Glory 22 in Lille, France was a fantastic event that showcased top-tier kickboxing action before an enthusiastic and receptive audience of fight fans. Featuring a 4-man lightweight contender tournament as well as a heavyweight title fight between champion Rico Verhoeven and top contender Benjamin Adegbuyi, this fight card delivered on stoppages as well as tense technical battles which had fans on the edge of their seats. New chapters were written in the storylines for many fighters which will have a big impact on their future trajectories. In this article, I’ll break down some of these emerging developments:
1. A star is born: Josh Jauncey establishes himself as a top-10 fighter.
Josh Jauncey has been putting on impressive displays of kickboxing technique in each of his Glory fights, but he is very much an emerging talent on the scene who is relatively new to the professional tier of competition. I first became aware of him after his brother, our very own Jay Jauncey, uploaded videos of Josh’s amateur fights onto Youtube a few years ago. His skill was immediately apparent and he seemed destined for great things, exhibiting a style and proficiency that closely resembled that of his idol Andy Souwer. It subsequently came as no surprise to learn that Josh was going to Holland to train with Team Souwer, and he has only improved since then. Yet, Jauncey has been brought along slowly by Glory, and for all of the growing hype, he had yet to draw a top-10 opponent. That changed at Glory 22 as Josh deftly handled the veteran Djime Coulibaly and went three hard rounds with Thai phenom Sitthichai, who months ago bested Souwer and Murthel Groenhart in one night and who finished former champion Davit Kiria inside one round in the tournament semi-final. To say that Josh has arrived is a massive understatement. I believe his performance places him firmly in the top-10, and I believe his style and personality will make him a crowd favorite in the future. If you don’t believe me, then listen to that French audience chant his name again.
2. Sitthichai finally has the platform he’s needed.
Sitthichai is a top-2 lightweight. When he chooses to come out aggressively, there is very little that his opponents seem capable of doing to stop his onslaught of kicks and knees. Davit Kiria is one of the toughest, most durable lightweights in the world, and Sitthichai’s knees put Kiria in a world of pain that left the former champion unable to continue. Despite the variety of Josh Jauncey’s techniques and his craftiness in evading the full power and aggression of the Thai, Sitthichai thoroughly handled the Canadian, relentlessly chopping away with his tree trunk-sized legs. Mauro Ranallo aptly compared Sitthichai to fellow Thai kickboxing legend Buakaw Banchamek, and much like Buakaw, Sitthichai’s flaws mainly stem from pacing issues and an occasional lack of aggression. However, when Sitthichai is on point, he is an unstoppable force and a clear-cut world-beater, and Glory has finally given him the chance to face the world’s best lightweights. His coming title fight against Robin van Rosmalen will be the caliber of fight that Sitthichai has deserved for years as well as one of the toughest fights of Robin’s career.
3. Rico Verhoeven proves the doubters wrong.
If beating Gokhan Saki and Daniel Ghita (twice) isn’t enough to prove that Rico is a top heavyweight, than a completely dominating performance against Benjamin Adegbuyi should hopefully silence the critics. It has been a tough road for Verhoeven, who has been around the scene for years but who has always stood in the shadow of fighters like Saki, Ghita, Badr Hari, and Errol Zimmerman. He has demonstrated great ability but has also suffered from consistency issues, dropping a decision to Andrei Gerasimchuk in a fight that as the world champion he really shouldn’t have lost. Indeed, his performance during the opening round of this championship fight was similarly troubling with Verhoeven letting Adegbuyi control the round with his stiff jab. He came alive as the fight went on, putting on the performance that a champion should—using his low kick to punish Benny’s boxing and dominating the Romanian in the championship rounds. Rico described his performance as “okay,” and his perception is understandable—he is arriving at his best years but has by no means reached his peak.
4. Mourad Bouzidi belongs at light heavyweight.
Mourad Bouzidi could be one of the most overlooked fighters in kickboxing, and it’s easy to see why: for years Mourad competed as an undersized heavyweight who was bullied by the likes of Daniel Ghita and other giants. In spite of this, he holds wins against the likes of Anderson “Braddock” Silva and Hesdy Gerges. His victory over Filip Verlinden firmly establishes the weight class he needs to compete in; it is one of the biggest wins of his career, and for the first time, it puts him in a serious title conversation.
5. Other stories.
Zack Mwekassa picked up another KO win here, but this match-up really did nothing to further his place in the division. I think his place as #4 on the Glory rankings is completely absurd (#3 is Brian Collette—even more so). Zack is a nice guy with a great story who has awesome KO power, but we really need to see what Zack can do as a kickboxer. Drawing any of the guys who rank below him on the Glory rankings (c’mon!) will be a good test for him, but in particular, I would like to see him face Michael Duut, a Dutch kickboxer in need of a comeback fight.
Jamal Ben Saddik: what can I say, the heavyweight division is going to need more fighters for Rico Verhoeven to face, especially if Rico beats Braddock Silva. But is Ben Saddik really the right guy? After unceremoniously dismissing him following his disqualifying ground attack against Hesdy Gerges, Glory has taken him back, giving him an opponent to KO for his trouble. I don’t think that Glory should give unsportsmanlike conduct a bye. We’ve been down that road before with FEG rewarding Badr Hari’s repeated misconduct with the lightest of wrist slaps. I think Glory is far better off giving Ben Edwards a call next time.
Overall, it’s good to feel engaged with kickboxing again. Glory is producing events consistently now, and the narrative momentum is very palpable. The anticipation over Nieky Holzken’s return at Glory 23 is already building—as it should. The Hard Rock in Las Vegas is a tested venue for combat sports entertainment and is the home of Lion Fight, which regularly draws enthusiastic supporters to its Muay Thai events. Glory is putting together events which feature the right fighters in the right setting, and I look forward to Glory 23 with great anticipation.