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In October 1993, a few weeks before the start of his second season in the NBA, Shaquille O’Neal released a rap album called “Shaq Diesel”. In his first season as a center for the Orlando Magic, O’Neal won ‘Rookie of the Year’ in a landslide and was named to the All-Star Team, the first rookie to win this honor for Michael Jordan almost a year. decade before. At 21 and after just one season, he was already one of the league’s best players and arguably its second biggest star after Jordan. Thanks to her burgeoning celebrity status, O’Neal’s debut album cracked the Billboard Top 40, reached No. 10 on the R&B charts, and sold a million copies by season’s end. earning “The Big Aristotle” its first and only platinum disc.
In the 1990s, star athletes streaming music was a growing industry, to put it mildly. Everyone from Deion Sanders to Roy Jones Jr. has tried to leverage their sporting fame into a side career, and most of the results have been embarrassing: hokey, poorly produced records filled with corny references to everyday jobs artists. It didn’t help that in many cases the athletes themselves were very bad at singing or rapping.
Author’s note: I’m so, so sorry.
Virtually all of these attempts have banked on novelty — or the morbid curiosity of sports fans, at least — and virtually none have been as successful as “Shaq Diesel.” This includes O’Neal’s own later efforts. His second album, “Shaq Fu: Da Return,” went gold, but his hip-hop career quickly slipped out of public consciousness as he compiled his fame basketball resume, made a dozen of films of varying quality raking in so much money from endorsements that he beeped like a Brinks truck every time he took a step in the paint.
However, a strange thing happened on the way to the dustbin of jock-rap history: O’Neal not only continued to make music, but became quite good at it. After “Shaq Fu”, he recorded three more albums, all of which went largely unnoticed and the last of which never even had an official release. All three are subjectively better than his first two albums. Turns out, more than the misery of extra money or exposure – and really, at the turn of the 21st century, it’s hard to imagine how Shaq could have been much richer or more famous – he just wanted to be the best rapper he could be, even if it meant working in relative obscurity. It was surprising and kinda charming to see a guy who could basically print money for himself on demand just by smiling while holding a sandwich or a bottle of athlete’s foot spray, working hard for little material reward.
— KSW (@KSW_MMA)
May 28, 2022
In the main event of KSW 70 on Saturday in Lodz, Poland, Mariusz Pudzianowski knocked out former KSW middleweight champion Michal Materla with a crushing first-round uppercut. The 45-year-old former strongman then sent a legend into the cage of former two-division titleholder Mamed Khalidov, setting up a potential clash between the two promotion stars. It was the stunning latest development in a mixed martial arts career that, much like O’Neal’s musical adventures, continues to display far more stamina and legitimate excellence than we had any reason to. to expect it.
Like O’Neal and his music, Pudzianowski took to the fight after he had already established himself as a star in another field. The five-time ‘world’s strongest man’ winner is by acclaim the greatest strongman competitor of his time and probably of all time. The parallels between “Shaq” and “Pudz” are there, but on the contrary, the distinctions between their cases make Pudzianowski’s accomplishments even less likely and more admirable. At the time of his MMA debut in 2009, he was 32, with a lifetime of brutal physical training already behind him. That’s an awfully late start, even at heavyweight, which is kinder to seniors than the lighter weight classes. Speaking of which: Pudzianowski had spent his strongman career competing at 310 pounds not fat, ridiculously short of modern MMA’s heavyweight limit of 265. It was fair to wonder if he would ever be able to compete. healthily and regularly in heavyweights.
There was every reason to believe that Pudzianowski’s fighting career would be a cynical grab or even a joke, and I don’t mean that as an insult. As a former Pride Fighting Championships stalwart, I’m here for your circus fights, and KSW, which embodies the spirit of Pride more than any other current promotion, would have been the perfect place for that. “real” fighters.
For the first two years, that’s more or less what Pudzianowski did. He picked up quick and easy victories over former Pride freakshow favorite Eric “Butterbean” Esch and his K-1 counterpart Bob Sapp, but against real decent MMA heavyweights Tim Sylvia and James Thompson proved not to. be washed enough. , and the results were as humbling and one-sided as André Rison’s collaboration with Ghostface Killah.
The auditory equivalent of a round 10-7. Throw that damn towel away.
In the Sylvia and Thompson fights, Pudzianowski showed the limits that I, and probably most observers, assumed he would string together as long as he cared to keep fighting. Looking more or less like his strongman-era self, he simply lacked the range of motion to punch with proper mechanics, and his gas tank was laughable. Against Sylvia in particular, it turned purple after around two minutes, which was legitimately alarming; I wondered if we were about to witness a real, non-humorous medical emergency. In the end, “Pudzian” lived on, but MMA’s hope for credibility — if there had ever been many — was flat. It wouldn’t have been surprising had the Polish strongman cut the bait of his MMA background after just six or seven fights, or transformed himself into another Sapp: a show opponent and an almost guaranteed win for anyone who sees him. would pay.
A strange thing happened to the way of showing worthlessness, however: Pudzianowski not only kept fighting, but he got quite good at it. He continued to improve his skills – more on that in a moment – and revamped his physique to the point where he now comes in at 10 or 15 pounds under the heavyweight limit. He challenges himself against a surprisingly high level of competition and has shown himself to be completely devoid of fear of failure. I still remember O’Neal, whose very first single featured him trying to keep up with Fu-Schnickens, some of the most agile and technically adept rappers of the time. Like Pudzianowski fighting Sylvia in his third professional fight, in hindsight, this might have been a hint that he took his craft seriously.
In the decade since he crushed a completely disinterested Sapp at KSW 19, Pudzianowski has compiled a respectable record, especially – it bears repeating – for a man who started at 32. with lots of tread already out of the tires. That’s not to say he’s a great heavyweight, any more than Shaq is an all-time great MC, although unlike some he can handle the Wu-Tang.
Pudzianowski’s dance card still features plenty of under-trained oddities like Serigne Ousmane “Bombardier” Dia and Erko Jun, and the legit fighters he faces tend to be much smaller (Nikola Milanovic), well beyond their heyday (Jay Silva) or both (Pawel Nastula).
Materla, victim of Saturday’s mutilation, is a very good middleweight, but he is just that: a middleweight, even though he weighed around 220 this time. That doesn’t change the fact that Pudzianowski leveled it with a punch he wouldn’t have been able to throw five years ago. It’s perfectly emblematic of his entire fighting career, where spectacle never quite gave way, but had to make way for a surprising amount of real-world achievement from a man for whom pursuit is clearly a job. of love. Appreciate this man’s work while you can, and by all means bring Khalidov.