World premiere of Mixed Striking Championship on April 18th promises “No Tapouts. Just Knockouts”
If you get Dave “Zeus” Zalewski talking about his and partner Wayne Bermudez’s four-years-in-the-making debut of Mixed Striking Championship (MSC), don’t be surprised when you look up at the clock and half an hour has suddenly elapsed without it even feeling like five minutes. Such is the infectious nature of his enthusiasm for it.
And listening to him explain MSC–which makes its world premier Saturday, April 18th at the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming Entertainment Dome–it’s not hard to understand the allure.
MSC is the conduit through which Zalewski and Bermudez are introducing mixed striking arts (MSA), a mixed martial arts offshoot that takes all of MMA’s grappling elements (besides trips, throws, clinches and leg sweeps) and throws them away. Everything that’s left (kicks, punches, knees, elbows, forearm and shoulder strikes, and so on) can be used. If a fighter hits the canvas, they’ve got to get back up. Essentially, it’s what many thought the UFC was going to be when they bought that first pay-per-view back in November 1993—before Royce Gracie made everyone reconsider the value of their black belts in true “anything goes” competition—with fighters from various backgrounds coming in to test their combative mettle against other styles.
The registered slogan for MSC, appropriately, is “No Tapouts. Just Knockouts.”
“The way we looked at it is there are a lot of striking disciplines out there—a lot of styles—and a lot of them oppose each other, from western boxing, which is just hands, to Muay Thai, which is predominantly kicks,” Zalewski explains. “Kickboxing vs. Karate. Jeet Kune Do, Kenpo… My partner Wayne Bermudez, he’s a traditional guy—a Kenpo guy—so he did a lot of tournaments, from points to full contact. The thing is, you could be the best in the world at Karate, the best in the world at Tae Kwon Do, and what can you do with it as a professional? There’s nothing you can do other than open your own dojo. You’re not a professional fighter. You can’t make income off yourself. You can just open a little gym. A Tae Kwon Do guy can’t go into the UFC. He’ll get beat up. He’ll get taken to the ground and submitted. We’re providing an avenue where traditional martial artists can make a living off of their skill set and test their styles against other styles.”
MSA, their unique brand of sport fighting—complete with patented, exclusive five-ounce EVO gloves which curl to minimize eye pokes, have covered thumbs and are padded nearly all the way to the fingertips—had something of a false start two years back when it debuted under the name World Striking Challenge (WSC) at the Magic City Casino’s Stage 305. Some of the rules were slightly different; fights went five three-minute rounds instead of MSC’s four three-minute rounds, it was an all-amateur affair and the state’s approval hinged on the provision that it be called “modified MMA.” By all accounts the show was a hit, but it would be their last until April 18th.
For his part, Bermudez is certainly putting his money where his mouth is. Not only is he overseeing the entire event as its creator and president, he’s also stepping into the ring to compete. (He’s second from the right on the poster above.)
“He said, ‘What better way could I show how much I care about this than to put myself on the card?’ Zalewski says.
Bermudez’s journey is an interesting one. A lifelong martial artist, he entered MMA competition six and a half years ago to see, like many others before him, just how well his skills stacked up against equal competition. Standing across the cage from him on that December 2008 night at MFA: There Will Be Blood was Gino “Iron Man” Tutera, who was hoping to bounce back from a dejecting loss in his debut three months earlier against Kenny “Deuce” Garner. Just under a minute into their match, Tutera caught Bermudez with a thudding punch to the body, right in the kidney. Bermudez crumpled and the ref stepped in. A trip to the hospital afterwards revealed he was in the early stages of kidney cancer. Had he not fought that night, Zalewski says, the cancer may have gone undetected and spread throughout his body. Fighting saved his life.
“A lot of people don’t know that. They just look at him and think, ‘You fought MMA one time and lost in a minute by TKO,’ but there was a story to that. Once he got healthy and was able to start training, he said to me ‘I don’t know if I missed the boat, missed my window…’ and that’s when he came up with this concept. He basically said ‘I’m creating this sport based on how I want to fight and, basically, what I want to see as a fan, what I want to see as a fighter.’ So me and him geared up together years ago—we put it together and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m doing it. I want to show how much I believe in this.’”
Zalewski also makes it clear that unlike other pure striking organizations such as Glory Kickboxing, where there is one dominant striking style that sometimes accommodates other disciplines like boxing, MSC’s unrestrictive rule set puts them far and away in front in terms of delivering the most genuine strikes-based competition in existence.
“Kickboxing rules are different,” he explains. “In kickboxing, you can’t throw elbows. There’s no full-clench knees to the head. A lot of kickboxing rules, there’s no leg kicks. There’s also the glove difference. You also won’t see a pure boxer in there. The rule sets of almost every kickboxing or striking-based organization out there all of limitations on what their pure strikers can do. We have no restrictions on what our fighters can do other than the obvious cheap shots—you know, back of the head, headbutts, groin strikes… things like that. We have a full range of strikes; everything’s allowed.
“People ask, ‘Are you Muay Thai?’ Well, Muay Thai’s part of us, but we’re not Muay Thai. Rule-wise, we’re very similar to Muay Thai, which is all strikes allowed—punches, kicks, elbows, knees—and in Muay Thai you can also sweep and throw from the clinch. That’s allowed as well. But they have boxing gloves, while we have our own proprietary, patented glove. Also, in Muay Thai, you know the technique. You now the stance, the posture. They’re flat-footed, hands up—that’s kind of the way they are. A Muay Thai fight is distinguishable from an MMA fight. An MMA fight is a lot of movement and footwork. We don’t want two flat-footed guts standing in front of each other throwing kicks; we want a Muay Thai guy with a guy who has movement, like a boxer or an MMA guy, who’s circling around. The Muay Thai guy’s trying to catch up with him and throw the kicks while the boxer’s picking him apart with hands. The idea is to put style versus style and make it dynamic as opposed to just one style fighting against itself. If you throw in a completely different style—karate, Tae Kwon Do—spinning kicks, flying through the air… You don’t see that in Muay Thai. You don’t see that in MMA, you know?”
That’s largely the allure of MSC—the true impetus behind its inception: What if fighters had to engage each other exactly how they did in old Kung Fu movies? We’re finally going to be getting some answers next Saturday.
The pro-am event, which is headlined by a light heavyweight bout between Blackzilians product Kendrick Miree and boxing stylist Joe “The Puncher” Johnson, features 12 bouts overall, and already has the South Florida MMA community chomping at the bit to witness the highly-anticipated grudge match between former business partners and friends Aaron Rajman and Sky Moiseichik.
“This is the start, the true world premier of mixed striking arts in our hometown of Miami, but our eyes are obviously on expanding throughout the world,” says Zalewski. “I already know people in different countries, cities and states who want to do this. We’re now in the process where the UFC was back when it was growing and, ideally, 10 years from now MSA will be a worldwide sport and when Saturday night comes, you can go with your wife or girlfriend to a boxing fight, an MMA fight, or an MSA fight. That’s the plan. This is the world premier. It’s the beginning.”
Mixed Striking Championship takes place April 18, 2015 at the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming Entertainment Dome at 500 SW 177th Ave. Doors open at 6:30PM. The first fight begins at 7:30PM. Visit their website for more information or click HERE for ticket options. Watch the fights live from the comfort of your home on GFL.tv, HERE. View the full fight card below.
NOTE: Fight card is subject to change.
(All photos, including the slider image, were obtained from Facebook and will be removed upon request.)