VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Krzysztof Soszynski once weighed 285 pounds and dreamed of becoming a star bodybuilder. He became interested in the sport as a 16-year-old when he happened upon a copy of Flex magazine and soon thereafter was determined to build his body into a mass of muscle.
But Soszynski soon realized that, to become a world-class bodybuilder, he would have to put plenty of things into his body that he didn't care to ingest.
And so, with a career as a bodybuilder a non-starter as a result, Soszynski faced yet another challenge: He needed to find a way to capitalize on the hulking physique he'd acquired after hours of throwing around weights. He turned to professional wrestling, the one occupation where a barrel chest and bulging biceps is valued as much as it is in bodybuilding.
Soszynski had plenty going for him as a wrestler and – for a time, at least – considered making a run at the big time. But for all the things he had working in his favor as a pro wrestler – the bald pate, the rippling muscles, the extraordinary conditioning – he was lacking in the one prerequisite for stardom. Soszynski, it turns out, couldn't grab a microphone and work a crowd into a lather.
But his association with wrestling did ultimately help him find his calling. While wrestling on the independent circuit in Western Canada, Soszynski ran into a former WWE standout as "Bad News Brown."
Brown, whose real name was Allen Coage, was a bronze medalist in judo at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal – the only U.S. heavyweight ever to earn a medal in the sport. Coage befriended Soszynski and showed him how to do an arm bar and a Kimura shoulder lock. The experience of learning those moves sparked an interest in mixed martial arts. Finally, Soszynski had found his calling.
It's been a long, wild ride for the native of Poland, who stands 25-11-1 in his MMA career and meets Mike Massenzio on Saturday at Rogers Arena as part of UFC 131.
"It's amazing that a professional wrestler taught me mixed martial arts and got me hooked on it," Soszynski said. "Before that, I never even enjoyed mixed martial arts. I had watched the first three UFCs and I was never a fan. It's funny how stuff like that happens, but when I like something and I decide to go after it, I definitely go at it 100 percent."
Coage died in 2007 but played a role in helping develop a guy who may one day become known as "The Kimura King." Soszynski has become an action fighter who has been in a number of memorable wars, including his back-to-back bouts with Stephan Bonnar in 2010.
Soszynski, though, is partial to the shoulder lock he learned from his late friend. He began his UFC career following a stint as the practical jokester on Season 8 of "The Ultimate Fighter" with back-to-back wins by Kimura.
When he was shown the move for the first time, he weighed 285 and was immensely muscled. When he was forced to quickly tap, he knew on the spot that this was something he wanted to investigate.
"I was 285 pounds and somebody put me in a Kimura and almost tore my arm off and I was like, 'Yes, I want to learn how to do that,' " Soszynski said.
Learning the move helped spark an interest in a career as a fighter. Later, in the midst of one of Soszynski's down periods, it helped save him.
He was 12-2 and, though he'd be the first to admit he didn't know nearly enough about the sport, was showing promise. But he fell into a prolonged losing skid. In a five-fight span, Soszynski dropped bouts to Matt Horwich, Martin Desilets, Bryan Schall and Ben Rothwell, and drew with Mike Kyle.
The 0-4-1 run sapped him of a lot of his motivation; he began to question his future in the sport. It was at that point, on a TKO Promotions show in Montreal, that the Kimura came to his rescue.
"I was in a really bad losing streak at the time and I was having a really rough time with mixed martial arts," Soszynski said. "I had gotten to the point with the losing where I had to figure out if it was the sport for me or not. There was a lot of pressure on me at that time.
"I went into this fight [with Yan Pellerin] and I caught a Kimura within two minutes. That Kimura kind of changed everything. Right after that, I beat Icho Larenas for the TKO heavyweight title. After that, I became a member of the [International Fight League] and met Bas Rutten and Shawn Tompkins. That moved me onto HDNet and then I met Dan Henderson and I then got onto "The Ultimate Fighter." That Kimura is really memorable for me because it really turned my whole career around."
He's 5-2 in the UFC heading into his bout with Massenzio, who is the third opponent he's had to prepare to fight. He was originally scheduled to face Anthony Perosh, but Perosh withdrew because of an injury and was replaced by Igor Pokrajac. But Pokrajac was injured on Monday and replaced on Tuesday by Massenzio.
Soszynski's biggest focus, though, is on steadily climbing the ranks. He split a pair of wars with Bonnar and posted a solid victory over Goran Reljic in November.
"The important thing for me is to win and to put together two, three, four in a row so that I can get a shot at one of the top 10 guys and maybe down the road fight for that title," Soszynski said. "When you fight those top 10 guys, that's when things can take off in your career. I've always been about putting on a show more than I have anything else. I want the fans to love watching me fight and want to see me again, but I'm making a lot of progress in this sport and I'd like to eventually get my shot [at the title]. You have to win to do that."
And if Soszynski wins, don't be surprised if it comes on a Kimura. The move that once kick-started a career may yet again push it to greater heights.