We asked KSW heavyweight champion Phil De Fries, who returns to action this Saturday at KSW 79, if he believes he’s the best heavyweight outside the UFC.
That’s something of a loaded question; after all, pretty much every fighter strives to be the best, with the self-belief that on any given day, they can be. But in his case, the shoe might just fit. De Fries has been on fire the past few years. He stacks up incredibly well against any of the heavyweights in the PFL, Bellator MMA, or ONE Championship, and probably a good number of UFC big men.
Ten fight win streaks don’t come often at heavyweight, where one punch can change anything. In that stretch, he’s defended the KSW heavyweight title an astonishing seven times. Two of those opponents were former UFC athletes.
“I think everybody fighting, everyone is tough to beat now. I feel on my day, I can beat anyone,” De Fries (22-6, 1NC) replied to that very question. “I’ve mixed it up with Tom [Aspinall, UFC heavyweight] pretty much every day lately, and I firmly believe Tom’s the best on the planet at the minute.”
“Yeah, I would say I’m one of the best outside the UFC that there is. But you know I’d love to do cross promotion, let’s go and really find this thing out, you know?”
The UFC isn’t about to change their mind on cross-promotion. But Bellator, for one, has been open to the possibility, going into business with Japan’s RIZIN at times. There’s a history there, dating back to Strikeforce and PRIDE, but never say never.
Of course, also outside the UFC technically at the moment is Francis Ngannou, who has yet to sign on with a new home. So maybe there’s an asterisk to our original question. De Fries, for his part, is a fan of how “The Predator” handled himself in negotiations with their shared former employer.
“I love it. I bloody love it. He stuck to his guns, he wants what he wants. I think there’s a lot of money to be had at the UFC, but I think they’re making a lot more money than they’re sharing. I think it’s great, athletes standing up against the big guy,” said De Fries. “I hope he makes a lot of money, and I hope that many other people follow suit, and everybody can start earning a bit more money.”
Ngannou has been vocal about his desire to try his hand at boxing, and De Fries’ own UFC run came to an end roughly two years before Ngannou showed up in the organization, meaning they never crossed paths. He’d love the fight, if it were ever possible (as unlikely as it seems, KSW has sold out stadiums in Poland before, and have the sort of production that could make even a one-off fight seem special). De Fries just has one condition.
“I would love that fight, that would be fantastic. But I would also want loads of cash!” he exclaimed. “I’m at a stage of my career, I’m 36. I’ll fight bloody anyone on the planet. I’m ready to fight anyone, I can prepare for anyone, I’m not going to say no to anyone, but I am going to say ‘yes, give me some more money!'”
These sort of what-ifs are what makes MMA so much fun. The sport was created to answer the “what if” scenarios of the day, after all: what if a wrestler took on a boxer? Who would win? KSW 79’s main event will feature another what-if of sorts, with a rematch a decade in the making.
Rematches always bring a host of questions, starting with “what if they meet again? Who’s shown more growth as a fight?” In the case of Todd Duffee, De Fries’ opponent this Saturday, there are a far more questions than answers, however.
Duffee has been out of action since 2019, when a fight against Stipe Miocic teammate Jeff Hughes ended in a No Contest due to an accidental eye poke. Duffee’s career to that point had been plagued by health problems, and it would not have been a surprise had he never fought again.
Instead, De Fries now has a chance to avenge a defeat served up back in 2012, towards the end of his UFC run.
“It’s always good to avenge a loss. Especially a loss where I lost by being kind of bored of fighting and weak in the head. That was 11 years ago, that whole stage of my life was a dark time,” said De Fries, who has been very open about the depression, alcohol, and anxiety issues he’s had to overcome. “There’s no hard feelings, but it would be nice to get a little revenge.”
The De Fries of 2023 is a very different animal, he believes, from the one that faced Duffee the first time around. “This time, he’s going to fight the real me, who’s going to stand there and fight. And I’m a lot better than I was back then. So it does mean a lot, I’m raring to go. It’s always nice to have a little extra motivation.”
With over a decade having passed, however, how do you prepare for a rematch with an opponent who has fought pretty much in fits and starts?
“You can only go by the past couple of fights he’s had,” De Fries suggested. “I don’t think he’s changed. He’s the same guy. He hits really hard, he starts fast, and he’s pretty one-dimensional. I don’t think he’ll be fit enough to go five rounds, for sure, especially at my pace.”
“I don’t expect any new tricks up his sleeve. I know he sometimes comes out southpaw, and that’s something I’ve prepared for if he does. But I’m good to go. I think he’s the same guy, I think I’m the one that’s all different.”
Phil De Fries faces Todd Duffee in the main event of KSW 79 this Saturday, February 25, 2023 at the Home Credit Arena in Liberec, Czech Republic.