Marcin Tybura came to MMA as a jiu-jitsu fighter and used his formidable skills to amass a 13-1 record on the regional circuit. He finished 11 of those 13 wins and captured the M1 Global heavyweight title.
He joined the UFC in 2016, just months before the company’s $4 billion-plus sale, and was eager to prove himself on the world’s biggest stage. Things, however, did not always go as he wanted.
After a 3-1 start in the UFC, he went 1-4. Nine fights into his UFC career, he was 4-5 and seen as just another guy. He believed in his heart – no, he you knew — that he was better than that, that the 16-2 start to his MMA career was more representative of him as a fighter than the four defeats in five fights he had suffered.
He changed his coach, he changed his approach and, most importantly, he changed his mindset.
“For a while, I used to think, ‘Choke, choke, choke,’ and that was it,” Tybura said, laughing. “I came from this [jiu-jitsu] bottom. That’s what I knew. That’s what I did.”
He realized that his jiu-jitsu was good enough to win many fights, even against the best fighters in the world. But it was hard to be consistent and get to the top by being one-dimensional.
A funny thing happened: as he diversified, as he improved his striking, his jiu-jitsu became more dangerous.
He faces No. 5 Tom Aspinall on Saturday in the main event of UFC London at the O2 Arena in London, England, a bout designed to showcase Aspinall’s varied talents. Aspinall is clearly the biggest fight of Tybura’s career, and while it’s been overlooked in many corners, he’s sure it won’t just be The Tom Aspinall Show.
Tybura, now 10th in the division, believes in his chances despite odds of more than 4 to 1 against him.
“I have a lot more experience in the cage now and I have a good idea of what I need to do there,” he said. “It’s coaching, it’s hard work, it’s looking at yourself [critically] and really understand what you need to do to go to the next level. It’s not easy to fully explain in a few minutes, but I feel like I made the changes I needed to make and I’m at my best now.”
He’s 37 years old, and it’s probably safe to say that most UFC fans outside of his native Poland never considered him a potential champion. Aspinall was impressed after carefully studying Tybura, and he swears he’s not looking back – because Tybura is the real deal.
“I think he’s really good,” Aspinall said. “I’ve watched a lot of his fights. He’s really unorthodox. I think he’s super tough. I think he possesses a lot of things that few other heavyweights possess in the fact that he doesn’t give up when it gets tough. When he gets tired, he doesn’t give up either. That’s pretty rare for a big guy. Usually big guys are good at being the hammer but not so much at being the nail, especially when they’re tired. When they get tired, they look for a way out. Marcin doesn’t does it as much as the other guys, so I took him very seriously.”
Aspinall and Tybura posed for photos on Monday in London to promote the fight and Aspinall spoke to Tybura in Polish, Tybura’s native language. As they were nose to nose, Aspinall said in Polish, “You’re not fat anymore. What happened?”
Tybura said he wasn’t insulted, but he will be leaner on Saturday than before. It wasn’t a conscious effort, though. It was more a question of him knowing the importance of the fight and the time of year he is training.
“Honestly, I didn’t pay attention to how my body was preparing for this fight,” said Tybura, smiling. “I’ve been working really hard to prepare. I know how much of a challenge it is and how important this fight is to me. To be honest with you, I worked hard for this fight. The pounds I lost came naturally. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t necessarily want to do that. My trainer was actually telling me, ‘Earn some! Try to eat more!’ But now it’s summer in Poland and it’s hot, so it’s easy to sweat.”
Perhaps no one considered him more than a longtime contender, but a win over the highly regarded Aspinall will change that. Aspinall is number 5 and if Tybura wins he could be in the top five in the divisional rankings next week.
He’s not worried about where, just that he can continue with his goal of winning the title.
“Of course that’s the goal,” he said of winning the belt. “I feel like I’m making progress and this fight is really important to me. So I gave it my all to prepare and I’m looking forward to going out and maybe surprising anyone who doesn’t know what I am.”