Modern Fighting Championship’s (MFC) event this Friday in Saskatoon will be notable for a number of firsts. It’s the premiere for a local professional MMA event, and a champion will be crowned in the fledgling organization’s Bantamweight division.
Battling for the title will be Saskatoon fighter Denys Zelenskyi, who grew up in Ukraine but has called the Bridge City home for 3 years. Across the ring will be Patrick Ward, who grew up in Quebec but now fights out of Calgary. Both men are at the start of their pro MMA careers but have extensive martial arts backgrounds.
Zelenskyi grew up competing in wrestling tournaments and he’s rounded out his game at Modern Martial Arts in Saskatoon. He’s in phenomenal shape and training twice a day – swimming, crossfit, running, and a lot of sparring.
“In Ukraine, I didn’t have full contact MMA sparring that I have here right now, between this I don’t see other differences,” said Zelenskyi via email. “I think it doesn’t matter where, it matters how are you doing your work anywhere.”
Ward started competing in judo and boxing at age 7, then added Muay Thai, jiu jitsu, and wrestling when he was 16. He splits his time between Cardinal Jiu Jitsu, wrestling at the U of C, and striking plus conditioning at 212 Training and Fitness.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie, I snowboard, I skateboard, I do downhill mountain biking, I ride dirtbikes – but there’s nothing like fighting,” said Ward. “When I had the chance to step in the cage, I jumped on it and it was the best feeling ever.”
Zelenskyi won his first 3 MMA fights back home via north-south choke. But his last two appearances in Regina saw both opponents blasted with power shots and KO’d in a combined total time of just 30 seconds.
“I always want to be prepared for all rounds in my fights,” said Zelenskyi. “But if I got a submission or KO somebody, I think it’s just luck because of my hard work at the gym.”
Ward has notched wins by a variety of submissions and TKOs, but the only thing that really matters is pouring his heart into the ring – and winning emphatically.
“When the referee pulls you off the guy, says ‘let it go, you won’ – that’s a good feeling,” said Ward. “A knockout, TKO or submission is what I’m looking for.”
Zelenskyi is undefeated so far and doesn’t think the pressure of performing in front of an (adopted) hometown crowd will get to him.
“I’m only 3 years in Canada, so I still feel like I’m pretty new here in Saskatoon too, but my focus is on my opponent and how to beat him.”
Those wins don’t impress Ward, who doesn’t mince words when asked what he thinks about the quality of the opponents Zelenskyi has bested.
“I could take care of everyone he’s fought in one night no problem… meaningless finishes,” declared Ward. “The 23rd is just another walk and I’m looking forward to it.”
Both men have their sights set on the highest levels of the sport, and with their skills and confidence peaking as the bout approaches, fight fans in Saskatoon are in for a spectacular show as each tries to use the other as a stepping stone.