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Tyrone Spong, the ‘Bo Jackson of combat sports,’ primed for Big Knockout Boxing bout

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Steve Marcus

Tyrone Spong of Juper, Fla. celebrates his win over Travis Bartlett of Maine during the World Series of Fighting debut in the PH Live theater at Planet Hollywood Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. The event was broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network.

Updated Thursday, June 25, 2015 | noon

UPDATE: Big Knockout Boxing announced today that Tyrone Spong suffered a training injury and will not fight Saturday. He will be replaced on the card by Rodney Hernandez.

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Tyrone Spong has 10 kickboxing world title belts hanging above his pool table in his South Florida home. He’s collected so much championship hardware over the years that some of his lesser belts, like a Netherlands national championship, overflow into his garage.

Saturday night at Mandalay Bay, he will be looking to add No. 11.

The 29-year old has logged 87 professional fights in kickboxing, mixed martial arts, Muay Thai and boxing before turning 30. He will be testing the waters in yet another combat sport when he faces Julian Pollard for the inaugural Big Knockout Boxing heavyweight championship.

BKB is a modified version of traditional boxing, with competitors fighting in a smaller, circular ring called “The Pit,” with two-minute rounds. But unique rules are nothing new for Spong.

BKB co-commissioner Alex Kaplan hopes Spong’s BKB debut will further introduce the veteran to a U.S. audience that might not be as familiar with his European kickboxing accomplishments.

“I’d like nothing more than for this to be Tyrone’s coming out party to the U.S. audience,” Kaplan said. “We want it to be a huge BKB event, and a big night for Tyrone as well.”

The Spong-Pollard heavyweight clash headlines BKB 3, with boxing star Shane Mosley’s son Shane Mosley Jr. fighting Jason Kelly on the undercard.

Even with an MMA fight scheduled Aug. 1 with the World Series of Fighting, Spong insists that boxing will be his main focus moving forward.

Saturday night, he will look to capture his first boxing title.

“I feel like I am in the best shape ever,” Spong said. “Early in my career I wasn’t mature yet. Now I feel stronger and faster; now it’s my time. They don’t call me the Bo Jackson of combat sports for nothing.”

Spong was born in Paramaribo, Suriname, and moved to the Netherlands at age 5. There he was often involved in street fights, and he began training at a kickboxing gym in Amsterdam at 13.

His professional career began in 2001, and by the end of 2004 he had 21 pro fights and two championship belts. He’s now regarded as one of the top kickboxers in the world, with a record of 74-7-1 with 47 knockouts.

Spong has since transitioned to mixed martial arts and boxing, where he is a combined 4-0 with four knockouts.

“The world of kickboxing is dead in my opinion,” Spong said. “They can’t pay my purse. I am a professional. I live and breathe my sport, and the reward has to be there for me.”

With major kickboxing promotions in financial trouble, Spong decided he had conquered the sport.

“I don’t really have any more challenges left,” he said. "I’ve been a world champion in six different weight classes.”

Spong has fought the who’s who of kickboxing, with wins over Peter Aerts and Remy Bojansky, and a close decision loss to current UFC fighter Alistair Overeem, who outweighed Spong by more than 40 pounds.

His most notable titles include a 2004 WKN Thaiboxing Euro Middleweight Championship, a 2008 It’s Showtime World Title and the 2013 Glory Slam Tournament championship.

“The belts are something to be proud of, but I think the thing I’m most proud of is my ability to reach a lot of people — to stimulate and motivate young kids to do something with their life,” Spong said.

Spong travels to his home country of Suriname regularly to help out in orphanages.

“I took a whole foster house to the zoo one time,” Spong said. “I take them to get cotton candy and popcorn, and just be a kid without worrying.”

Spong remembers his younger years in Suriname and can hardly believe he has achieved so much.

“It’s crazy to think that I was this little kid that grew up as a little black sheep, and now I’m here,” he said. “If you go back, people will always say they knew I was a fighter, but none of them expected me to accomplish all of this, and be where I am now.”

His next challenge will be not only transitioning to the new rules of BKB, but doing it just over a year removed from a devastating leg injury. In Spong’s last kickboxing match, on April 12, 2014, he broke his tibia and fibula while kicking his opponent.

“I never could have imagined something like that happening to me, but I’m all healed up, and it’s a scar that I carry with me,” said Spong, who says his body still feels fresh after nearly 90 pro fights. “I still feel very young, and the scary thing about it is most of the fights I’ve had in the past I did a lot on just raw talent and being gifted, and cruised on that for a long time. I feel like I didn’t hit my prime yet.”

Now Spong is training at the Blackzillians gym in Boca Raton, Fla., with UFC fighters Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort and Anthony Johnson. Spong says he hasn’t altered his training much for his BKB debut.

“It’s still boxing. It has some differences and it’s a challenge, but I am always looking for a challenge,” he said. “It’s not easy but I can adapt.”

Despite having fought in 15 countries, Saturday will only be Spong’s second fight in Las Vegas, and he is looking forward to strapping on the gloves in the fight capital of the world.

“This is like a milestone for my career, fighting for a world title in Las Vegas,” Spong said. “It’s another thing to add to my resume.”

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