He beats people up in the gym, he beats people up in the cage, and he beats people up in my living room on EA Sports MMA. Tonight, Germany’s top heavyweight fighter, Andreas Kraniotakes, plans to beat up one more person when he takes on Strikeforce and Bellator veteran Mike Hayes for the vacant Cage Warriors Fighting Championship heavyweight title (which you can watch for free in a few hours).
While he may be a tough man with warrior spirit, “Big Daddy” as he is known is genuinely a great guy. The eloquent and articulate fighter is known for more than just his violent striking and imposing frame. A certified social education pedagogue, Andreas also works with children who have learning disorders, studies martial arts in great detail, and is an all around cool dude.
I had a chance to sit down with the fighter last weekend and discuss his upcoming fight, his career, and his opinions on various topics in MMA community.
Joe Lebeau: How are you doing Andreas?
Andreas Kraniotakes: I’m great man, thanks for having me.
JL: How excited are you to have a chance to fight for the Cage Warriors Heavyweight Championship?
It is actually a really great honor for me. I’ve always wanted to compete for a championship belt in one of the big leagues, and I consider Cage Warriors to be one of the big leagues. I think I’ve done enough in the past year or so to put myself in that position, and to earn the title shot. It’s great to be there finally, and it would be even better to actually capture the belt.
JL:Is this your first shot at a title?
Yeah, the first one that’s worth mentioning, you know? There’s a lot of titles out there that don’t really matter if you ask me, but this is the first one that would really matter to me.
JL: Now, are you in Romania right now for your training camp?
Yessir! I didn’t know that I was fighting, actually, because I fought Dmitry Poberezhets at Cage Warriors 46 two weeks ago, and I had already planned a training camp following the fight in Ukraine. I had already booked my train ticket down to Romania where a really good Greco Roman wrestler, a heavyweight guy, is training. He has a fight coming up in two weeks now, and that’s why I actually came here. I wanted to help him out with the training camp. When I found out I would be fighting for belt so soon, I changed from helping a guy out to having my own training camp again and it has worked out very good so far.
JL: And how is the training camp going?
Really good, man. It’s always a little bit of an adventure to train with new trainers and new training partners in completely new surroundings. I’ve never been to Romania before, and I didn’t know anything about the country before I came here. I just knew “here’s a big guy that knows something about wrestling and needs my help”, so I jumped onto a train, had a 13 hour train ride. I always try to be open-minded and don’t let myself be fooled by prejudices and I’m glad that I did that once again because the training is very nice, and people treat me very nice. It’s really wonderful to be able to see that the sport is growing over here as well. I’ve already been on Romanian national TV after one week of training here, and the appreciation of the sport is really big over here. I like it, and the training was excellent. It’s good to have good training partners.
JL: That’s really good to hear. You’ve almost become well known for taking fights on short notice. Does that affect your training camp at all?
Yeah.. I try to not to be too crazy about what the other guy does in the cage, so I don’t need too much time to adjust to another opponent. I think that’s what helps me when I take fights on short notice. I think that’s the kind of stuff that great stories are made of, when a guy steps up on short notice. It would be way easier to have an 8 to 10 week training camp for sure, even for me, but I try to stay sharp and I try to stay busy fighting. I won’t be in this game forever and I want to get as much experience in as possible. The fights on short notice seem to happen to me but I think I’m doing an okay job with it so far, so I’ll continue it.
JL: You’ve faced some pretty tough heavyweights in your career. What challenges do you feel Mike Hayes presents to you that you may have to adjust for?
He’s really an overall tough dude who knows what to do everywhere the fight goes. Usually there’s a hole in everybody’s game, you could say “Let’s take him to the ground and beat him up there” or you could say “I’ll just keep the fight standing and it’s going to be alright”, but he knows how to do damage from every position, wherever the fight goes. He has never been finished in over 20 fights. He’s a Strikeforce and Bellator vet and that means something. He fought really good submissions guys like Oleinik, or really good knockout artists like Neil Grove, and they were not able to finish him. I’m a finisher. If you look at my record, I’ve won 13 fights so far and that’s not one decision. They’ve all been finished in the first or second round. It will be more or less who will make the best of it. I’m pretty sure that he will try everything to prevent me from finishing him, and he’s done well doing that in the past. I’ll try to be the first, and let’s see who will come out on top.
JL: Definitely an extremely exciting fight coming up this Friday. I’m very excited to watch. You’re pretty popular in Europe, and you had more exposure to North American fans when you fought Tim Sylvia at Pro Elite 2. How was fighting in North America different from the other fights in your career?
To be honest, the major difference was that I finally was able to present myself to the American crowd. All of my Twitter followers asked me for years now “When will you fight in the U.S.?” and “We hope to see you soon in the U.S. fighting.” And that was a big thing for me, because I had promised them to make it happen as soon as possible and I was finally able to. Of course, there was exposure on news sites that only write about American events, and that was the major difference. The rest, you know, you’re getting in the cage, and there are only three people in the cage and one of them is trying to knock your head off. For me, that’s not a big difference. If the cage is in a jungle or in a garage, it doesn’t really matter. It’s always the same principle. It was a big honor for sure, I enjoyed the whole scenery. We had a weigh in at an ice hockey game in Moline which was pretty crazy. Even Greg Jackson, who was there, said he had never done that before. One of my goals is to not only be a fighter, but also enjoy every step of the way. I think I did a great job doing that over there, and I didn’t think I looked too bad in the fight. The fight was pretty boring, but that wasn’t my fault if you ask me, I tried my best to make it an exciting fight. I hope Pro Elite will have me back sometime soon.
JL: You’re fighting in Dubai this weekend,. Are you looking forward to going there, and have you ever been?
I have never been to Dubai, but I’ve always wanted to go so this is a bonus for me. Actually, when my trainer and I were talking about the schedule for this year, and we were checking out what Cage Warriors was doing and we both saw the Dubai date and thought that would be cool. We ended up fighting in Kiev instead, and we were not sorry because getting to know Ukraine is nice also, but Dubai has a certain swagger, and we both had hoped to experience it. Now it will happen, so it feels like everything is coming together right now. I wish to fight in Dubai, and I wish to fight for the belt, and now it’s finally going to happen on Friday. I couldn’t thank Cage Warriors more for giving me the opportunity.
JL: Earlier you had mentioned Twitter, you’re pretty popular on Facebook and Twitter and not many fighters go about it the way you do. I’ve noticed you do embrace social media and speak to your fans quite often. How does that affect you in your MMA career or in general?
Actually, that’s a great source of motivation for me. I get to hear a lot of stories from my fans, and that’s what I see as my reward for interacting with them. I get to hear stories about them and how I influence them with the stuff that I do in the cage or with my video blogs. It’s a great source of motivation and a great inspiration for me too because, if you do something and you know that it affects other people at the other end of the world, that’s a great feeling, at least for me. I wouldn’t be able to miss that feeling any more. I was an MMA fan before I started being a fighter, and I always wished that MMA stars or MMA fighters would be easier to get in contact with and to ask them one or two interesting questions. Just to get one step ahead in my overall understanding of MMA. I try to be the guy that I always wanted to have when I was just a fan. I’m still a big MMA fan, but, I just think that’s the right way to do it, and I get back a lot of love too, and that’s pretty cool.
JL: You mentioned being a fan of MMA. Who would you say is your favorite fighter?
Wow….there are so many out there it’s hard to say. Of course I have my eye on the heavyweights. If you ask for my all-time favorite fighter, I’d have to say Bas Rutten. I just like his personality so much, and he also was a great fighter. He had great performances in the ring and in the cage, and he was a pioneer of the sport, and a great ambassador of the sport. That’s why I’d take him as a role model, I want to be an ambassador for the sport also. I’m trying to place myself in the same way he did. I know that the fighting career won’t be forever, so I hope that after I quit fighting, I’ll be able to do some other media work like commentary or something like that. That’s why he’s kind of like my “idol” if you want to put it that way.
JL: You mentioned the heavyweights, there are two big heavyweight fights on the horizon. Obviously we have Alistair Overeem vs. Junior dos Santos, and over in Strikeforce, the Grand Prix wraps up with Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier. Who would you pick in those two fights?
That’s a tough one. I’ve trained with Alistair a couple of times, and I’ve trained with a lot of people in my day. To be honest, I’ve never experienced anything like Alistair. He’s just a straight up monster. He’s got so much experience. People underestimate his experience. They see his record and they’re like “Oh, the guy has lost eleven times” but that means the guy has gone through hell and came back. It’s pretty hard to put him in a position that he’s never been in before. There are a couple aspects of his game that are really underrated like his cardio or his ground game. I personally think he’s the best heavyweight out there, but still Junior presents some interesting problems for him. You can’t say that this guy will win 100%. It’s always like, he will win 8 out of 10 fights. If you ask me, Alistair wins 8 out of 10 times against Junior. The Cormier and Barnett fight is really hard to predict too but I’m going with Cormier. I think Barnett would have the edge when he takes the fight to the ground, but I don’t think he’ll be able to because Cormier is such a good wrestler. He will have a good gameplan coming in, and I probably see the fight going to Cormier by decision.
JL: Excellent analysis, and we’re all definitely looking forward to those bouts, as well as your own. I had done some research prior to speaking with you, and I found an interview you had done where you mentioned a thesis you were working on in regards to martial arts. Are you still working on it, and would you care to explain it?
Of course, my pretty busy schedule as a fighter doesn’t allow me to work on it full-time, but I’m still working on it. It’s about martial arts and how martial artists are treated in different cultures, and about the role martial arts plays for these different societies and cultures. I strongly believe that the will to fight and aggression are parts of human nature, and most of our societies don’t allow the people living in the society to let that out. There is not really a place to be aggressive or get out all of that anger that we are equipped with naturally. I think that martial arts, or sports in general, especially combat sports, are an important way to help the society be quiet and peaceful. We can’t just ignore that aggression is part of human nature, and if we do so we will eventually get into trouble. If we accept it and give it a little space in our society, it will be way easier for us to live with each other. That’s the thesis that I am trying to prove.
JL: That’s really quite interesting. I look forward to reading your work when you do complete it. Moving onto your opponent, do you have any messages for Mike Hayes?
If I would tell him anything before the fight, it’s that I respect him as a fighter. I really like the puzzle he presents me, that I’ll be trying to solve when we fight. I wish us both the best of luck, hope for no injuries, and let’s get it on.
JL: It all goes down this Friday, March 16 from Dubai, and streams live on MMAJunkie.com with the preliminary card airing on Facebook. Before I let you go, would you like to give any shout-outs?
Of course. All my team from San Diego, all the guys who help me prepare over there all the time. I’m really sad that I couldn’t be over there for this training camp, but it’s not always possible. Especially Jhanex Alviz and S!A, and all of my fighting friends and training partners and trainers in Germany as well at Kampfsportgym Gym. My sponsors, of course, without whom a life like this wouldn’t be possible. Thanks to my fans, I hope you all tune in and I’ll be ready to put on a show for you.
JL: It’s been a real treat talking to you Andreas, and I definitely appreciate you taking time out of your day to talk about your upcoming fight.
Thanks for having me.
Andreas Kraniotakes takes on Mike Hayes at Cage Warriors Fight Night 4 which starts at 12:00 PM EST. The preliminary card will air live on the Cage Warriors Facebook Page with the main card being broadcast live on MMAJunkie.
PHOTO CREDIT – KRANIOTAKESMMA.COM