Josh Gross
Friday September 25th, 2009

Inside the confines of Randy Couture's Las Vegas, Ray Sefo has spent the past 18 months unlearning what he spent a lifetime perfecting.

The six-time world kickboxing champion, one of K-1's all-time great knockout artists, will test his experiment when he makes his American mixed martial arts debut Friday in Tulsa, Okla. For a fighter who, not so long ago, was a star in Japan, and whose prowess led him to compete in front of 80,000 people during kickboxing's most demanding tournaments, the transition to a new, but familiar sport, required patience and the ability to put aside his ego.

"I've always been a grounded person," said the 38-year-old, who meets journeyman heavyweight Kevin Jordan (11-7). "If this is where I have to start to learn and gain experiences, this is where I gotta be."

There are prospects and there are projects competing on the Strikeforce-promoted, Showtime card (11 p.m. ET/PT).

Sefo, more the latter than the former, joins a talented group hoping to make names for themselves in the cage. From MMA newcomer Daniel Cormier, a former U.S. Olympic wrestling team captain, to welterweight Tyron Woodley (3-0), an All-American wrestler and Big 12 champion at the University of Missouri, the talent will be unveiled as part of an effort by Strikeforce and Showtime to develop up-and-coming, as well as already known, fighters. Headlining the event at the SpiritBank Event Center will be a middleweight battle featuring highly-regarded Tim Kennedy, a Green Beret who earned a Bronze Star for valor in Iraq, against undefeated Zac Cummings (10-0).

Far and away the most distinguished pro fighter on the card, Sefo isn't sure how he fits into Strikeforce's plans. Nor does he really care. For now, he said, mixed martial arts is providing a new lease on his fighting life. The subtle differences in balance and striking, the major differences in grappling, all have contributed to what he called a "fascinating" learning process. And the most important changes manifested in his stand-up game.

"You have to strike differently," he said. "I've learned through training that you don't strike like you do if you're boxing. If I'm boxing, I like to be inside and go toe-to-toe. You can't do that [in MMA]."

When Sefo began competing as a professional kickboxer in 1995, the sport faced numerous obstacles in his home country. Today, thanks to the success of Sefo and other Oceania fighters, kickboxing is a fixture on prime-time television. MMA, however, lags far behind in a part of the world where Sefo says fighters are known for "throwing down until they can't anymore."

Compared to his salad days, when defeating three world class kickboxers on one night was mandatory to win the title -- he made it to the K-1 World Grand Prix Finals three times but never captured the whole thing -- Sefo has held up well training in a room full of big grapplers and star mixed martial artists.

"I've found with the grappling and all that, absolutely it's easier on the body," he said. "If I knew physically and mentally I could not do this, I would not be doing this. Learning the game, trying something new revived my hunger for fighting. Because it's different, it's making me more determined, willing to learn, and I want to give it everything I've got." Boasting the highest knockout rate of any competitor in K-1 history, Sefo is intrigued by the possibility of wearing MMA's mandated four-ounce gloves. Of course, he expects his opponents, including Jordan, to attempt to take him immediately to the ground.

"We've done all the training we can to accommodate for that," said Sefo. "The good thing is if you land, it's 'Goodnight Irene.'"

In his only other MMA fight, a bout in 2005 in Japan versus Korea's Min Soo Kim, Sefo scored a second-round knockout via high kick. Four years later, MMA may provide little more than extra paydays at the twilight of his career. Or Friday's fight could mark the beginning of an extended journey. Either way, "Sugarfoot" doesn't have any regrets about trying, just as he doesn't have any regrets about never winning the K-1 championship.

"I'm the type of person that, if this doesn't work out, it doesn't work out," Sefo said. "But I stay positive and really feel like I'm in great physical condition and mental condition. For me, starting something new is a challenge. I don't see it as being a setback. I don't see it being on a smaller scale."

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