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Danyo Ilunga in Against Mourad Bouzidi at GLORY 26 SuperFight Series

At the GLORY 26 SuperFight Series on December 4th in Amsterdam the main event was originally slated to be a Heavyweight showdown between Mourad Bouzidi and Michael Duut, but today we learned that Duut will not be competing at GLORY 26 and in his stead will be top Light Heavyweight contender Danyo Ilunga. This bout will be contested at Light Heavyweight and is coming hot off of the heels of Ilunga's hotly contested bout with Artem Vakhitov that saw back-and-forth action and Vakhitov just narrowly walking away with the decision.

Bouzidi has been angling for a title shot for a while and a win over Ilunga here could be what he needs to break into that top echelon of the Light Heavyweight division. For Ilunga he'll be looking to get back on the winning track after the loss to Vakhitov and to turn his rather disappointing 2015 around with his second win over the year.


GLORY 26 Airing Live on ESPN3, Two Day Delay on ESPN2

There has been some speculation online about the future of GLORY and if the ESPN deal was a "one and done." GLORY CEO Jon Franklin discussed that there was a verbal agreement between GLORY and ESPN to air GLORY 26 as well while they continued with negotiations and now, today, according to ESPN's WatchESPN website, we know when it will be airing on ESPN platforms. 

GLORY 26 will air live on ESPN3 once again, this time at 4pm Eastern. Much like the previous event, it will air on ESPN2 via tape delay, only this time it won't be 1:30am in the morning. Instead it will air on Sunday, December 6th at 8pm Eastern time. This is a two day tape delay, but on prime time. Airing on a Sunday during football season seems like a hard win for kickboxing, with the Packers vs. the Lions airing at 6:30pm eastern on the same evening. 

We'll have to see how it turns out, but it is good to see that GLORY and ESPN have gotten things ironed out for the next event. 


GLORY 25 on ESPN2 Pulls 198,000 Viewers

The GLORY 25 ESPN deal came together at the very last moment, as in, the deal and time slots were not announced until Thursday afternoon. The slot that ESPN was able to give to GLORY on such short notice was, if anything, a miracle, to say the least. Even finding a spot on a cable network on such short notice is a very big deal, even if that slot was 1:30am on a Saturday morning/Friday night. 

So when the numbers came in and we found out that the GLORY 25 replay at 1:30am pulled in 198,000 viewers it was nothing to scoff at. Yes, that number is down from the previous outing on Spike TV, but when you consider that GLORY 24 was on "late" on Spike TV at 11:00pm and still pulled in 283,000 viewers, pushing 200,000 seems like an incredible feat. The facts are this; with no lead time, no promotion and a late night time slot GLORY was able to push 200,000 viewers.

When I spoke with GLORY officials last week about expectations I was told that -- considering the late time slot -- 200,000 to 250,000 would be considered a big win. This number easily rounds to 200,000 and sets an interesting precedent for the company moving forward. Compared to other ESPN2 programming this isn't even that far off. The college football game average over 1 million viewers, SportsCenter directly following it had 538,000 viewers. The SportsCenter following that had 389,000 viewers. NBA Tonight at 1am had 306,000 viewers and the NBA repeat that aired after GLORY 25 had 153,000 viewers.

By looking at those numbers and considering the time slot, I'm not sure that they are anything to turn you nose up at. 

Imagine a GLORY program on ESPN2 at an earlier time slot with weeks of lead time and promotion behind it. There could be room to grow yet. [source]


Sitthichai vs. Robin: A Second Viewing

GLORY 25's main event will go down in history as one of the most disputed decisions in GLORY history, without a doubt. What many saw in the main event was the younger Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong attacking van Roosmalen at will throughout the five rounds of the fight, with Robin relegated to throwing desperate combinations whenever the Thai would lock up with him near the ropes. 

Yesterday after the fight we made use of Twitter's new poll system to see what fans watching at home thought. The answer was a staggering 78% saw Sitthichai winning.

But, as that poll shows, there is a minority of folks who felt that van Roosmalen picking up the win was justified, even if the live crowd, the announcers, fans and pundits alike saw the fight as a clean sweep for Sitthichai. Making use of WatchESPN's feature to rewatch past content I decided to sit down again with Sitthichai and Robin van Roosmalen in an attempt to see the fight again with fresh eyes, on the lookout for things that van Roosmalen was doing that could win him the fight. 

The key argument that I've seen over the past day is that Sitthichai was kicking nothing but glove. The smoking gun, if you will, for those supporting van Roosmalen's claim to the title is that van Roosmalen was blocking just about every strike that came flying at him and that Sitthichai, under the rules, did not throw strikes that score. Through a second, careful viewing it is clear that throughout the later points in the fight van Roosmalen is bringing his left hand over his chest to his right side to help deflect these shots, at times that hand coming in before the kick and able to deflect the shot down or away.

Earlier on in the fight many of Robin's attempts to block these kicks were to bring both his hands up in a defensive position around his face, then to bend down so that his elbows were covering his midsection. Later on he began swatting at these strikes a bit more. Only a handful of times did van Roosmalen bring his knee up to defend the kick, which is seem as a common defense for body kicks throughout muay thai and kickboxing. This argument that van Roosmalen blocked all of Sitthichai's shots depends on the interpretation that because Sitthichai's strikes did not connect on either the midsection or the head and neck of van Roosmalen that they should not be scored as connecting shots. Looking at GLORY's own rules leaves the subject up to ambiguity here.

"Kicks – striking with the foot or lower leg to a legal target: i.e. front kicks, low kicks inside and outside the leg, middle kicks, high kicks, sidekicks, back kicks, ax kicks, spinning kicks, jumping kicks;"

So, according to GLORY's rules, any kick to a legal target is a scoring strike. If one were to argue that Sitthichai's target of choice was van Roosmalen's ribs or head then yes, Sitthichai did miss a lot of those shots. Why? Because he was clearly aiming for the shoulder and upper arm of van Roosmalen. When Sitthichai wanted to land a lower shot that connected with the midsection, he threw his kicks a lot lower. Believing that someone with the power and accuracy of Sitthichai, while throwing strikes from a safe, unopposed distance, was somehow mistiming and miscalculating all of his shots seems like a long shot.

Let's look at the official Strike Stats from after the fight.

By outward appearances, it seems that Robin's punch flurries from inside of the clinch left a bigger impression that Sitthichai's kicks did, with Sitthichai given credit for only 47% of his kicks.

The redness of van Roosmalen's right arm told the story of the fight; Sitthichai was taking care of one of van Roosmalen's strongest weapons by kicking at his power arm. What's funny is that it worked, with van Roosmalen not throwing any real power combinations from a distance throughout the fight. In fact, the only time that van Roosmalen was really scoring was when either man had his opponent pinned up towards the ropes, where van Roosmalen would let his fists fly with his accurate uppercuts and hooks. But most of the bigger shots were coming with his left hand, not his right. 

These shots from van Roosmalen were landing, though. They appeared to be accurately scored by the on-screen statistics throughout the fight. Let's get something straight here; Robin's work when he did throw those combinations were incredible and he was landing clean with just about every shot. Even then, it is difficult to look at the above stats as well as the fight itself and come to the same conclusion that all three judges did.

From outward appearances it seems that the judges simply wrote off all of those kicks to a legal target. Returning to GLORY's rules on how this fight was scored, we see the breakdown and hierarchy of how judge's score the fight.

A. Number of knockdowns.

B. Damage inflicted on the opponent.

C. Number of clean strikes with spectacular techniques (flying and spinning techniques, etc.)

D. Number of clean strikes with normal techniques.

E. Degree of Aggressiveness or Ring Generalship (whichever has greater impact on the round)

It should be noted that in assessing the general impression, attack is valued higher than defense.

Neither man was able to score a knockdown and as for visible damage, neither man was cut or really damaged in the facial region. Van Roosmalen did show more signs of wear, with his midsection and right arm clearly taking a brunt of the attacks. When it comes to aggressiveness Sitthichai would have to be the winner here. You could make an argument for round five going to Robin, where he seemed to realize that his title reign was in danger and he turned up the heat, but outside of maybe round two it's difficult to assign another round to Robin.

Did van Roosmalen really win this fight? That is for you to decide, but what was clear to me in the case of this fight is that the biggest discrepancy was how to score Sitthichai's kicks to the arms. The outcome of the fight seems to hinge on whether you give credit to Sitthichai for carefully targeting Robin's arm, or if you credit Robin's arm for being in the way of those strikes. 

Even the scorecards from the judges don't seem to line up, at all.

If you are willing to look at those score cards and tell me that those judges rendered the correct decision, I don't even know.


Programming Note: GLORY SuperFight Series Tonight at Midnight on CBS Sports

If you didn't tune in to the GLORY SuperFight Series live yesterday you can watch the replay tonight at 12:00am Eastern/9:00pm Pacific. This time around the SuperFight Series was a can't miss affair, featuring Anatoly Moiseev in the opener, the match of night between both shows in Danyo Ilunga vs. Artem Vakhitov and the controversial GLORY Featherweight Championship bout between Gabriel Varga and Serhiy Adamchuk.


Jon Franklin: Plan is for GLORY 26 on ESPN, Longer Deal Possible in 2016

After Friday's awesome GLORY 25 CEO Jon Franklin spoke with media in Italy about a wide variety of topics, but it felt like television was the key that everyone wanted to talk about. The first question, right off the bat, was about ESPN. The answer seems quite positive, as many were upset about GLORY 25 being possibly a one-and-done on ESPN, but according to Franklin the plan for now is for GLORY 26 Amsterdam to air on ESPN as well while they try to hash out a deal for 2016.

"Yeah, the plan is to have Amsterdam on ESPN," Franklin explained, "and then looking at ultimately signing a long term deal through 2016. We were working at that direction when they had some management changes over at ESPN and then the goal just became to get this fight on and to bring it to the fans on the best sports network in the world. We've done that and now we'll move forward to hopefully bigger and better things."

So for those that were concerned, it looks like we can look forward to more of GLORY on ESPN for the time being. [source]

UPDATE: Stets received further confirmation that GLORY was given the verbal go-ahead for GLORY 26 on ESPN3 and ESPN2.



Awful Decision Mars GLORY 25 Lightweight Championship Bout

Very rarely am I speechless after watching a kickboxing bout, yet after GLORY 25's main event between Robin van Roosmalen and Sitthichai? Speechless.

Robin van Roosmalen is one of the greatest lightweights in the world but tonight in Italy it wasn't his night. Not even close. Sure, he landed punches, but I can't imagine anyone watching Sitthichai vs. Robin and somehow believing that Robin had done enough to secure himself a draw in that fight, never mind a victory. Sitthichai spent the entire fight slamming his left leg into Robin's ribs and arm, alternating with his knee at times and using his jab and teep to keep van Roosmalen at bay.

Never was Sitthichai ever hurt or in any danger at all. Robin landed punches on the rare times when they were close, but none of them made any difference, never mind that his right arm was so banged up from all of the kicks that there was no way that he could throw those punches with any real power. 

Robin didn't win a single round, on just about any metric. All due respect to him, but he was completely dominated and outclassed in that fight. If GLORY doesn't demand an immediate rematch I don't know what they are thinking. Sitthichai deserves better. Their championship deserves better. The fans deserve better. 


Has the Lightweight Division Passed Petrosyan By?

Whenever someone – probably more likely an athlete than a postmaster – disappears for an extended period of time (via injury or otherwise), they inevitably face on their return directly or indirectly questions of whether they still have it, has the competition passed them by, were they really as good as we thought they were.

After Petroysan’s last Glory appearance concluded with him in perfect position for a snow angel, it is difficult not to contemplate, especially since he veered so close to invincibility. It is the breeding ground of speculation - as soon as things tumble out of an order, the gates open up.

Yet, behind these questions seems to be more than just the usual hysteria. Dave elucidated several key observations in his article Wednesday, “the Return of the King.” In his first two bouts back, the basic framework of Petrosyan’s genius was present, except the speed and rhythm that once governed it did not reflect its previous form, giving his opposition an unusual opportunity, to hit him. 

Regression rarely does one wonders and if he is not just working his way back, it is reasonable, not outrageous, to consider Petrosyan potentially assuming a different role in the new iteration of the lightweight division rather than the kingpin.  It may not even matter with the emergence of Josh Jauncey, his opponent tonight, and Sittichai Sittsongpeeong, van Roosmalen’s opponent tonight for the Glory Lightweight Championship, who are unique and pose challenges unlike many of his former foes. 

They’re also younger and witnessed the dissolution of the myth; the fatal uppercut that felled him like a tree cleared to make room for another suburban oasis that may be replanted somewhere else but could hardly be expected to be the same again. In their eyes, he is not the fighter van Roosmalen or Kiria battled, whether he actually still is or not. 

He never will be. 

Questions have to be asked because they’re the only way to the answer. 

At some point, though, they become like annoying contest winners who get the chance to walk the red carpet or escort their favorite artist onstage and they get caught within the crossbeams of excitement and acting as if they do this every day, to the point they almost detach themselves from the experience of living it.

Does Petrosyan still have it? Has the lightweight division passed him by? Was he ever as good as we thought he was?

Giorgio Petrosyan, formerly of the awe-inspiring 71-1-1 record, will return today at Glory 25 against Josh Jauncey, with the questions assuredly in tow, probably dancing off-beat to his entrance music. 

With luck they will get too handsy with someone at ringside and have to leave, at which point we can just enjoy the fight.

It is Giorgio Petrosyan.


Kountermove Your Best Bet for GLORY 25

GLORY 25 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting GLORY events of the year, featuring a top-to-bottom stacked card headlined by the GLORY Lightweight Championship being on the line between champion Robin van Roosmalen and challenger Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong. Oh yeah, and the co-headliner? That’s Giorgio Petrosyan returning to the GLORY ring to take on GLORY’s up-and-comer from Canada in Josh Jauncey.

Oh yeah, and ESPN will be playing GLORY 25 live at 4pm on ESPN3 and airing it on ESPN2 later on at 1:30am thanks to a last minute deal that GLORY was able to put together with ESPN this week. Pretty cool, right?

So of course Kountermove is getting in on this. How could they not? Those two Lightweight battles alone are a huge deal, then there is the Welterweight contender tournament where the winner gets a shot at Nieky Holzken at GLORY 26. Even the undercard is stacked, the SuperFight Series headlined by GLORY Featherweight Champion Gabriel Varga facing tough challenger Serhiy Adamchuk in what should be a tremendous battle.

Let’s get down to brass tacks here; Kountermove is running a bunch of games for GLORY 25 and you are looking for some insight into these fights. Here’s how I’m seeing it right now.

Easy Money

Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong ($5000) -- What is this? Betting against the champion, especially one like Robin van Roosmalen who has proven himself time and time again, including a win over Andy Ristie? On the surface this might seem like blasphemy, especially for fans who have seen van Roosmalen fight before. He is, without a doubt, one of the best in the division, so betting against him should never be easy money.

The thing here is that Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong is not only really good, he’s downright incredible. He made former GLORY Lightweight Champion Davit Kiria look like a chump in a tournament bout, knocking Kiria out with a knee to the body that put him down and out. Davit Kiria had literally never been knocked out before. Ever. Kiria is known as being one of the toughest guys in the division and win, lose or draw not the type to go down to anything, but he went down to Sitthichai’s knee and body-kick heavy style.

Simply put, Sitthichai’s style is the type that gives Dutch style fights a lot of trouble and Robin van Roosmalen is the posterboy for the Dutch style in the division right now. Sitthichai’s ability to sneak knees through defenses and to throw aggressive, heavy body kicks until his opponent’s arms are sore enough to be unable to defend with them anymore is enough to cause anyone problems.

The Underdog

Artem Vakhitov ($4400) -- Danyo Ilunga is great fighter and he’s proven himself time and time again. The thing is, I’m never quite sure that Danyo Ilunga is living up to his full potential in the ring. Somewhere along the way he showed amazing skill, technique and ring awareness throughout his career, but outside of a few bouts he’s never really been able to piece it all together to become the champion that he could be.

Both Ilunga and Vakhitov have recent losses to the newly-crowned GLORY Light Heavyweight Champion, Saulo Cavalari, but Vakhitov showed a lot more against Cavalari and some even saw him winning that fight. Vakhitov has fought against some of the best in the world and his only losses are to the likes of Simon Marcus, Artem Levin, Alexander Stetsurenko and of late, Saulo Cavalari. Each one of those names is one of the bigger names in the kickboxing world right now, all but Cavalari choosing to compete in Middleweight as opposed to Light Heavyweight. Vakhitov has simply shown more in the past few years and feels like the more complete fighter than Ilunga does at present time.

Too Close to Call

Giorgio Petrosyan ($4800) vs. Josh Jauncey ($4800) -- Petrosyan vs. Jauncey is a battle of youth vs. experience and everything that comes with that. Petrosyan ruled over the Lightweight division with an iron fist for many years before Andy Ristie knocked him out back in 2012. Petrosyan has been riddled with injuries over the past few years, most notably his right hand. That right hand seems to get injured in just about every fight and many are wondering if Petrosyan’s day might have come and gone by now.

Jauncey has shown a lot of fire, skill and that he is a very adaptable fighter. His lone loss inside of the GLORY ring is to Sitthichai, but in a tournament setting preparing for a fresher Sitthichai is a tall task. Jauncey was the one who called for this fight, so it seems that he feels ready for the challenge that Petrosyan brings to him -- especially in Italy of all places.

Petrosyan hasn’t looked exactly the same in his three bouts since his return earlier this year, but that could have just been ring rust. The reality here is that whomever wins this fight will hold an immediate claim to challenge for the title. The pressure is all on Petrosyan here, who is in front of a hometown audience looking to prove himself to the world once again and show that he’s still the same fighter that won three huge, prestigious tournaments to become the most dominant fighter of this generation.

The Rest

Welterweight Tournament -- I almost placed Karim Ghajji ($4900) as my underdog pick for this card here because I feel that he’s my early favorite heading into this tournament. His first fight is against Yoann Kongolo ($5300) and Kongolo’s GLORY debut is still fresh in the minds of many. Yeah, he looked good and yeah, Ghajji’s three previous GLORY fights are all losses, but you know what? He went back to the drawing board and he’s on a crazy seven-fight win streak right now outside of GLORY, including a win over one of the top fighters in GLORY’s Welterweight division in Alexander Stetsurenko, the last man that he lost to at GLORY 13 back in 2013.

Murthel Groenhart ($5200) seems to have himself a clear path to the finals against Nicola Gallo ($4700), but he just didn’t look great in his last fight against Chad Sugden and while I see him getting past Gallo, I’m not sure how he handles Ghajji. That being said, either Ghajji or Murthel could easily take this tournament without much surprise.

Featherweight Championship -- Gabriel Varga ($4900) is the favorite here against Serhiy Adamchuk ($4700) but not by much. This fight is pretty close to being “too close to call,” but at the same time Varga has shown very little holes in his game. Adamchuk has been incredibly impressive in his last two GLORY bouts, but Gabriel Varga’s style is the kind that can give any fighter trouble.


Further Details on GLORY 25 on ESPN2/3 and the Future

When the first rumblings of GLORY landing on ESPN came across my desk a few weeks ago it seemed improbable. As the weeks leading to GLORY 25 withered away the talk started to clarify and it appeared that all of the viable options had been ruled out, leaving ESPN as the winner in the lottery to help save kickboxing in the United States. Even now it feels a bit surreal. The UFC has been running twitter campaigns for years to try to get replays shown on ESPN SportsCenter, many call ESPN the "kingmaker" in sports, the network that could make or break a sport just by paying attention to it.

That's why kickboxing, the fledgling little sport that it is felt so distant from that world. ESPN is no stranger to kickboxing, airing it throughout its infancy, first airing PKA kickboxing from a stretch of 1979 until 1986 when PKA moved on to other networks. ESPN also aired some K-1 from time to time, but there wasn't a concrete broadcast deal in place, the footage simply jammed in at random times at night on the weekends without much warning. There wasn't anything tangible to follow. 

ESPN is taking another chance on kickboxing with GLORY 25, albeit a much more calculated risk this time around. GLORY 25 will air on ESPN's ESPN3 platform live at 4pm Eastern on Friday. ESPN3 is ESPN's web based platform where they get a bit more experimental. On there you'll find traditional sports as well as some of the less traditional stuff like World of Warcraft and StarCraft II. If GLORY 25 was airing on there alone it wouldn't feel too great. Instead, they'll be re-airing GLORY 25 early Saturday morning in the east coast at 1:30am Eastern. That is not the greatest time slot in the world, but it will be following their late night SportsCenter.

The future is not as certain. When this deal was described to me over the past few days there was never a feeling that it was "one and done," that this would be a new television partner for GLORY in the United States. Stets spoke to ESPN this afternoon and for right now the plan is to air GLORY 25, look at the results and move on from there. 

An eventual, live spot for events taking place in the United States on ESPN2 would be considered a pretty big win for GLORY, but considering how late of notice this whole thing was this deal should be considered a success no matter what.

UPDATE: The MMA community seem to be a bit confused by this deal. We've gotten confirmation from multiple sources inside of the company that this was not a time buy. This was a good faith effort deal on the part of both sides done on very short notice. ESPN and GLORY are currently negotiating a longer term deal at the moment. Is this a "one time" deal for GLORY 25? Yes. Does that mean that this is the end of their dealings? Not by a long shot.

If anything, GLORY and ESPN hustled to ensure that American fans would have a way to watch GLORY 25. Not only that, but they are airing it live on their web platform and on tape delay for those without access to said platform.

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