There were a ton of great fights in 2016, so it was difficult for Jay and myself to pick the fight that best encapsulated what was 2016. We wanted to select what was an exciting fight, but not sloppy or too much of a brawl. Part of what makes kickboxing so exciting is when fights can not only be fun to watch, but technical and fast as well.
So while Danyo Ilunga vs. Michael Duut and a number of other fights seemed like solid contenders, it was pretty easy to rest on Mohammed Jaraya vs. Nordin Ben Moh from Enfusion Live on February 26th of 2016. Both guys went toe-to-toe and the fight was simply insanity. I urge you to watch it below, if you haven't already. They also have a rematch coming up, which means that 2017 should start off with yet another top contender.
The 20 Greatest Kyokushin Karate Fighters of All Time was first published by Liver Kick in 2013, with #20-17. It has taken us some time to get around to completing that list, but finally we have done it!
As mentioned in the first installment, Kyokushin Karate was founded by Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama, and considered to be the first and most influential style of full contact karate, and one of the most hard-hitting, brutal, and intense forms of organized combat in the world. A style that has spawn fighters the likes of Andy Hug and Georges St. Pierre, to name just a couple. But aside from the big name kickboxers and mma stars there lays an array of combat sports athletes whose neither names nor accomplishments often see the light of day. This is the reason the "Top 20 Greatest Kyokushin Fighters of All-Time" was first started.
As stated before, this is by no means the definitive list, and I am sure there are names missing, but I have done my best to complete the list with fighters based mainly on impact, achievement, quality of competition and technical skill. The list is in no particular order, as it’s next to impossible to select one fighter over another, and further, it is something that no one would agree on. But I am sure we can all agree that the names on this list deserve recognition.
A little information on the different types of tournaments before we begin: A World Tournament includes every weight class. There are no divisions and no upper weight limit. Any Weight Tournament splits fighters into one of three weights: Lightweight (Under 70 kg) Middleweight (70 kg to 80 kg) and Heavyweight (Over 90 kg). That's it. Pretty simple, right?
So without further ado, here are #16 - 13 on our list....
#16: Makoto Nakamura
3rd World Tournament – 1st place 1984
2nd World Tournament – 1st place 1979
13th All Japan Tournament – 2nd place 1981
12th All Japan Tournament – 2nd place 1980
11th All Japan Tournament – 1st place 1979
10th All Japan Tournament – 3rd place 1978
9th All Japan Tournament – 3rd place 1977
Makoto Nakamura is the only winner of two Kyokushin World Open tournaments and was known for his power style of karate. He is the epitome of “power karate” and truly represented the old guard of Kyokushin. At 110 kg (245 lbs) he was large man be any accounts, let alone against usually much smaller Japanese. He used his size and power to full advantage.
After competing, winning or always placing in the top 3 in the All Japan Tournaments, Nakamura was selected to be on the Japanese team for the 2nd World Tournament in 1979, where he would win first place, but not without controversy.
In that 2nd World Tournament he would face 18-year-old Dolph Lundgren from Sweden. Then only a green belt, Lundgren had to borrow a brown belt (one level higher) to be able to fight. As he recounts, "Full-contact-karate was something new at the time. Nobody really knew a lot about it, and neither did I." Held at the Japan Metropolitan Gymnasium, Nakamura was the favourite to win. When he faced Lundgren, who weighed 93 kg (205 lbs) Nakamura (a 2nd degree black belt at the time) attacked immediately and Lundgren caught him with a mawashi-geri (roundhouse kick) to the head. It is reported the crowd gasped and Nakamura probably thought he had more on his hands then he had bargained for. The fight went the distance; plus two extensions and Nakamura was awarded a controversial decision. This proved to be the eventual world champions hardest fight.
Nakamura would go on to compete in the 3rd World Tournament 1984 and win 1st place as well.
#15: Sam Greco
K-1 World Grand Prix 3rd Place1999
W.A.K.O. Pro World Muay Thai Super Heavyweight Champion1999
The Best of the Best Tournament Champion1995
W.K.A. World Muay Thai Super Heavyweight Champion1994
Karate World Cup Champion1994
Commonwealth Karate Champion 1989-1991
6 time Australia Full Contact Karate Champion
Sam "Slam 'em" Greco trained in Kyokushin Karate from a young age and started competing in full contact karate tournaments at age of 21. He is a retired super heavyweight fighter, who fought in Kyokushin Karate, Professional Kickboxing, K-1 tournaments and MMA. To put it simply, Sam Greco is a legend. He was an aggressive fighter who epitomized raw physical power and technical precision. Greco was an absolute dream to watch in the ring, as he would bring punishment forward and raining down.
After winning the Australian Full-Contact Karate title six times Greco would meet the founder of Kyokusin, Mas Oyama and eventually the founder of Seidokaikan Karate, Kazuyoshi Ishii. Ishii himself was a student of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin under Hideyuki Ashihara.
Greco would go on to have an impressive career, 147 fights overall, and holds notable victories over many of the greats of kickboxing, like Branko Cikatic, Ernesto Hoost, Mike Bernardo, Stefan Leko, and Ray Sefo.
Greco is quoted as saying "My biggest achievement to date was taking on all the best fighters in the K1 world. Fighters that I would only read about and thought one day I will get to fight them. I never took a back step on anyone."
#14: Takashi Azuma
1st place at the 9th All Japan Tournament 1977
3rd place at the 8th All Japan Tournament1976
6th place at the 1st World Tournament1974
2nd place at the 6th All Japan Tournament1974
Azuma Takashi was born in 1949, began martial arts through the practice of Judo and in 1971 discovered Kyokushin Karate. He became a student of the founder, Mas Oyama. Azuma was a fiercely dominant fighter in the early days of Kyokushin and stood out among other fighters not only because of his physical strength, but also his strength of spirit, which never accepted defeat. A true warrior in every sense of the word, who encompassed Budo, or the Japanese Martial Way.
Azuma Takashi is the founder of the martial art Daido Juku, also known as "Kudo", and the President of the Kudo International Federation. Daido Juku is a martial art group practicing Kudo, a strike-based Mixed Martial Art/Budo. Noticeable by the use of a helmet that sort of looks like a space helmet, which allows fighters to strike to the head and not impede vision. Daido Juku introduced "Kakuto Karate (Combat Karate)" a safe, practical and popular form of tournament karate using the face protector and allowing attacks to the head level attack, throws, grabs, joint locks and chokes. Essentially, it’s like Japanese Budo MMA.
Photo courtesy of WKO Shinkyokushinkai
#13 Norichika Tsukamoto
All Japan Weight Division Tournament: The 11th all Japan weight division heavy weight 4th place, The 15th all Japan weight division heavy weight 1st place, The 21st all Japan weight division heavy weight 1st place, The 25th all Japan weight division heavy weight 3rd place
All Japan Tournament: The 28th all Japan 1st place, The 29th all Japan 1st place, The 34th all Japan 3rd place, The 36th all Japan 6th place, The 38th all Japan 1st place/Mas Oyama Award, The 41st all Japan 1st place, The 42nd all Japan 1st place
Karate World Cup: The 1st karate world cup heavy weight 1st place, The 3rd karate world cup heavy weight 4th place, The 4th karate world cup heavy weight 2nd place
World Tournament: The 6th world championship 1st place, The 7th world championship Japan national member, The 8th world championship 7th place, The 9th world championship 7th place, The 10th world championship 1st place/technique award
Tsukamoto was part of the new breed of Kyokushin fighters, known for his innovative and progressive fighting style.
In the earlier days of Kyokushin, fighters were recognized for their “stand and bang” style of fighting. Pitting strength and brawn against one another. As the sport evolved you began to see fighters becoming more intelligent in their training practices and fighting. Fighters probably began to realize the old style of training and fighting would not have much longevity on the body. So, as fighters became smarter with their conditioning, the styles of fighting became smarter as well. Tsukamoto was one of the first in Full Contact Karate that began to apply new ways of thinking and new performing techniques, and we began to others changing and adapting. Marius Ilas is another one of this new breed of fighters.
Tsukamoto has proven that his unconventional way of fighting works, based on the many championships he has won, and the way fighters have a hard time dealing with and defending his approach. From unorthodox kicking methods to his use of hiza geri jodan (knee kick to the head) to KO opponents, Tsukamoto has influenced a whole new generation of Kyokushin fighters.
Tsukamoto is now part of the World Karate Organization - Shinkyokushinkai, the Kyokushin offshoot led by former world champion, Kenji Midori. We’ll be visiting him on the list shortly!
Click here for #20-17 and tune in soon for fighters #12-09.
Throughout the history of modern professional kickboxing there has been one lynchpin holding it all together, that has been heavyweights. There has always been an odd fascination with two goliaths, larger-than-life titans, stepping into the ring and throwing giant shots at each other. Smaller fighters have risen in popularity, but under the narrative of a David vs. Goliath, not usually within its own division. That isn’t to say that there aren’t staunch fans of two fighters of the same weight competing, because there are, but heavyweight fights have always been the featured attraction and appealed to the widest audiences. But these days it seems like heavyweight kickboxing is less and less relevant, with lighter weight classes taking center stage. You still can't deny that heavyweights are an attraction, though.
We are living in the wake of K-1’s glory days in heavyweight kickboxing. Peter Aerts, Semmy Schilt, Remy Bonjasky, Ray Sefo, Ernesto Hoost and Jerome Le Banner are all retired. This generation of heavyweights has been rather thin thanks to a downturn in business and the advent of a viable light heavyweight weight class that has attracted some of the lighter heavyweights that would usually just tough it out with the bigger guys. The lack of huge paydays and giant backing like FEG had with Fujii TV in Japan has meant younger stars turning their attention to boxing or MMA where there are more assurances.
There was temporarily a glimmer of hope on the horizon when GLORY kicked into high gear, as we saw in GLORY 4’s Heavyweight Grand Slam tournament. Of course, four of those fighters went on to drop in weight (Jurkovic, Bouzidi, Verlinden, Saki), three have since retired (Schilt, Aerts, Bonjasky), some faded from view (Guidon, Raoumaru) while others just haven’t fought in a very long time in the spotlight (Ghita, Kharitonov). In fact, if you were to look at the 16 fighters involved in that tournament only four of them are still active in GLORY’s heavyweight division (Verhoeven, Zimmerman, Braddock and Jamal Ben Saddik).
From a narrow view those are without a doubt four of GLORY’s top heavyweights at the moment. When browsing through GLORY’s rankings the only top contender that has been added in the years following GLORY 4 has been Benjamin Adegbuyi. A cursory look through their rankings is actually kind of depressing. Ben Edwards has decided to focus on boxing, older gatekeepers like Freddy Kemayo and Mladen Brestovac aren’t about the set the world on fire, nor will the new additions of the monotone Xavier Vigney or the spirited but still not quite there Chi Lewis Parry.
Looking at our own top ten (which will be revised as soon as Jay is done with his Hollywood responsibilities), for fighters outside of GLORY there is Hesdy Gerges, Andrei Gerasmichuk, Zabit Samedov and Ismael Londt. Gerges just lost to Jahfarr Wilnis, who oddly enough hasn’t been seen in a GLORY ring in quite some time. Most of these fighters are competing wherever they can draw a paycheck from and fighting infrequently, hardly moving up the ranks of the division.
Other bigger name heavyweights out in the wild are the ever-unpredictable Badr Hari, the young, still not in shape Ismael Lazaar and SuperKombat’s stable of Heavyweights including the part time Catalin Morosanu and the recently-returned Raul Catinas. The picture that I’m painting here is that of a heavyweight landscape that does little to inspire. That isn’t to say that there aren’t good heavyweights out there, but there has been a disconnect between the generations where there was very little overlap between them. The last K-1 World Grand Prix Champion was Alistair Overeem, who quickly hopped back to MMA after the fall of FEG’s K-1 and the last big heavyweight tournament champion was Semmy Schilt, who never fought against after GLORY 4.
Rico Verhoeven has had impressive performances and is without a doubt the dominant world champion for the division right now, but the GLORY 11 tournament being a four-man and lacking in older, more established stars only hurt everyone involved. There wasn’t much of a narrative of Verhoeven overcoming greats to claim his top spot, just questionable downs against Gokhan Saki and a disputed win over Daniel Ghita. Even in winning the championship at GLORY 17 it was in a rematch with Ghita where Ghita fans are still crying foul after all of this time that Rico didn’t “do enough.” To no fault of Verhoeven’s there are not many top contenders left for him. The Zimmerman fight had that big fight feel to it, but Zimmerman’s freak injury took some of the shine off of it, and the rise of Benjamin Adegbuyi happened largely on non televised undercards, giving fans little reason to believe in or care about him.
Heavyweight kickboxing right now is at a crossroads, living in a post-FEG era that can only be defined as fragmented and getting worse. So I want to ask you a question; who do you think will be the next big heavyweight kickboxing star? Is Rico Verhoeven the star that is slowly growing, or will the relative lack of competition hurt him in the long run? Or, has the rise of the smaller, more technical weight classes made the heavyweight spectacle a relic of the past now?
Right now it feels like while there are solid fighters in the heavyweight division, some of the talent that would usually prop it up has been dispersed to light heavyweight and even middleweight. That being said, fans still want to see heavyweights rumble.
The sport of kickboxing is one that has been around for a while under different rules, names and appearances, but has gone through periods of interest and disinterest alike. Without a doubt kickboxing was at its highest point in Japan from the mid-90’s through the late 2000’s under the K-1 banner. K-1 was an undeniable force in combat sports that wowed fans all over the world and kept up its level of mystique. K-1 was a monolith in the combat sports world, a Japanese organization that seemed to always have a small stable of fighters that it promoted while rarely swapping them out for newer, younger talents.
Throughout the years K-1 earned some scorn and derision from fans and insiders, claims of corruption, fight-fixing and organized crime ties behind the scenes would eventually tear the organization apart, yet fans still came out in droves right up until the final gong. Now here we sit, just shy of five years after FEG’s K-1 imploded and we are watching organizations like GLORY, K-1 Global, K-1 Japan, Enfusion and SuperKombat struggle to gain traction in their respective markets. To many, it is a mystery to mull over why brands like GLORY haven’t caught on with more fans, but it seems clear as day what the key differences were between K-1’s glory days and the current marketplace is; creativity.
If you go back and watch the first K-1 World Grand Prix that was won by Branko Cikatic you can see the roots of what would become the K-1 that we knew and loved, yet something was missing. Branko was a fine fighter, but he wasn’t the type of fighter that the Japanese audience would fall in love with or be featured on television like many future K-1 champions would be. Everything from the lighting to the stage setup and presentation was good but not quite there yet. Then professional wrestling god Akira Maeda helped K-1 founder Kazuyoshi Ishii to meld professional wrestling ideals into the sport and everything changed.
Looking back at K-1’s list of champions and fighters that endured the passage of time as icons you’ll always find something to latch onto about these fighters. A young Peter Aerts was called the Dutch Lumberjack, entering the ring wearing a flannel vest and hat. Ernesto Hoost was called Mr. Perfect because of his immaculate technique and lived up the gimmick whenever he was on camera as the perfect fighter. Andy Hug was the karateka with a profound love and admiration for the Japanese culture so he was always seen in his signature gi in promotional videos and so on.
What I’m trying to say is that K-1 had characters. These characters were of course real-life fighters and maybe just small exaggerations of the fighters’ personalities, but each fighter that K-1 sunk considerate amounts of time and energy into marketing had a larger-than-life personality that when placed on a large stage was able to enthrall fans. Many have written off such things as simply “Japanese” and that they wouldn’t work anywhere else, but a cursory look around the world at the legions of fans of K-1 and those fighters shows just how effective that was.
I’ve heard the arguments as to why this current crop of kickboxing stars can’t be presented in that way, everything from “well, they aren’t as charismatic” to “fans want real, not manufactured hype,” but the proof is in the pudding. Chi Lewis Parry has been one of the fighters that GLORY has been heavily marketing in part due to just how much he can talk. When Chi Lewis Parry opens his mouth people listen, which is part of the magic of Chi Lewis Parry. I’m not sure that he’s ready for Rico Verhoeven just yet, but he’s found himself an audience much like Chael Sonnen did years ago and how Conor McGregor has done in the UFC recently. Chi Lewis Parry’s talent hasn’t been nurtured or curated, though, just thrust at the screen once discovered without much thought put into it.
A large part of what made K-1 so successful has to be on the shoulders of Kazuyoshi Ishii, who had the vision and talent to find these personality traits in his fighters and to amplify them. Peter Aerts was nowhere near the level of a talker as a Chi Lewis Parry or a Conor McGregor, yet he made a ton of money for K-1 and became a world famous personality off of being the “Dutch Lumberjack” and later “Mr. K-1.” In fact, Aerts is rather soft-spoken and is one of the kindest guys that you’ll ever talk to who enjoys laughing and not taking himself too seriously, yet fans were always invested in Aerts.
That was the magic of K-1. You didn’t need to be Bob Sapp to become a star. In fact, while fighters like Bob Sapp who could talk and looked imposing did great business for K-1, they wouldn’t last because of the lack of talent. Where K-1 really shined was finding legitimately talented fighters and building them into something special. In fact, there was one great project near the end of K-1’s run that deserves special attention; Alistair Overeem.
Overeem was a moderately successful MMA fighter with an imposing physique, vicious knees and a great standing guillotine that never seemed to really catch on with fans. Yet, somehow, in 2008 after wins over Paul Buentello, Mark Hunt and a draw against Mirko Cro Cop he was brought into K-1 to fight their golden boy Badr Hari on New Year’s Eve. Badr Hari was coming off of a rather embarrassing display where he essentially imploded under the pressure during the K-1 World Grand Prix Finals against Remy Bonjasky and got himself disqualified, so K-1 thrust him into a New Year’s Eve freakshow fight to defend the honor of K-1 against the MMA world’s Overeem. The thing is, Overeem knocked Badr Hari out and all hell broke loose.
Alistair Overeem is a relatively quiet, soft-spoken guy. In fact, he’s a pretty nice dude for a guy who is as muscular and scary in the ring as he is. The cocky Badr Hari who had just earlier in the month lost the K-1 World Grand Prix via disqualification was there to get his win back, to get back on track and regain face after his in-ring meltdown, but instead a new star was born in Overeem. Overeem tried his hand against the K-1 World Grand Prix Champion of Remy Bonjasky a few months later and looked scary, but ultimately lacking experience against a tactician like Bonjasky and dropped a decision. That wasn’t the end of Overeem in K-1, oh no, not by a longshot.
The K-1 marketing machine quickly went to work with Overeem, producing perhaps one of the most amazing hype videos that I’ve ever seen for a fighter leading into the K-1 World Grand Prix Final 16. This video showed Overeem on the streets of Holland with his signature mallet that he used to bring to the ring with him smashing a bike into pieces. It encapsulated the fury that we saw in the ring from Overeem, the raw power and emotion that he brought into fights without him having to cut an eloquent interview. After smashing a bike and a camera tripod he pointed to the camera, took a few deep breaths and uttered “Everybody’s gonna die.”
It was beautiful. I remember seeing it at the time and just being awestruck by it. Alistair Overeem held a victory over Badr Hari and nearly defeated then-champion Remy Bonjasky and was going to fight the legend Peter Aerts in the K-1 World Grand Prix Final 16. Overeem was being billed as the outsider, the invader who was looking to usurp the throne that was always held by the best kickboxers in the world for his own. It was a simple, effective narrative that was only exacerbated when he defeated Peter Aerts in the Final 16, securing his spot in the K-1 World Grand Prix.
K-1 did a series of vignettes with Overeem leading up to his entry into the K-1 World Grand Prix, focusing on his raw strength and his crazy, unorthodox training in Holland. While all of that was good, perhaps what was the most effective was showing him eat. Sounds weird, right? But Alistair Overeem is a huge dude who needed a lot of protein and when they sent a camera crew to show him cooking his own food and talking about how he ate horsemeat for its protein value, well, everyone went nuts. Alistair Overeem filmed inside of a tiny Dutch kitchen that he could barely fit inside of cooking horse steaks to prepare for the K-1 World Grand Prix was an image that endures to this day as one of the defining moments in the career of “Ubereem.”
His first fight was to be against the Kyokushin fighter from Brazil that was popular in Japanese karate circuits in Ewerton Teixeira. Teixeira was always a skilled guy who wasn’t the most exciting fighter to watch, but he connected well enough with fans and filled an important role for the organization by representing Kyokushin. The video package that they created leading into that fight hammered home their narrative of Overeem being an “invader” from MMA, showing highlights from his fights with Badr, Remy and Aerts. The visual of Overeem literally bullying around the K-1 legend Peter Aerts and tossing around Remy Bonjasky was a powerful one, so was the interview footage of Badr Hari talking about his loss to Overeem. They also sowed the seeds of Overeem vs. Badr Hari meeting again in the tournament in a rematch for the ages, which played a big role in the 2009 K-1 World Grand Prix.
Overeem scored an absolutely brutal knockout on Ewerton Teixeira with a clinch knee, which helped to lead to the legend of the UBERKNEE and only made Overeem look that much stronger heading into the semifinals against Badr Hari. The rematch with Badr Hari was the story of the show, by far, which overshadowed what would become another Semmy Schilt victory. The real story of the show was that Alistair Overeem’s stock was on the rise and that it was part skill and talent and part marketing and narrative-building. This fight was the culmination of a lot of work and storytelling where a lot of credit should go to Michael Schiavello’s absolutely brilliant narrative-driven call throughout this event.
I’ve heard many a fan decry Schiavello, Sefo and Kogan’s call during that match, or their celebration on-camera after the fight as “cheesey” or “unprofessional,” but the reality was that they were genuinely excited and engaged in the narrative, as was the entire crowd. That finish still gives me chills to this day because of just how perfect of a moment it was. The thing is, I’ve heard a lot of people say that narratives in combat sports are “impossible” because of the unpredictable nature of people getting hit in the face, but the truth is that a deft storyteller will find a way to weave a complex narrative that can be altered along the way to be just as effective.
Due to Badr Hari once again losing his cool in the ring in 2010 he was on a bit of a sabbatical from the sport, leaving the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix wide open for new blood. The tournament saw a lot of top names involved, including newer names like Tyrone Spong and Gokhan Saki becoming dark horses to win the entire tournament and to bring new blood into the K-1 lineage. K-1 continued their push for Overeem, though, pushing the narrative of Overeem more focused than ever on K-1, but still slightly arrogant and the outsider heading into the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix.
They focused on his raw strength as one of his selling points. We know in combat sports that raw strength and physique aren’t what makes a fighter “good,” but by pushing this narrative they kept building up Overeem as a larger-than-life character, even having him talking about how he grew up watching Hulk Hogan in WWF.
Overeem, of course, would go on to win the K-1 World Grand Prix, becoming one of the most famous fighters in Japan. His stock also rose within the United States as well, with more and more fans calling for him to step back into the Strikeforce cage to defend the Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship, maybe even go to the UFC and challenge Brock Lesnar in a dream match. In fact, Overeem now had an aura about him when he stepped into the ring. He was the K-1 World Grand Prix Champion and that not only meant something, it meant everything at the time.
Regardless of your opinion of Alistair Overeem, K-1 took a fighter that was talented and driven and helped to push him beyond the level that he was at the time. They helped to make him a star and a featured attraction that they were drawing money off of up until scandal struck and the company lost their television deal and ultimately disintegrated.
Alistair Overeem is simply the last example of starbuilding that K-1 did and how that work that they did on pushing Overeem’s larger-than-life character was able to carry over after his K-1 career and help to build him up to be a living legend in combat sports. Anything that happened after is immaterial, of course, but he was still elevated in part by K-1’s huge push that endeared him to fans across the world. If you were to ask me what is missing from modern kickboxing that K-1 was able to do the answer is simple; they built stars. They made fans care about their fighters while transforming them into characters and building narratives around their fights.
It didn’t matter if these characters won or lost, they were still verifiable draws for K-1 and vital parts of the K-1 ecosystem. Peter Aerts, Ernesto Hoost, Jerome Le Banner, Andy Hug, Ray Sefo and many other fighters won and lost in the K-1 ring but it never mattered because they’d come back and get another chance. They’d get another chance and K-1 would weave stories about these fighters and their upcoming fights that made fans genuinely interested in seeing what came next. These narratives didn’t need to be perfect, they just needed to exist.
That doesn’t exist today. Instead we get training footage, cut-and-dry interviews and a focus on who won and who lost, not the humanity behind who won or lost. Not the story. If you treat a fighter who lost like a human being and tell their story the chances of fans being interested in their next fight is only going to increase. This is why fighters like Aerts and Hoost could have thirty year long careers that included crushing losses but still attract fans to this day.
The sport of kickboxing drew on not just the physical aspect of the sport, but it drew and thrived off of the creativity of the sport. Kickboxing thrived not just by having a good, rock ‘em, sock ‘em product, but by molding fighters into larger-than-life characters that played off of their personalities. It thrived by created narratives for each and every fight to appeal to fans and didn’t rely on fighters to sell their own fights. Kickboxing helped to build these fighters into box office and television attractions and was never left with cards that delivered in action but drew no eyes.
So my answer to the question that is floating around right now as to “Why aren’t fans attracted to kickboxing?” Simple, nobody is doing anything to make fans care.
GLORY 20 might already be in the books, but if you are waiting to watch it tonight on Spike TV check out this feature that Shar Williams did on Ristie before GLORY 20.
Is he man, machine or a little of both? To fans around the world, Andy Ristie is "The Machine", a man with a fighter's heart and who is guaranteed to leave you on the edge of your seat while watching one of his match-ups. Beginning with his Glory debut in 2012, Ristie has blazed up the lightweight ranks leaving a path of destruction in his wake.
Since 2007, Ristie has faced Hinata Watanabe, Gago Drago, Albert Kraus, Niclas Larsen and of course, "The Doctor" Giorgio Petrosyan. His match-up against Petrosyan left crowds stunned in New York's Madison Square Garden in 2013, as Ristie dethroned Petrosyan during the lightweight world championship tournament and gifted Petrosyan with his first knock out ever. This defense again Kiria in Zagreb ended his reign. Risitie however takes this loss in stride, indicating that there were some problems in his corner and with his coaching. What Ristie, however, does not make is excuses. By Glory 19 in Virginia, Ristie was renewed. Having meticulously examined his loss and preparing for the future, Ristie was ready to begin his ascension again. And begin again he did with a decisive TKO victor in the first round again Steve Moxon.
But who is Andy Ristie, some of you might ask? Who is the man, who in such a short time has taken the kickboxing world by storm and endeared fan to him across the globe? After sitting down with Ristie and his team, I'm not sure if I can even answer that question. Sitting down with Andy, he exudes a warmth but also a sense of determination. He easily states that he's not afraid to fight anyone and will address the matches as they are presented to him. He's reflective when speaking of his loss to Davit Kiria, but in that reflection is also an analysis of how that fight went wrong for him and what he can do better in the future. Ristie states that he normally walks around at approximately 75kg, so cutting weight is not an issue for him and finally he expresses a willingness to try to things and take on new opponents irreguardless of their styles and exprerience. One tidbit of infomation I was able to glean from my converstaion with Ristie was that he came into kickboxing far later than most. Goes to show you that whether you start at age four or age twenty-two, if it's meant to be so it shall be. And this is Andy Ristie.
On pure stylistic terms, Ristie is a force to be reckoned with. In addtion to being taller than most of his opponents he has extremely long legs and arms often giving him an advantage to him against his opponents. Ristie's style is unorthodox and while he mgiht face the same opponent more than once I have to wonder if even they know what to expect. Last, but not least, Ristie likes to go for the knockout and his play between offensive and defensive maneuvers is something that has frequently led to that end.
Now onward to Glory 20 in Dubai where he is set for his second meeting with Robin van Roosmalen. Who will be the victor? Some say van Roosmalen, some say Ristie. Of what I am certain is that both men will get in that ring and give the fans everything they have!
I'll keep this short because I always feel terrible posting about my own stuff on here (even though I own the site, weird, right?), but my second novel is available now.
It's called Terminus Cycle and is a grand departure from my first. The first was about a professional fighter but I've kind of moved away from that in a big way to start a science fiction series. If you are interested it is available now via Kindle or Paperback.
Sure, it's not explicitly kickboxing but we'll always be riding the fact that K-1's roots were in Japanese professional wrestling to the grave.
Tonight on AXS TV they'll be airing another episode of New Japan Pro Wrestling, this time it'll be from the January 4th Tokyo Dome event back in 2014. The match? Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. If you watched this year's Dome show you were probably let down by a lack of pomp and ridiculous entrances, but last year's Dome show they went all out.
Be prepared for huge entrances for both guys and for Tanahashi to have a reason to play air guitar for once. Of course it is a good match, not the best match of 2014, but one of the best spectacles for sure. It was also an important match considering the fans voted for it to be the main event over the IWGP Title match between Okada and Naito. Tanahashi and Nakamura are the two top guys in New Japan and while they've met a ton of times (Mauro gives the precise number during the call, including tags it is insanity), it is always a special occasion.
AXS does things right when it comes to the presentation. While we all hated those goofy ads that they initially ran for NJPW on AXS, the actual shows themselves are well-presented and the match is bookended by interviews, video packages and storyline context. Mauro and Barnett are as solid as ever and really help to make the match feel as big as it is. So tune in tonight and don't miss this one because it's a big one.
So really, what's the point of owning and operating a site that gets a lot of traffic if I'm not allowed to advertise on it myself, right? I know how much I charge other people for it and I know that most of them walk away happy with it. So bear with me a minute because no, this is not about kickboxing. Instead it's about me. I know that your gut reaction is either, "ugh, fuck you" or "oh cool." I appreciate either one, at least you are thinking about me, right?
If you'll remember far back into the depths of history you'll remember that I released my first novel back in 2013. It was called "The Godslayer" and it was about a retired MMA fighter coping with life after his retirement when his legacy was beginning to fade and tarnish. I know that I'm kind of a nihilist and that a lot of you thought that it was a bleak outlook on MMA, but it's two years later and from the feedback that I've gotten I can gather that some actually agree now. "The Godslayer" was more of a test than anything else. I wanted to see how much interest that I could drum up and did things as low budget as I could.
This week the pre-order for my next novel went live on Amazon. It is called "Terminus Cycle" and it is entirely different from "The Godslayer." Nothing to do with professional fighting and is instead the beginning of a series of science fiction novels that I plan to release over the next few years. A lot of time and [my own] money went into this, but I'm excited about it. I know that the crossover for this is probably not that great, but still, I know that there are some nerds out there like myself so I urge you to check it out if it sounds like something you'd be interested in.
Now I'm sure as most fans and followers of Glory are aware things haven't been going too swimmingly for the worlds premiere kickboxing organisation. The promotion has seemed to be struggling ever since a failed attempt at venturing into the pay-per-view market last June. Whilst the event itself could be deemed as a success- a new middleweight champion was crowned and the fights on the night were superb- the pay-per-view numbers would clearly disagree with that assumption.
Since then things have gone from bad to worse. The promotion only managed to produce one event in the second half of 2014 in comparison to the four events held in the opening six months of the year. This significant decrease was likely a result of the financial losses caused by Glory 17, their debut pay-per-view event.
After hosting Glory 18 in early November the promotion announced that the subsequent event would take place a little over six weeks later, only for the location never to be confirmed and the event consequently scrapped. Cancelling an event is obviously never a good sign and there were numerous rumours circling around on the internet that the promotion may have indeed been in a spot of bother. Representatives from Glory were quick to negate the rumours however, suggesting it was merely an issue with the location. Albeit seemingly out of the promotions hands, hosting one event in the latter half of 2014 is not the kind of tactic you'd recommend employing if you were an up-and-coming business looking to build your brand let alone an international organisation attempting to breakthrough into mainstream America.
Due to their lack of events Glory allowed several of their fighters to compete on the Kunlun Fights 15 card this past week in China, where unfortunately things continued to worsen for the promotion. Current Heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven lost decisively to heavy underdog Andrej Herasimchuk and Murthel Groenhart- a recent addition to their upcoming Welterweight contender tournament- was thoroughly beaten and eventually knocked out by Sittichai Sitsongpeenong.
Now whilst neither loss will be particularly devastating to either fighters career- Herasimchuk albeit a relative unknown is clearly very talented and Sittichai is regarded by most as a top 10 ranked competitor in his division- these results deeply hamper Glory's next event whereby both Verhoeven and Groenhart are scheduled to compete. Its quite unlikely the bulk of their viewers on Spike will be aware of the results due to the limited exposure kickboxing receives, however for the rest of us who are avid followers of the sport it just doesn't sit well.
Whilst I am far from an expert on running an martial arts promotion let alone an international firm with the magnitude of Glory's, I can't help but thinks there's a few things that they could be doing differently.
Firstly the issue of having fighters competing for rival promotions could be solved with more consistency with their live events. Fighters would obviously not feel the need to compete in other promotions should Glory be able to provide them with enough fights annually to make ends meet and Glory's current yearly schedule just doesn't allow them to do that.
Glory doesn't have a roster that's overflowing with fighters so filling cards could potentially be difficult for them, especially if they were able to churn out events on a monthly basis. We've seen on numerous occasions over the years that kickboxers have the ability and desire to fight in excess of three times per year and I can't imagine there'd be many fighters on Glory's roster that would turn down the opportunity to compete more frequently.
Venturing into the pay-per-view market was clearly a naive move on Glory's part and attempting to do so again could be financially catastrophic. I can't foresee the promotion attempting a second pay-per-view any time soon so its blatantly obvious this is something they should avoid completely for the time being.
I also believe focusing less on hosting events in America could be very beneficial to the promotion. Whilst Glory has worked endlessly to bring the sport into the mainstream in America through their influx of hosting of live events in several different states, it might be time for a change of tactics. Unfortunately Glory just doesn't have any American fighters currently capable of drawing in big gates like they've been able to internationally.
Canada for example has a strong base of martial arts fans who take a passionate nationalistic approach to supporting their own. Currently, they have a decent contingency of Canadian kickboxers emerging through their ranks with 'Bazooka' Joe Valtellini being their current Welterweight Champion, Gabriel Varga is a likely challenger for their uncrowned Featherweight title and the likes of Robert Thomas and Josh Jauncey poised to be breakout stars in the future. The waters in Canada remain untested by Glory though.
Whilst the support is ostensibly not as popular as some may think in the Netherlands, you can't help but think with the plethora of Dutch talent Glory has at their disposal that they'd be able to sell-out at least one event annually in kickboxing's second home. Out of the twenty-six events Glory have hosted none have been in the Netherlands.
Other countries like Turkey and Croatia have provided strong attendances previously for Glory and should the promotion return with their respective hometown favourites in Gohkan Saki and Mirko Cro Cop, the events would likely sell-out again. Even the UK should be viewed as a more viable market based purely on the success Muay Thai promotion Yokkao have managed over the past twelve months.
My suggestion is not to saturate the market as the recent criticism and backlash the UFC has received for its torrid schedule is a clear display of why that might not be the smartest move. I do think however increasing the number of events annually whilst reducing the number of events specifically taking place in America could be not only beneficial from a marketing standpoint, but financially too as revenue generated from ticket sales is one of Glory's primary sources of income.
These strategies would allow Glory to simultaneously continue to build their brand and fan base on Spike TV, but also by only keeping their roster happier by allowing them to compete frequently. Hosting more events would also give Glory more of an opportunity to nurture talent. It's no secret that mainstream success in America is the eventual goal, however with a clear deficit of talent emerging from America perhaps its time to go back to the drawing board for Glory with the reintroduction or adaptation of their Road to Glory series.
I hope this comes as an innocuous message to Glory. I'm not trying to lament on the promotions recent struggles, however I'm merely trying to mitigate the potential issues they could be facing. I sincerely hope my analysis of Glory has been over-exaggerated and the promotion remains robust, having just decided to reduce the number of events as a means of recovering from the fallout of Glory 17. Unfortunately though as these obstacles continue to develop for our beloved Glory, I can't help but wonder whether or not my paranoia is justified and the promotions days could be indeed numbered.
Glory 18 was an intriguing experience. It didn’t generate as many highlight moments as previous Glory events, but it was nevertheless an event packed full of relentless action and remarkable performances from underdogs who proved that they could step up to the plate and handle a high level of competition. Glory 18 was also a significant chapter in the development of many fighters. We’ll examine this and other ongoing narratives below.
First, let’s talk about Zack Mwekassa. His incredible story of survival and endurance captured our interest, and his explosive KO of Pat Barry captured our attention. He is a figure seemingly poised to breakout as another star in Glory, combining explosive power with boxing technique that trumps that of many experienced kickfighters. He is a fighter with a lot of potential, and tonight, we saw flashes of what he could achieve with that potential, knocking American Muay Thai veteran Brian Collette out cold with a thundering hook. That said, he clearly has much to learn about the kickboxing game, and the challenge for Mwekassa will be to develop a kickboxing style that complements his physical gifts and athleticism and which allows him to make the most of his boxing prowess, perhaps in the vein of his legendary predecessor Mark Bernardo. Incorporating more low kicks would be a good start to counteracting fighters who will look to stay at range from his granite fists. With time, Mwekassa will wisen up to the classic kickboxing tactics, especially the low kick to high kick trap that countless kickboxers including Peter Aerts have used to devastating effect. As Mwekassa learns the kickboxing game, I anticipate that he will only become fiercer and more monstrous as a kickboxer. Until then, he will continue to capture our hearts with his eloquence and personality, both of which are key to establishing himself as a presence in the fight world.
Wayne Barrett similarly finds himself appreciating the depth of the kickboxing game. Coming off of an incredible Middleweight tournament run that saw Barrett KO Bogdan Stoica, Jason Wilnis seemed like a winnable fight for the American, but what we saw revealed a noticeable lack of comfort on Barrett’s part with initiating offense and dictating the pace of the fight. It seems like he expected Wilnis to come forward more aggressively like Robin van Roosmalen, Albert Kraus, and other Dutch combination punchers, but Wilnis turned the tables by letting Barrett initiate exchanges. While Barrett was less tentative offensively in this fight than he was against Joe Schilling, he will need to make more progress because like Jason Wilnis, future opponents will not let Barrett establish his excellent counterpunching game.
Both Jason Wilnis and Saulo Cavalari deserve credit for demonstrating what excellent gameplanning can accomplish in kickboxing. Wilnis shut Wayne Barrett down by allowing Barrett to initiate the offense while punishing him with punches and low kicks. It was a strategy that threw Barrett off of his game completely, demonstrating a brilliance and maturity on part of himself and his team. Similarly, Saulo Cavalari used two very different gameplans to great effect in the LHW contender tournament, smothering Danyo Illunga with offense at close range while using distance, speed, and low kicks against the powerful Mwekassa. Wilnis and Cavalari proved to great effect that playing against the strengths of their opponent can swing the momentum of a fight.
What is there to say about Robin van Roosmalen vs. Davit Kiria 3? The fight played out much the same as their previous bouts, but both fighters acquitted themselves well in the cardio department. Robin van Roosmalen competed in five rounds for the first time tonight, and he proved that he can hit just as hard in the fifth round as he does in the first. As a fighter who weathers the storm in order to find an opening, this was Kiria’s fight to lose as he simply couldn’t match Robin’s work rate. I suspect that Robin will likely draw Andy Ristie next; it will be interesting to see how he plans to avenge one of the most significant losses of his career.
Once again, the SuperFight Series fighters earned their share of the spotlight, which is why it is continually puzzling that Glory keeps some of its most anticipated fights off of Spike. Benny Adegbuyi vs. Hesdy Gerges was a heavyweight barn burner, but unfortunately for many fans who are restricted from accessing Glory’s online stream, this was a great fight that they just couldn’t see. Also worth watching is the development of Josh Jauncey, not only because he’s a friend of the site but also because he is putting a lot of potential on display. Jauncey divides his time between training with his family at Team WKX and Team Souwer in the Netherlands, where he’s impressed Andy Souwer himself. The future looks bright for the young British Canadian; it will be interesting to see how his career unfolds.
In closing, let’s talk about Glory itself. This is the first event promoted by the organization after a long period of reorganization that saw the appointment of a new CEO. Jon Franklin had promised changes on the production side, and it’s encouraging to see that the quality of the product remained high. Notable during this broadcast was more prominent sponsorship, from more logos in the ring to new TV commercials built specifically around the Glory product. Glory chose a small venue for this event, and while I doubt the gate was enough to break even, it’s encouraging that Glory can still produce a good night of fights in light of necessary cost cutting. That said, major questions remain: 1) What will happen to Gokhan Saki, Tyrone Spong, and Joe Schilling? All three fighters have revealed that their contracts with the organization have expired. It has long been rumored that Saki and Spong demand a high asking price for Glory, and based on previous comments by Franklin, it sounds like Glory may be willing to part ways with them. This would be a surprise considering that Saki is the Glory LHW champion--but at this point who knows. Schilling is by far the more shocking case as he is arguably Glory’s first breakout star. It doesn’t bode well for other fighters, especially for other breakouts like Wayne Barrett and Mwekassa, that Schilling and Glory can’t reach a deal. What the future holds in store for us is unclear, but at least for the time being, Glory is still capable of bringing an excellent night of action to you.
Finally, unless he’s involved in community theater or something, referee Al Wichgers really needs to decide on a hair color for himself and to stick to it. Personally, I think he looks perfectly fine with gray hair.