could be the biggest fight of my career. He's coming off of a bad loss and I've got a 50/50 record in the UFC right now so we've both got to really, really go for it.
Heavy.com: Henderson knocked him out in a way that no one will ever forget. How do you think that he will respond after such a brutal knockout?
Denis Kang: Depends, you know? I think he's really going to have to prove it to himself that his chin is still there. Some guys don't ever come back from a knockout like that. At the same time it can make you a little better but we'll have to see.
Heavy.com: Bisping normally talks a lot of trash in the weeks leading up to a fight but he seems to have toned it down quite a bit for this fight. Why do you think that is?
Denis Kang: I think Henderson humbled him. I think, after a loss like that, what can you say? There's nothing you can really say or else you'll come off looking like a fool again.
Heavy.com: It seems as if the UFC almost always has Bisping fight in England because he's a big draw there. Do you see any type of home field advantage for him or could you care less where the fight takes place?
Denis Kang: I couldn't care less, man. Most of my fights are not in my hometown and usually in someone else's hometown. So I think, if anything, the pressure is going to be on him. He's the one, especially coming off of a loss and fighting in front of all his fans, he's the one who has to perform. He's gotta make a statement.
Heavy.com: As we saw in Bisping's fight with Matt Hamill, it can be hard to earn a decision over him in Britain. Is it possible to earn a decision over Bisping in the UK?
Denis Kang: Hell yeah, man. If it goes to a decision, which I don't think it will, you'll see. I will win the decision.
Heavy.com: How can you make sure it doesn't go to the judges?
Denis Kang: Just get in there and shut everything down that he does. Win every little scramble, every exchange, every position.
Heavy.com: And is there anything specific that you've done to gameplan for him?
Denis Kang: I don't really change my particular training for any opponent. What I do is focus on the things that he does well because I don't want to be caught off guard. But overall my training revolves around the same things.
Heavy.com: Getting into kind of a different subject, I know you kind of grew up in the MMA scene in Korea. What was it like for you to help pioneer MMA in Korea?
Denis Kang: Oh, it was an honor. The fighters in Korea are getting so much better now and the sport has taken off over there. I remember going over there and nobody really knew the sport. Tae Kwon Do was still big and the fighters were pretty low level but now, pretty soon, you're going to be hearing about some native guys that are incredible. You already have Kim Dong Yoon, (Yoshihiro) Akiyama, Yoon Dong Sik, some really good guys. It's only going to get better and it was a great honor for me to be at the forefront of that.
Heavy.com: How did you see Koreans come to love MMA over time?
Denis Kang: I think it's in the blood of the Korean people. Koreans have always had an aggressive nature and are very competitive when it comes to sports and are very athletic people. It's also the land of Tae Kwon Do and they also have very good judo and wrestling so it's only natural that they progress toward this sport.
Heavy.com: Do you think the sport can continue to grow there?
Denis Kang: I think it's only going to get better, especially with Korean fighters doing well.
Heavy.com: Do you think the UFC has big plans for you to help them break into the Korean market due to your popularity there and would you jump at an opportunity to fight there?
Denis Kang: I hope so. And absolutely, of course, I really hope to fight in Korea if they put on an event there.
Heavy.com: Did you feel a lot of pressure when you first came to the UFC? Had a big reputation... were you over thinking it?
Denis Kang: I did, I really did. I felt a lot of pressure to make a big impact in my first fight and I think that unfortunately that's what held me down. I felt like I needed to make a big, big splash and come out with an explosive victory. I came out a little too hard in the first round and tried to finish the fight. I tried to rush it basically.
Heavy.com: You've lost several fights that many think you should have won, what are you doing to prevent that from happening again?
Denis Kang: Fight more calm, take the fight as just a normal fight. I know now that I don't have to end every fight with a crazy knockout.
Heavy.com: How do you get your mental state right? You have to feel bulletproof out there...how do you get that back after a few losses?
Denis Kang: There's no thinking, really, I just do it. I just have to really focus on my strengths. I don't focus too much on how I'm going to win, I just concentrate on fighting a clean fight.
Heavy.com: And do you feel more comfortable now that you've had a couple of fights under your belt in the UFC?
Denis Kang: Absolutely, I really feel at home. I'm more relaxed and being more relaxed leads to me seeing things more clearly, fighting more efficiently, having more stamina, and so on.
Heavy.com: I know you've had a lot of struggles in your personal life. When that happens how does it affect you professionally?
Denis Kang: The main thing is that it breaks your concentration and it's hard for you to concentrate on your training. You have to surround yourself with positive people, friends, family, and try to regain your focus. It's hard, really, because there's nothing you can do. I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with friends and positive people.
Heavy.com: How have you enjoyed training at ATT?
Denis Kang: I'm loving it, man. I haven't been here in two years and it's good to be back and see all my old friends and teammates. They've got some great training here.
Heavy.com: How does it help getting that type of intense training when there are so many guys with fights coming up all the time?
Denis Kang: It's huge because everybody's competitive. Everybody has a fight. When you train with somebody that doesn't have a fight, a lot of the times they're going to go a little slower or be a little lackadaisical so to speak. But when everybody has a fight, everybody is hustlin' because everything counts. Everybody has more at stake.
Heavy.com: I know Kimbo Slice has been training down at ATT as well. How is Kimbo fitting in with the guys?
Denis Kang: He's fitting in great, man. The guy is a hard worker, he's a super nice guy, and he comes in all the time. His guard is getting really good. His ground game is improving to go along with his already good standup.
Heavy.com: So do you think he has a future in the UFC?
Denis Kang: Absolutely, man. The guy's a huge draw and the thing is that everyone thinks he comes from a boxing background. Well he doesn't. Those street fights you see on the internet, he has zero boxing training. Absolutely none.
Heavy.com: Best of luck to you and thanks for the interview, man.
Denis Kang: No problem, anytime.