Meet the former boxing contender who's making the move to MMA

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

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The mixed martial arts debut of former boxer Pawel Wolak (L) will be delayed because Illinois' athletic commission wouldn't approve an opponent for him. (Getty Images)

Pawel Wolak was one of the most exciting boxers of his era, a come-forward fighter who was willing to take two punches, if necessary, to deliver one.

His 2011 draw with Delvin Rodriguez was an epic battle that was the Boxing Writers Association of America's Fight of the Year.

Wolak retired a few months after that amazing bout, announcing on his Facebook page that he was through a couple of days after losing a rematch to Rodriguez.

But, as it turns out, though he was through with boxing, he was not through fighting.

On Oct. 11, Wolak plans to make his MMA debut when he fights an opponent to be named on the American Predator Fighting Championship 17 event at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., just outside of Chicago.

Instantly, Wolak, 32, will become the most successful male boxer to ever transition full time to MMA and one of the three most successful overall, including the UFC's Holly Holm and One FC's Ana Julaton. Holm and Julaton were boxing world champions before moving to MMA.

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Wolak says he always had aspirations of competing in MMA. (Getty)

Wolak says he always had aspirations of competing in MMA. (Getty)

James Toney is the biggest name ever to go from boxing to MMA, but Toney fought only once and never planned to make it a career.

Wolak, though, has aspirations and said he was using boxing to prepare himself for what he knew would be an MMA career.

"When I retired, I wanted to take the time to study the new sport I was getting into and be as ready as I possibly could be," said Wolak, a high school wrestler in New York who is trained by former International Fight League competitor Jamal Patterson. "I knew there would be a point in my life where I'd be done with boxing and that I was going to go on to fight MMA.

"And I wanted to accomplish as much as I could before I was too old to do it. Let's put it [this] way: I wanted to be able to make the move and do it the right way, prepare myself. I still have my marbles and I'm still physically fit, and now is the time."

Wolak, who worked construction throughout his boxing career and now serves as a corrections officer at Rikers Island, said MMA appealed to him because it more closely simulates a real fight.

He said it requires a lot more knowledge, training and dedication to be a top-level MMA fighter and that he liked the idea of having to be proficient in all areas.

His goal, he said, is to make it to the UFC one day because he wants to go as far as he can. In boxing, he was ranked No. 3 by the IBF at light middleweight and compiled a 29-2-1 record with 19 knockouts.

His most significant win was a sixth-round stoppage of former world champion Yuri Foreman on the undercard of a show headlined by Miguel Cotto.

"I loved what I did in boxing, but in MMA, it's a real fight," Wolak said. "It's like a street fight in a lot of ways. In MMA, you have to master, well, not master, but you have to know a lot more than you do in boxing. It's like unlocking a puzzle. You may try this, but then he'll do this and so you have to do this. Everyone has a strength and you have to be able to exploit it, but you have to be prepared to deal with everything, because you're going to see a lot more than you would see in boxing."

Wolak said that while the striking is similar, boxing and MMA are completely different sports. He was a hard hitter as a boxer wearing 10-ounce gloves and figures to be among the hardest hitters in MMA transitioning down to four-ounce gloves.

He laughed and said he hoped the quality of his hands give him an edge, but said he wasn't counting on it.

"The sport of MMA is evolving all the time and the guys are so much more complete fighters now than they ever were," he said. "In the past, a guy with one strength could go a long way. But you really have to be well-rounded now because guys are training in everything right from the start."

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