Measuring on the scale of difficult reads, Lithuanian welterweight Marius Zaromskis falls somewhere near Geoffrey Chaucer and Doyle Brunson. In the tradition of Eastern European mixed martial artists who choose not to share much of their personality, Zaromskis comes off as particularly detached -- until, that is, the 29-year-old gets to fighting.
Saturday at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., Zaromskis could not make his American debut against a more emotionally disparate opponent than the other half of Strikeforce's vacant welterweight title main event, hot-blooded 26-year-old Californian Nick Diaz (20-7, 1 NC).
Described by FEG representative Mike Kogan as if too much Botox was pumped into his face, Zaromskis -- an athletic kickboxer regularly compared to Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic because of the ability to punt people in the head -- "has all the emotions of fighters that yell and scream. He just keeps it all inside. You could walk up to him and say, 'Marius, you just won a million-dollar lottery,' and his face will not change," said Kogan, who last year helped bring Zaromskis (13-3) to Japan where, as a dark horse, he captured the Dream welterweight grand prix.
"There's a lot of different personalities" in the fight game, said Zaromskis' manager Donatas Simanaitis. "What we think is unique about Marius is he's able to embrace the serious part of his personality and be one of those guys that talks less and does more in the ring."
To his promoters' detriment perhaps, though as long as the 5-foot-9 fighter plasters opponents the way he has his last three, personality can certainly take a back seat to viral Internet highlights. Though Zaromskis enjoyed some success in the UK, where he worked as a construction worker after moving to London four years ago, it wasn't until he emerged in Japan that fans and media really took notice.
Simanaitis, who works closely with FEG to put Lithuanian kickboxers in K-1 Max events, pitched Zaromskis as Kogan scouted talent for Dream's 170-pound tournament. Executives in Japan were less than thrilled with tape they saw of Zaromskis, but deft maneuvering by Kogan eventually received a "put him in, let's see what happens" reaction from his bosses. Three impressive victories later, including two knockout-of-the-year contenders against Hayato "Mach" Sakurai and Jason High, and Zaromskis was the first Dream welterweight champion, setting himself up for a big 2010 beginning with the bout against Diaz.
Training at London Shootfighters, home to infamous brawler Lee Murray before he fled for Morocco following the largest cash heist in history, Zaromskis' "intensity is second to none in the gym," said undefeated UFC-signed welterweight prospect John Hathaway. "He never gives up. I've never known anyone to have that kind of muscular endurance. Even if you get the better of him for a couple rounds, the moment you slip up he's going to get you, whether it's the high kick or the punches he has."
Against Diaz, a well-credentialed mixed martial artist and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, the powerful European must contend with an array of skills from a longer fighter with active hands -- the kind of body and style that troubled him in two losses to Brit Che Mills, including one as recent as 2008, though Zaromskis said he has taken steps to address height and reach differences.
"Nick is a very well-rounded fighter," Zaromskis said. "He has strengths in both boxing and grappling, just all around. I think it's going to be a very tough fight for me. As far as how the fight will go or what I'll be able to do, I don't want to predict that. We'll just have to see it in the ring."
The focus in training camp has centered on takedown and submission defense, which because of his athleticism have improved at a rapid rate. Still, there is much to learn said Hathaway, "but if he can stop the fight from going to the ground at all, it's always going to be in his world and his favor."
Zaromskis' success in 2009 vaulted him into many top 10 rankings, including SI.com's, which lists him as the sport's eighth-best welterweight. Some argue that's too high, and questions persist about his ability to compete at the highest levels with a ground game that even he acknowledges needs work to compliment his explosiveness, improvisation, timing and calculated attacks.
"I pretty much do everything my trainers tell me to do," Zaromskis said. "If they say do more ground, I do more ground. If they say do more standup, I do more standup."
And, as always, he carries out orders with that same, cold facial expression, which for those around him can take some getting used to.
"I think that's just his demeanor," said Hathaway, who has worked with the Lithuanian for over a year. "It's what he does. Whenever you spar Marius you know you're in for a hard day and a war. It's always a tough session."