Written by Alex Andrew
This is the first in a multi-part series about combat sports, primarily mixed martial arts and boxing. The idea is to draw attention to the under appreciated fighters, promotions, and stories that do not make headlines. My goal is to tell you who they are, why should care, and how to learn more.
What is Glory?
Glory Kickboxing, founded in 2012, is the sport’s most prominent organization. Prior to Glory, the world’s premier kickboxing promotion was K-1. In fact, UFC fighters Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt competed in K-1 long before they made their way into the Octagon. However, by the time 2011 rolled around, K-1 was a shell of it’s former self. The promotion was surviving on name value alone and was financially broken. Out of the ashes of K-1, a new organization called Glory was born (this is actually an oversimplification, but the full story of Glory’s formation are behind the reach of this article, K-1 technically still exists but only in name and under the direction of some other promoters). Put simply, there is no better place to see the world’s best stand up fighters than Glory.
Two fighters engaged in the clinch
All fights take place under “Glory Rules” (sometimes called “K1 Rules”). This means that while kicks, punches, and knees are legal, elbows are not. Trips and throws are also not legal. While fighters are allowed to engage in the clinch (grabbing the back of their opponents head and neck), they must immediately strike or release the clinch.
This is in contrast to traditional Muay Thai kickboxing, where both elbows and clinches are legal. While some feel that Glory rules make for less exciting fights, others feel that traditional Muay Thai fights are often less entertaining do to excessive clinching. The truth is, it is up to the individual viewer to decide which style they enjoy more.
Here is a video that better explains the distinction between Glory kickboxing and traditional Muay Thai.
(There is a Muay Thai promotion in North America. They are called Lion Fight, and you get serious fight hipster points if you can name drop them).
Spike TV recently pulled the plug on their Glory coverage, leaving many North American fans wondering if they would ever be able to watch the promotion again. Fortunately for them, ESPN is the new home of Glory Kickboxing. While the promotion is not getting a prime time slot on the main network, they will still allow a larger audience to watch the fights, even after they air (ESPN Go, search Glory kickboxing, look under Replays).
Why Should You Care?
The short answer is that you should care because Glory is damn entertaining and it needs your support. It does not have a strong foothold in this part of the world like boxing or MMA, despite the fact that it offers the viewer something that no other combat sport (or contact sport) can. How so?
First, consider MMA. For the sake of argument, I have broken MMA down into two basic elements: grappling and stand-up. I understand that this is a gross oversimplification, and that MMA fighters train in a number of different disciplines, and the best fighters in the world are able to fuse techniques from all of them into one cohesive style. By breaking down MMA into grappling and stand-up, we can easily discuss the sport through the fan’s perspective. That said, the quality of striking in MMA is vastly inferior to both boxing and kickboxing. This is not to say that MMA itself is inferior (I personally enjoy watching UFC more than anything else), or that there are not incredible stand-up fighters competing in MMA (see: Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida). However, if we set aside the absolute top tier of MMA strikers, there is a pretty steep drop off in talent. Anyone who has watched Bellator in the last 5 years or so knows exactly what I am talking about. Far too frequently, we see career-long wrestlers who have recently taken up boxing and can barely throw a decent jab. How many times have we seen a couple of mid-level prospects give up on anything resembling defense and just wildly swing at one another, hoping that the crowd eats it up? These kinds of fights can sometimes be entertaining, but after a while they leave you wanting something with more sophistication.
Then you have boxing, probably the most respected and recognized form of combat sports in North America. While the sport has seen some wild brawls over the years, many refer to it as “the sweet science”, with an emphasis on footwork, timing, and ring craftsmanship. Still, there is a lot wrong with boxing, much of which has little to do with the actual fights themselves. This is yet another oversimplification, but the entire sport of boxing seems to be built on a shady, back alley handshake between greedy fight promoters and sleazy sanctioning bodies. Title belts are virtually meaningless props used to sell fights that are put together solely based on how much revenue they will generate. Can you imagine if last year’s Super Bowl took place five years later because of a dispute over who got the most TV revenue? This is not to mention that fact the boxing, while aesthetically pleasing to the trained eye, is still essentially a fight with only punches allowed.
So imagine if there a sport that all but eliminated the “lay-and-pray” aspect of MMA, but offered something more dynamic than boxing due to the additional use of the lower half of the body, with (seemingly) less of the political bullshit that’s ruining the fight game. Imagine if this sport had never quite taken off in the United States, but a group of people were trying to market it here. Imagine if a major cable network attempted to unsuccessfully bring this product to an American audience, and many feared the promotion would be left for dead, only for ESPN to swoop in and (hopefully) bring the product to an even bigger audience.
If Glory Kickboxing is so great, then why isn’t anyone watching it?
Combat sports are, and always have been, a star-driven business. Team-driven leagues like the NFL are owe much of their success to their star players, but most fans ultimately identify with their local franchises more than they do individual players. This is not the case with combat sports, save for small pockets of die hard fans. Simply plastering the letters “UFC” across a poster will not draw anywhere near the same attention as a poster that says “Conor McGregor” or “Ronda Rousey.” Boxing promoters understand this more than anyone, which is why Manny Pacquiao is a household name and most casual fans do not know who Top Rank (Pacquiao’s promoters) are. Fight fans are far more likely to turn out for someone who they find compelling and interesting then they are to simply see people get hit in the face.
In North America, boxing is still king. Despite it’s ridiculous price tag, the fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao drew a lot of attention and made a ton of money. While some (like myself) feel that boxing promoters are killing their audience, boxing is still by and far the most recognized form of face punching on this part of the globe. While MMA (more specifically, the UFC) has become a part of the popular lexicon, it’s success has only been somewhat recent. The sport has seen surges in popularity due largely to it’s Ultimate Fighter reality show (which people no longer watch) and stars like Brock Lesnar (who no longer fights), but still has a long way to go before overtaking boxing (it may never happen, but I wrote article about how it still totally could).
I’m curious about Glory, but where do I start?
Glory 26 is the promotion’s next event, takes place on December 4th, and is a great place to start. It features a double-header of title fights, coupled with a one-night featherweight tournament. While one-night tournaments have fallen out of fashion with the UFC, they are alive and well in kickboxing. The winner of the featherweight tournament earns a title bout with Glory featherweight champion Gabriel Vega. This tournament will feature two young up-and-comers in Maykol Yurk and Shane Oblonsky (his resume includes a recent UD victory over Muay Thai legend Malaipet Sasiprapa), as well as two veterans in Chi Bin Lim and Mosab Amrani (ranked by Glory as the #1 featherweight in the world). With one-night tournaments, fatigue can sometimes can the better of fighters during the later bouts, which can make for less entertaining fights. However, the intrigue of a single elimination tournament is still compelling none the less.
The co-main event is a heavyweight title fight between champion Rico Verhoeven and challenger Benjamin Adegbuyi, who earned this title shot by winning a one-night tournament this October. The two fought this past June in a fight that was largely dominated by Verhoeven. The fact that little time has passed since this rematch may kill some of the suspense, as few expect the outcome to be any different. However, Verhoeven is arguably the most watchable heavyweight on the planet in any combat sport (he’s no Klitschko). He has matured a great deal over the last few years, and at the age of 26, it is likely that he will only improve. He may even have a promising career in MMA, as he dominated his regional MMA debut this past October.
The main reason to watch Glory 26 is welterweight champion Nieky Holzken, considered by striking guru Jack Slack as a fighter than every MMA fan should be studying. Not only is the Netherlands native charismatic, he’s determined to be a “rock star” in the US, but he is also a master of technique, timing, and ring generalship.
Here are some brief highlights
Here is some in-depth analysis
Holzken wll be defending against recent tournament winner Murthel Groenhart in rematch five years in the making. The two fought back in 2010, with Holzken winning an extension round decision that many fans felt was disputable. Groenhart is an 11 year veteran of the sport, and a beast in his own right.
Between the one-night tournament and two title fights, one of which features the sport’s fastest rising star, this card offers a great “bang for your buck”, especially given the fact most people will not have to pay anything extra to watch it.
After watching Glory for the first time, you may also want to learn in greater detail just what you are watching. You may also want to learn more about the sport’s history. If this is the case, follow the work of Lawrence Kenshin. Following his Facebook page on a regular basis will teach you everything that you could hope to learn about kickboxing. His videos are part technical breakdown and part history lesson. You will learn all about legends like Ramon Dekkers, Buakaw Banchamek, and John Wayne Parr.
If you are interested in learning about the lineal champions of the sport, Fraser Coffeen has you covered.