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– by Eric Rivera –

There is a pretty common saying in sporting circles that states that “champions are not born, they are made.” While this is certainly the case the majority of the time, sometimes you come across athletes that seem to have both talent and a unique trait of being able to motivate themselves to work harder than anyone, training to exhaustion without anyone pushing them. Another saying tells us that, “when no one is watching, live as if someone is.” True champions and world class athletes follow a modified version of that quote which instead reads, “when no one is watching, TRAIN as if someone is.” Very few athletes can push themselves passed their limits without a coach, trainer, friend, or fans egging them on. Fighting is an individual sport. While all fighters need someone to hold pads or mitts for them, fighting is very much a sport where the fighter is required to push himself. Outside of the training sessions on pads, the fighter has to spend countless hours doing road work, running for miles on end, or sprinting up hills and inclines to build his or her conditioning.

There may also be days where a fighters coach or teammates may not be able to hold pads for them. On those days, a fighter has to will himself, no matter how exhausted, to jump rope, shadow box, and hit heavy bags or do their own strength and conditioning to the point of failure. And when they reach failure, they have to pick themselves up, on their own, and do just one more round. The difference between champions and the rest is that most champions will work incredibly hard even when they are not under the watchful eye of their trainers.

Gabriel Varga is exactly that type of champion.

For a couple of years now, when the Muay Thai and Kickboxing media has discussed the top fighters in North America, the name Gabriel Varga is frequently mentioned. But unfortunately for Varga, and for fight fans really, he has not been able to reach the notoriety that some of his fellow Canadian fighters have been able to accrue. How has a fighter with his talent remained relatively unknown on the continent he calls home?

Perhaps the reason is that Varga’s personal goal has not been to be the greatest nakmuay in the world but to be a world champion in the style he loves most, which is K-1 style kickboxing and/or modified Muay Thai. And in a North American fight community where the popularity of Full Thai Rules is beginning to take off, Varga has found himself struggling to find fights. Another reason for the lack of opportunities for Varga may also be that in this sport, often times promoters bring in opponents in order to build the popularity of one of their local fighters. Basically, bringing in fighters from elsewhere to be stepping stones for their local talent. Unfortunately, for most of these promoters, Gabriel Varga has consistently played the role of spoiler. Defeating the local talent and ruining the promoters master plan.

The problem with being a talented fighter is that sometimes you find yourself being punished for that talent. Recognized for your skills but caught on the outside, looking in as less experienced fighters get chances because they are more marketable or fit into the promoters plans of ultimately making money. And as disheartening as this may be, it is part of the sport.

Photo by Arnold ‘Marz’ Marzan

But Varga, isn’t one to complain, he isn’t one to get angry or disheartened, and he isn’t in any way shape or form arrogant or boastful. Ultimately, he feels that if he wants to gain the attention he deserves than he simply has to work harder and begin to adapt his style to Full Thai Rules in order to get the big fights he is looking for. The one thing that stood out during my interview with Gabriel Varga, was that he was by far one of the most humble, friendly, and truly nice fighters I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with. When I spoke to his father and manager Keith Varga, he stated that his oldest son Gabriel, “is a true martial artist. He is respectful, friendly, and never complains. He simply fights and pretty much always becomes good friends with his opponents”.

When speaking with both Gabriel and his father Keith, you get a feeling that most of his success comes from the incredible support he gets not only from his father but from his two brothers, Aaron and Jacob. Needless to say, fighting is pretty much a family affair in the Varga household.

Born in Toronto, the now 26 year old Varga moved around quite a bit due to his father’s work as a helicopter pilot. His family lived in both New Zealand and Australia before finally returning to Canada and ultimately settling in the city of Victoria, British Columbia. Introduced to martial arts at the young age of 8, Gabriel states that learning martial arts was never an option for him and his brothers. Their father Keith, a Tae Kwon Do black belt who at one time had owned a boxing gym, wanted them to learn martial arts in order to defend themselves. Gabriel, began training in Karate and competed in both kata and continuous point sparring competitions until he was 13. At 13, Gabriel began training kickboxing with Stan Peterec and started competing in Full Contact bouts wearing protective gear (shindpads and headgear).

Photo by Arnold ‘Marz’ Marzan

By 16, Gabriel had become bored with wearing gear during fights, he eventually left Peterac’s gym and took a break from fighting. He continued to train however, stating that more than fighting, he simply loves to train. At age 20, Gabriel returned to fighting and began competing on the amateur circuit in British Columbia which does not require fighters to wear headgear or shin pads. He amassed an impressive amateur record of 15-0 and in December of 2009 went pro. Currently, Varga owns a professional record of 5-1, the one loss being a very controversial decision loss to Terrance Hill of New York. As a professional, Varga has defeated fighters such as Justin Greskiewicz and Omar Ahmed, two fighters that are currently considered among the top fighters on the East Coast. Varga also holds a win over current WMC North American champion Matt Embree, a fight he won when both fighters were amateurs. Gabriel also holds a WKN World Title in K-1 Rules having defeated international fighters such as Devon Henry from Trinidad and Joe Concha from Australia.

Currently, Varga trains out of a borrowed space in a local gym in Victoria called Studio 4 Fitness. With no trainer or coach, Gabriel relies mostly on the help of his brother Aaron, a former fighter himself with a 10-0 record who hung up his gloves to focus on finishing school and help Gabriel, and about 6-7 close friends who train with him. Besides his brother Aaron, Varga attributes a lot of his success to the help of his friend Craig McWilliam. Although McWilliam only has one fight, Varga was quick to mention that from the first time McWilliam held pads for him, his pad work just naturally fit with Varga’s style. Now McWilliam works with Varga by watching footage of his potential opponents and developing game plans for any upcoming fights. Varga also trains at a local boxing gym once or twice a week to work specifically on boxing and/or to get some sparring in.

Because Gabriel fights in K-1 or Modified rules and fights have been hard to come by, he has now set his sights on taking a few full Thai rules fights in order to jump into the mix and get more opportunities to compete. Gabriel and his pad holder Craig McWilliam have even traveled to Thailand in order to brush up on his Thai boxing skills, getting ready for any future full Thai rules bouts that may come his way.

Gabriel has stated he would ultimately like to face American Kevin Ross, being that his (Gabriel’s) name has been consistently mentioned as one of the few remaining North American fighters capable of giving the talented American trouble. However, always the humble fighter, Gabriel indicated that he knows Kevin would have a definite edge over him in a Muay Thai fight because most of Kevin’s fights have been full Thai rules while he has yet to fight in a full Thai rules bout. For this reason, Gabriel has stated that he wants to work his way up and take a few full Thai rules bouts in order to get used to fighting under those rules. Last year, he was scheduled for a full Thai rules rematch with Justin Greskiewicz under the Warriors Cup banner in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the fight fell through when Greskiewicz had to pull out due to complications from an injury he sustained during a motorcycle accident. Since then, Gabriel has been itching to get back in the ring.

When asked if there were other opponents he would be interested in fighting, Gabriel was quick to point out that he would like to have a rematch with Matt Embree and would also like to hopefully fight Coke Chunawat. However, he says that in reality he just wants to fight anywhere and with whomever he can. Throughout his career, Gabriel’s father has had to wear the hat of promoter in order to organize events where his son could compete. Spending his own money in order to fly in opponents from overseas for Gabriel to fight. Now, he just wants promoters to give him the opportunity to live up to his growing reputation as one of Canada’s best.

During my conversation with Gabriel and his father Keith, Gabriel stepped out of the room because he had been feeling ill after training. His father took the time to tell me that Gabriel had accompanied him to the city of Watson Lake in Canada’s Yukon Territory where he was doing some work. He told me that Gabriel had been working out in the helicopter hanger and that the temperature in Watson Lake at the moment was -37 degrees. To me, it was just further indication that Gabriel Varga has all the attributes of a champion.

For a fighter that is pretty much self-trained and told me that he doesn’t really like fighting but does it because he loves training and feels that fighting is the only way he will be able to continue training full time, Gabriel Varga is an incredibly talented North American fighter with all the attributes to be a world Champion in both Muay Thai and K-1. And I’m not the only person that ranks Gabriel Varga among the top fighters in North America at 140-145 lbs. There are many that feel he would be a handful for any fighter at his weight. So, isn’t it about time we get a chance to see him fight some of the best in the U.S., Canada, and the world? The answer is without a doubt, yes.

Author’s Note: As of this interview, Gabriel informed us at MTiL that he is now entertaining some offers from various promotions. Also, with the reported return of K-1 and their ambitions to put on shows here in the U.S., we hope we get a chance to see Gabriel showcase his talents to the world. But we would also like to see him get a shot at some full Thai Rules bouts as well.