Safety, fairness and entertainment are the primary goals of Glory referee, Al Wichgers. A thirty-seven year veteran this is a man who has seen nearly everything and made the calls that people sometimes love to hate. In anticipation of Glory 17 and The Last Man Standing event, I had the pleasure of talking to Al about his career as well as about kickboxing in the United States. Currently a referee at Glory, Al has also, over the course of his career, been the man in the middle for K-1 the UFC, Strikeforce and Bellator. His knowledge of combat sports is not unfounded as he also has spent time facing off against other fighters as a boxer as well as being a practitioner of martial arts. When asked what is the key to being a good referee he cites his mantra of striving to ensure safety for the fighters as well as making sure the fight is fair and at the same time entertaining. Al also cites that knowing the fighters is a critical element in determining when a fight should be stopped. It’s a much more difficult situation being the referee with fighters you don’t know. Knowing the fighter’s limits and how they react to a punch makes the difference between ending it early or letting the fight continue. When asked about his favorite fight, he cites a K-1 bout between Hong Man Choi and Sylvester Terkay as particularly amusing if for no other reason than the sheer amazement at the size of Choi (2.18m) and the possible dilemma of how he would go about stopping such a large fighter.
His response to the inevitable criticism that comes from fans and the fight community when it comes to fight stoppages, is that it’s all about perspective. Being inside the ring and understanding the figher’s body language is what often makes the difference. It is a completely different experience viewing the fight in the arena or on television. Those vantage points don’t allow an observer to pick up on many of the cues that indicate when a fighter has had enough. Thirty-seven years of experience doesn’t hurt either. On maintaining professionalism in the ring, Al states that it’s his job and that’s the way he handles it, he also emphasizes the importance of being objective. Surprisingly enough with the amount of adrenaline pump during fights Al states that his relationships with the fighters all over the world have been relatively peaceful with some fighters even thanking him afterward for stopping the fight.
Having experience with boxing, kickboxing and MMA, Al expresses a particular love for kickboxing with its fast pace and non-stop action. Finally we spoke about whether Glory will succeed in their mission to repopularize kickboxing in the United States. On this subject he reveals optimism, having been around since the heyday of K-1, but acknowledges that efforts to interest the public in anything new is often a hard sell. Al, however appears to be in it for the long haul and the combat sports community should feel grateful to have him in their ranks.