For a place with a somewhat genteel reputation, Victoria has a robust fight scene and has produced Olympic boxers and professional champion kickboxers.
Among the best has been Gabriel Varga. Now one of the Island’s greatest fighters is trading the ring for the octagon in a bold career move at 34.
The Bellator featherweight kickboxing champion from the capital makes his pro mixed martial arts debut Saturday night against Jamese Taylor of Missouri in Bellator 224 at the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Oklahoma.
“MMA has always been on my mind,” said Varga, who was also world champion in K-1 and the Glory Series, as part of his total of six pro world kickboxing titles.
“I had done everything I could do in kickboxing and there was nothing left to gain. I knew I had to try MMA or I would regret it the rest of my life. MMA is personality driven. It builds stars.”
Everybody knows what Varga can do as a striker, but much of MMA is the ground game.
“My offence is quite good and I am confident of it, but I have to be aware of defence,” Varga said.
He has been practising his wrestling skills with local experts.
“I have been working hard on the takedowns,” Varga said. “I also did jujitsu and that involves a lot of clinch work.”
But as with all boxers and kickboxers who try MMA, the longer they stay on their feet the better.
“Fans love the knockouts,” Varga said.
His gentle demeanour outside the ropes belied a lethal instinct inside them. He will now need to transfer that to inside the caged screen.
“I’m a relaxed, happy guy,” said Varga, a piano-playing Lambrick Park Secondary graduate. “But in the leadup to a fight, I one by one begin cutting out the things I like.”
That’s bound to make anybody ornery and ready to rumble.
Varga began in karate at age seven. Aaron Varga, also a successful pro fighter from the Island, will be in his brother’s corner Saturday for his MMA debut.
There is also a B.C. flavour at the top of today’s Bellator 224 card. It is headlined by the women’s featherweight title fight between current Bellator world champion Julia Budd of Langley — ranked No. 3 in the world unified standings — against undefeated Olga Rubin of Israel.