I know the blog is supposed to be in french, but due to the importance of such an interview in the MMA world, especially in Belgium, the Enrique Fernandez’ interview must be available in English, so here we go.
For the blog’s first interview, I wanted to pick an important person, for me as for the sport. I therefore chosed to ask Enrique ‘Kancho’ Fernandez a few questions. He’s the manager of Ringside where he trains mix martial arts and other fight sports. He was my first and only trainer, he’s the one that made me love this beautiful sport.
Hello Enrique, thanks for allowing me to ask you some questions. I’m going into this interview with a classic; can you briefly tell us how you started fight sports, who initiated you ?
Well, I’m born in a sportive family; my grand-pa and my father both were boxers. 30 years ago, the martial arts were simple; there were karate, judo and aïkido. Like all the kids who loved the karate era, I wanted to practice it. But my mother was protectress and didn’t like contact-sports. I therefore started training judo in my school.
Then, as my father was a boxer, I could train with him for a bit, but I was young and my mother didn’t like the idea I was practicing this noble sport. So I stopped boxing and started karate, because you can hit with your hands and feet, without quitting training my judo. I also gave a try to several martial arts, such as Kung-fu for instance, but I loved karate too much and kept on training only judo and karate. I was one of the only person to train both karate and judo, which was a big advantage I had in competitions, thank to the judo projections.
Afterwards, when I was a teenager, my mother couldn’t say much, so I wanted to try a new sport; Muay Thai. I loved it because I could still use my projections, especially while clinching. I trained with my father, who coached me for a lot of my fights. I never quit judo or karate. Moreover I created a karate, named Shihaishinkai, with my sensei.
Can you tell us a bit more about this karate, the Shihaishinkai ?
It’s a karate I created with my sensei, that is a bit different from the other karate because the aim is to knock your opponent out. Also, we introduced some chokes and submissions. We fight standing as well as on the ground (ed.: it’s an excellent karate for mix martial artists). This karate is, in my opinion, a very complete sport with the martial arts pedagogy, and a belt hierarchy.
Ringside, how did you start the project ?
It’s a choice. Back in the days, I was done studying and I found a very good job. Unfortunately, the society I was working for went bankrupt. Therefore, I was in a situation in which I had to make a choice; I had work opportunities in Asia and in the South of France. But I had my wife and my kid here in Belgium and since the sport was going well for me, I decided to stay here and open a gym. Then I opened a bigger one and then came Ringside. Meanwhile, I created a semi-pro & professionnal team, called Thoughring team.
Very inspiring ! I’ll know ask some less specific questions; what’s your opinion about Today’s MMA, how it evoluates in the U.S. compared to the evolution in Belgium ?
I think we can’t really compare the U.S. and the Europe, or Belgium on that topic. In the United-States, they’re more open-minded about such things. A big event, such as UFC, will interest millions of people, while in Belgium, it’ll only concern the people who practice the sport.
Briefly, let’s say that in Belgium, it evoluates step by step. First, we had the karate era. Then, the full-contact came up and the population (government, mentality) had a hard time to accept it. The organizers had to be careful when using the term « full-contact » for the competitions they organized. Time passed by and people started to see the sport as it really is. Once we « normalized » the full-contact, Kickboxing appeared, just before Muay Thai. The processus was always the same; at first it was catastrophic, the development was slown down by the Ministers, or by the mentality of the population, but at the end of the day, it’s being accepted. So, I’d say that every fighting sport evoluate and become bigger, but it’s slown down by several factors, which is not the case in the U.S. In other words, MMA will be recognized in Belgium in a near future, but we have to wait because nowadays, MMA is linked to expressions such as free fight which isn’t a good image, and clearly not the right image..
How may MMA be known faster in Belgium, in your opinion ?
It’s all about communication. We can’t blame the people working behind a desk to be against such sports; they want to protect the people’s health and from an external point of vue, MMA might seem « dangereous ». We have to show the sport as it really is, so that it can be accepted and well-seen.
Also, the eventual venue of a UFC event in Brussels, capital of Europe, would revolutionnate the MMA world in the continent. The UFC has already been to England, to Germany and lately to Sweden, and these events have had an impact already.
Do you watch international fights ? If you do, who are your favorite fighters, and why ?
Of course I do, this is my life, I buy some magazines to be up to date. I do respect all the fighters. You need a lot of courage and skills to become a pro fighter. I watch MMA since the beginning (ed. 1993, the first UFC event) and I do like the Gracie’s marketing. But there are two figthers I really appreciate.
The first is someone who managed to evoluate with the sport, he didn’t stick to his formal techniques. He’s around since the beginning of the UFC and he stayed at the top level until the end of his carreer. He owned two belts in different weightclasses, his standup and his ground game improved drastically, and he fought at the top level till he was 47 years old ! Randy The Natural Couture (ed. Randy Couture, 19-11, including 24 fights in the UFC, and 15 championship bouts ! He was the heavyweight champ and the light heavyweight champ and is now a UFC Hall of famer).
The second one is another type of fighter. Whilst Randy represents the evolution of MMA through the years, my other favorite fighter represents the MMA itself. I’m talking about Cain Velasquez (ed. Cain Velasquez, 9-1, won his 9 first pro fights until he got the UFC Heavyweight belt. He just lost it against Junior Cigano Dos Santos).
To close this interview, you’ve trained Tarec Saffiedine when he started MMA. Does his way up to the top level surprise you ? How far do you think he can go ?
Surprised ? No, I’m not surprised at all. I hung out with him for several years and I know his background. He’s very clever, intelligent. Also, he’s serious, conscientious and he’s a hard-worker. I think he hasn’t reach his peak yet, he’s talented and can improve a lot (ed. and he’s already in the top5 of the Strikeforce welterweight roster). He can reach the top, I always said he’ll be the first belgian to make it to the UFC !
And what I really love about Tarec is that he’s an humble man, he’s Great !
Apparently, you’re the person who gave him his nickname (Sponge). Can you confirm this information and explain us why you called him the Sponge?
Indeed, I once told him « you really are a sponge, Tarec ». He was working out every morning, every afternoon. When I taught him a technique in the morning, I didn’t have to explain it again in the afternoon and he wanted to improve until it was perfectly done. He sees something and, like a sponge, he absorbs it. It’s a big advantage for a fighter. So, he directly assimilates the techniques, but moreover, he studies everything he learns.
I’m done with my questions, so if you want to add something, you can do it now.
What I’d like to add is: that’s a great initiative you’re doing. We need people to create websites, blogs to make people aware of this sport, the beauty of this sport. People needs to know that the real MMA is nothing about violence, there are rules and structures behind it.
Thank you for your time, Enrique.
Hope you like. If you’re from Brussels and would like to start training MMA, I recommend Ringside. I used to train there and am sad I haven’t enough time to return training with Kancho.