Kickboxing champ Gabriel Varga nervous for MMA debut at Bellator 224, but that's how he wants it

THACKERVILLE, Okla. – Gabriel Varga is nervous heading into his MMA debut. But admittedly, that’s what he signed up for.

The 34-year old isn’t afraid to admit the nerve-wracking nature of knowing his first MMA fight is happening Friday.

Varga (0-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) takes on fellow pro debutant Jamese Taylor (0-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) at Bellator 224 at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. The main card airs on Paramount following prelims on MMA Junkie.

“It’s the nerves I sort of experienced from my first number of kickboxing fights, just when there was an unknown,” Varga told MMA Junkie. “So, I’ve gotten fairly comfortable now in the kickboxing ring. I’m closing in on 40 fights now. I’m still nervous when I compete in the kickboxing ring, but this is just different.”

In preparation for a kickboxing bout, Varga said he usually focuses on two main aspects of his game: his cardio and his timing. If he can get those two aspects up to par, he considers himself fight ready. But MMA preparation has been a bit different for him.

“The arms fatigue in a different way,” Varga said. “And the heart rate gets challenged in a different way just because you end up doing that wrestling or pushing, which I’m not used to. I did have to prepare in a slightly different way. Aside from that, the prep was making sure my takedown defense is as on point as I can get it and my submission defense, as well.”

In May, champion kickboxer Raymond Daniels crossed over to MMA when he defeated Wilker Barros with a sensational spinning punch. Varga isn’t aiming to top Daniels’ highlight-reel knockout. Friday’s bout is his first MMA competition, and he’s setting his expectations to scale.

“I know the bar is set quite high,” Varga said. “Raymond Daniels is the kickboxing world champion and he went out and put on a spectacular KO. But that’s never a concern for me. I’ve gone through my whole career just, ‘You know what? I’m going to go in there. I’m going to fight and I’m going to take it round by round.’”

Going forward, Varga said he’ll compete in both MMA and kickboxing and indicated the balance is manageable.

“I think I will go back and forth,” Varga said. “I’ve enjoyed challenging my brain in a new way. It’s something you don’t get too much in the fight world when you get quite proficient at the sport. … That’s really it. I like the new challenge – I like having some nerves back.

“There are sometimes where I’m going, ‘This feels terrible,’ and I don’t enjoy the nerves. But it is good to have them. I think swapping back and forth between the two sports would be good for me.”

For more on Bellator 224, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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