Denis Kang’s mixed martial arts skills won him fame and fights around the globe well before joining the UFC. But he has never forgotten his roots.
So when he steps into the cage Saturday against American Alan (The Talent) Belcher for his UFC debut at UFC 93 in Dublin, the Canadian middleweight may well cast his mind back to his first fight 11 years ago — a bare-knuckle affair in a suburban Vancouver warehouse.
The 500 spectators weren’t told where to go until the day of the card. The fighters warmed up in a tiny kitchen that was only big enough for one of them at a time. There was just one bathroom — for fighters and fans. And the police kept knocking on the door, to be told that it was a film set, a grappling event or anything else that kept them at bay.
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, I hope they arrest everybody and I don’t have to fight. I’m so nervous,’” Kang recalled.
“I was really, really scared. I couldn’t believe I was actually going through with it.”
Kang’s real-life journey started 31 years ago in St-Pierre-Miquelon, a set of French islands off the coast of Newfoundland, where he was born to a Korean father and French mother.
Kang lived there until he was nine, when the family shifted to the Canary Islands. The family moved to Vancouver when he was 11.
Today, he holds French and Canadian citizenship but also considers himself Korean.
“I’ve been influenced by all three cultures and I’m proud of having them as part of my life. All three of them have made me who I am today.”
It’s a unique blend that has made for a unique fighter. Kang is a jiu-jitsu black belt with some slick striking skills. Throw in a chiselled physique that would do the fashion runway proud and he’s the total package.
“I can promise you conditioning is not going to be a factor for him,” said Montreal-based strength and conditioning coach Jon Chaimberg, who counts UFC champions Georges St. Pierre and Rashad Evans among his clients.
Fans who haven’t seen Kang fight are in for a treat, says top trainer Greg Jackson.
“I think they’re going to be blown away by him,” said Jackson. “I think that he’s going to make a real impression in this fight.”
Kang’s MMA career has been a roller-coaster ride.
He won his first three fights, then lost seven of his next 12. He almost quit the sport, tired of living in a crummy apartment, barely surviving on what he made as a bouncer.
Marcus Soares, his jiu-jitsu coach, urged him not to give up and Kang found his focus, realizing how much he enjoys training and fighting.