This article originally appeared on Vice Germany.
Andreas Kraniotakes is a PhD graduate, a children's book author and the current heavyweight champion of the German MMA Championship (GMC).
Under the ring name "Big Daddy", the 36-year-old started training and competing in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in 2009. Now, Kraniotakes is one of thousands of professional MMA fighters around the world, fighting in an industry that has grown into a multi-billion dollar business thanks to the global success of the sport's flagship competition, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
I spoke with Kraniotakes to find out whether he enjoys hospitalising opponents, what it feels like to get knocked out and whether getting punched in the face for a living is worth the money.
VICE: Did you become an MMA fighter just so you could fight legally?
Andreas: Even if that were true, would it be so bad? If someone wants to fight, turning to martial arts can be a good outlet for it. For me, it was all about learning more about myself, such as how I would react in an extreme situation like getting knocked down. Thanks to MMA, I've learned that I just keep going, even when I'm lying on the canvas.
What does it feel like to break someone's jaw?
I haven't done it yet – jaw fractures aren't actually that common. We wear proper mouth-guards, so you'd have to do something pretty big to break someone's jaw. Traumatic brain injuries, though, are a classic KO injury. I've also given people black eyes and broken some noses – which makes an awful sound. And I often have people pass out when I have them in a chokehold, when they don't tap out quick enough. Most chokeholds block both air and blood supply, which shuts down your system and you faint. If you release your grip, though, the opponent quickly bounces back. Apart from all that, it's mostly cuts and scrapes.
Do you get excited when your win lands someone in the hospital?
You always feel good about a victory, but not about the injuries. I've seen a lot of fights in my time, but I've never seen a situation where someone is excited about the terrible injuries they’ve inflicted on the person lying on the ground in front of them.
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Are MMA fighters like you targeted by criminal groups for recruitment?
I've never heard of anyone actively recruiting, but of course I've faced gangsters in the ring. I think it's cool that you have their sort at the gym, training alongside police officers, lawyers and biology students.
Regardless of our backgrounds, we all follow the same code of ethics – it's not just about arbitrarily beating someone up. It might look random and lawless, but that's not the case during training or in a fight. Of course there are some athletes who let out their personal aggression during a match, but it doesn't get out of hand. We're all agreed on the types of kicks, punches and techniques that are acceptable, and those that are not. When grappling, for example, I'm agreeing to let someone strangle, but not choke, me.
Is it true that most MMA fighters are far-right?
You see a real cross-section of society on the mat. We've got some idiots among us, but there are also some very intelligent people. If you're in an area with a notoriously high population of Neo-Nazis, you're obviously going to get some hanging around the gym. But I couldn't guess how many there are across the sport. I have a migrant background, and yet I've never been discriminated against at MMA events. It's a competitive sport; political views don't matter. If someone wore provocative symbols, they wouldn't be allowed to attend the events I fight at.
Is continuously being punched in the face worth it just for the money?
No – it's not worth it for the money. I can live off of what I make, but if I were half as good at boxing I'd make five times as much. If someone gets involved in MMA for the money, they've chosen the wrong competitive sport. You do it because you want to fight, and because you love the sport.
How messed up is your body?
It's pretty OK for someone who has been involved in competitive sports for ten years. We differentiate between actual age and your age in the ring. There's a difference between someone who's just starting out at 30 years old, and someone who is 30 but has 40 fights under their belt. And a fighter who likes to dish out a good beating and can take a lot of hits has a higher age in the ring than others. Heavyweight boxers are at their best in their late thirties, so I'll give up when I can't keep up with the boys and I'm no longer improving.
How has being hit so many times in the head affected you?
If I do a lot of sparring, I notice in the days following that I find it harder than usual to think.
You don't feel much. It gets dark and then you wake up with partial amnesia. The first time I was knocked out, I came to and asked the referee if I had won. I had no idea what had happened. Later, when I saw the video, I realised that I had dropped my defences and walked straight into my opponent's fist. I've also seen fighters regain consciousness and ask when the fight is going to start.
Do you fight better when you’re aggressive?
I believe that humans – regardless of social status, gender or origin – are naturally aggressive. And when we don't have an outlet for that aggression, it can lead to problems. The adrenaline really gets to some people and they snarl and roar in the cage. It helps them, but not me. Our fights last three to five minutes if they're not title fights, which is a long time to stay angry. If someone behaves like that for two whole minutes, he's finished. I don't even really have to hit him anymore – I can just blow him over. Blind, uncontrolled aggression makes an opponent easier to beat.