We have been waiting for over a month to see this fight and it has finally been uploaded. Hesdy Gerges and Jahfarr Wilnis met in the finals of the Kunlun super heavyweight tournament on June 7th in Chongqing, China. This was both of their second fights for that night, Wilnis got a 2nd round KO over Asihati and Gerges won a split decision over the man that beat Verhoeven, Andrey Gerasimchuk.
The pace in this fight is just insane for anyone, let alone two huge men. I don't think either of these two could even fit in a phone booth yet they managed to fight in one for 3 rounds non-stop until they looked exhausted, but of course it was a draw and they had to fight one more round. I felt the fight was very close and even after the extra round I couldn't choose winner.
GLORY’s next event is August 7th in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Las Vegas is known for being one of the fight capitals of the world and GLORY will finally make their debut there in the historic Hard Rock. The main event of the show is a GLORY Welterweight Championship bout between Nieky Holzken and Raymond Daniels, two men that have fought before and will meet for the newly-vacated championship.
In a way, Daniels vs. Holzken is a perfect way to sum up GLORY as an organization at the moment. GLORY began with a bang, pushing out nothing but star-studded cards with fights between top names from K-1 and It’s Showtime, but things have changed quite a bit since then. Some would say the changes were unwelcome, while others would argue that the health of the organization and the sport in particular should come before glitz and glamour. Chief among them would be GLORY’s CEO Jon J. Franklin.
Franklin was involved with GLORY previously, but his role was in assisting them with television rights deals and not running the entire organization. After some reshuffling after GLORY Last Man Standing failed to deliver in PPV sales last year Franklin was placed into the unenviable position of the CEO of GLORY and basically just told, “fix it.” GLORY started off big, just as big as the shows it was replacing from Japan, but the problem was there was really no market for it anymore and the shows, while impressive, helped the organization to bleed money for the first few years.
“You know,” Franklin explained to me when talking about the difficulties of taking over. “First thing I thought was that I was going to come in and trim the fat. Just come in and cut out everything that we didn’t need, make the whole operation leaner, more profitable and to ensure that we’ll still be running shows down the line. You can’t just cut everything, though, which I learned the hard way early on. There are contracts in place and if you don’t honor those contracts things can get messy in a hurry, even if those contracts were expensive for us at the time.”
That included some of the older, bigger name fighters who have now mostly retired or moved on to what they consider greener pastures for the time being. There was a marked change in direction for the organization after Franklin joined, which he is willing to admit wasn’t always perfect, but has been adjusted with some fine tuning. “Was the Oklahoma show maybe a bit of a stretch for us? Probably, in hindsight, yeah. That might have been a bit too far in the other direction, but if you look back at our recent shows I think that we’ve really found the right mix for us that keeps the fans in the arena happy and is enjoyable to viewers.”
Part of the change was removing some of the more costly aspects of the production, which meant cutting back on production staff that were attending events and even scaling back on travel expenses. “As cool as the ramp was to have, it was an expense and due to how tight our shows are on Spike TV, you’d never really see them anyway. On top of that, most of our more memorable entrances were fighters interacting with the crowd more, like Gokhan Saki at GLORY 15 Istanbul.”
As for the travel? “I travel coach now, which a few of the older guys were kind of shocked by. ‘How does it look that our CEO is traveling coach?’ They asked me, just not understanding it, still worried about image. I think that it shows that we are very serious about our organization and for its longevity that we aren’t spending frivolously or concerned about things like that. I don’t mind doing it and I believe that it sets a good example for everyone else.”
In a way, Nieky Holzken vs. Raymond Daniels is the perfect GLORY title fight under Jon J. Franklin’s leadership, especially in the Hard Rock, a venue that as a boxing promoter he had worked to put on shows numerous times in the past. Holzken is one of the most renowned and revered kickboxers in the world while Raymond Daniels is an American fighter who might not have the same level of credentials as a professional that Holzken does, but has worked tirelessly to transfer his skills in karate to the sport of kickboxing. His work has resulted in some of GLORY’s most spectacular knockouts and for Daniels becoming one of the more viral and notable stars for the organization.
“He’s incredible,” he said about Daniels. “I think that showcasing a fighter like Daniels helps to set us apart and really stand out. Nieky is an incredible boxer and Daniels is an incredible athlete who does things that nobody else does inside of the ring. The two-touch kicks, spinning back kicks, just everything that he does takes your breath away and leaves an impression.”
Many older fans see the fight between Daniels and Holzken as a forgone conclusion, but Franklin isn’t worried about a loss for either man hurting their image, instead noting that fighters with heart and personality tend to stand out. “I know that I’ll take some flak for this, but how can you not love a fighter like Dustin Jacoby? He’s still learning the ropes in our sport, but he entered the Road 2 Glory tournament on a day’s notice and won the whole thing, he fought Mourad Bouzidi on short notice and in Bellator stepped into the cage against King Mo on short notice. The guy is a fighter and he’s exciting to watch. I don’t think that losses define a fighter at all and I think that fans have certain connections with fighters and that doesn’t just fade away after a loss or two.”
GLORY is, of course, involved with the big Dynamite event in September that will showcase Bellator fights in a cage and GLORY fights inside of the GLORY ring. The event was in the works for quite a while and Franklin talks about how pleased he has been in the whole process. “How can you not like working with Scott Coker? I’d say he’s one of the top promoters in the world. He’s been a pleasure to work with and we are looking forward to putting on a great show. I mean, Bellator has an amazing platform that they’ve grown since Scott came in and we get to be a part of that with Dynamite.”
The inclusion of GLORY seems almost academic considering the caliber of events that they’ve produced in their short tenure and how Franklin and crew have been able to work miracles out in the previous few events with their reduced budget. Franklin does credit the fighters for sticking with them through the transition, as well. “What people don’t realize is that 95% of our fighters stuck with us through lean times. That is incredible, they really believe in what we are doing and believe that this is where they belong. Look at guys like Errol Zimmerman or Rico Verhoeven who stuck with us through everything and are just excited to get out there and fight.”
The card isn’t settled yet for Dynamite, but GLORY has promised to bring their A-game for this. There was talk of the event possibly happening without GLORY’s assistance, but the reality here is that GLORY’s stable of fighters are some of the very best in the world. The Dynamite event is a huge stage for kickboxing in general and GLORY has top talent in healthy supply to wow both old and new fans alike. It also speaks further for the health of the relationship with Spike TV, which Franklin feels strongly about.
“I was just out there at the Bellator show and I walked away from my meetings with Scott and everyone at Spike TV feeling very positive about it,” he explained. “We have a longterm deal with Spike with extension options and everyone who see GLORY programming feels strongly about it. Could the landscape change in the future, could our relationship change? It could, but that is the nature of television. We aren’t concerned, though, we have a healthy relationship and a lot more shows that we are planning right now.”
The market is ever-changing for combat sports but what is clear is that GLORY is in this for the long haul and is looking to help to grow the sport worldwide as well as the United States. While Spike TV is usually the hot topic, Franklin made sure to mention that they don’t plan on abandoning their international markets any time soon. They have healthy television relationships all throughout Europe and Asia and he notes how it is easier to fill up arenas throughout Europe with their top talent, like in Lille, France where Rico Verhoeven defended his GLORY Heavyweight Championship against Benjamin Adegbuyi.
In a way, it is refreshing to speak with Franklin and to hear him be so candid about the past and future of the organization. They are very aware of their product and aware of any possible missteps that may have happened in the past and are always looking for ways to provide quality entertainment to all of their fans across the world, all while spending responsibility and ensuring that the company has a bright future. Because, as Franklin told me, having less opportunities for fighters to work and make money is good for no one, so all of the fighters are invested in the future of both the sport and the organization.
GLORY 23 is Friday, August 7th live on Spike TV from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
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.
On June 27th in Greece the K-1 legend that is Mike Zambidis will step into the ring one last time in his retirement fight. The 34-year old fighter will cap off a long and storied career by fighting one of the world's toughest Lightweights in Steve Moxon. In a way, Zambidis fighting Moxon for his retirement fight is a very Zambidis thing to do; he didn't have to fight someone as tough and relevant as Moxon. Zambidis is going out on his own terms, which is rare for many fighters, it also meant that he could choose someone that he could just easily plow through for a memorable knockout for his retirement. Instead Zambidis chose a challenge.
I think when we all look back on Mike Zambidis it should be that fighting spirit that we all remember. We had a chance to talk to Zambidis prior to his big fight this coming weekend and a reflecting Zambidis had a lot to say about his career, his fans and even his most memorable fights. Mike Zambidis fights Steve Moxon on June 27th in Athens, Greece under the Iron Challenge banner.
LK: First of all, thank you for all of the great memories in the ring. I'm not sure that there are many fighters out there as entertaining and full of heart like you.
MZ: Thank you very much for your kindness. It is very important for an athlete to be respected by the audience and especially by the insiders of his field with such great experience.
LK: After a successful 15-plus-year career you are retiring, what was the decision making process like for this? What finally pushed you to move into retirement?
MZ: I am involved in kick boxing for 24 years and in times that kick boxing was not popular in my country but I dreamed and looked up with my head down and after huge sacrifices and endless hours of training, I have achieved 178 fights, 155 wins and 87 Kos. I had the honor to compete during the golden years of kick boxing in major events and with the best athletes worldwide.
After all this wonderful and demanding journey , I feel enormous gratitude that I manage to finish my career healthy and in high competitive level. Now, I feel full inside so as to go on with the next chapters of my life.
LK: How important is it for you to be able to retire in front of your friends, family and fans in Greece?
MZ: There is nothing better than to give my last battle in Greece, although there have been several interesting proposals by others countries, but my decision was the only way.
The Greeks support me in many ways, either daily out on the street, on social media, or filling each stadium where my battles are organised and transfer their energy, which is very valuable for me.
LK: Reflecting back on your career, what was your favorite fight?
MZ: I have many favorite fights … But I will pick the first that came to my mind. It was the first time I stepped my foot in Japan and my first battle there with the champion of K-1 in 2003. For a long time, I was dreaming to participate in K-1. I won the eight-fold in the K -1 Oceania Australia and John Wein Parr in the finals and so I found myself opposite to the Dutch Albert Kraus. In the beginning of the second round, I managed to knock him out, diving in the deep sea of K-1. A shocking experience for a young unknown Greek athlete back then.
LK: What made you select Steve Moxon as a final opponent? Moxon is an incredibly tough, top-ranked opponent. Is this just the Mike Zambidis warrior spirit that wouldn't accept an easy fight for his retirement?
MZ: I respect Steve Moxon and he has provoked me many times in the past. As he said in the past, I was his idol due to the similar fighting style and I think that it is very interesting for the audience to see. The experts of martial arts predict a spectacular battle between two strong athletes that are chasing the knock out. As you said, I could accept an easy fight at this moment but I love challenges a lot. I am not just an athlete, I am a warrior and I learned in my life to fight, aiming high. This is a challenge I would like to take, as I think it will be a Titans’ battle.
LK: What do you think that your legacy will be on the sport after you retire?
MZ: The fights I have given in K-1, my wins over the world’s greatest champions of kick boxing, my «iron» fists and my fighting style, I think will be my legacy. Also, the fact that I was a Greek warrior fighting alone in the biggest kick boxing events worldwide, I think is going to be a nice thing to remember about me.
LK: What kind of plans do you have for your retirement? Do you plan on working with fighters and training them, running events, running a business or are you just planning to relax?
MZ: In Greece I own two fighting clubs where I give kick boxing lessons, so I will continue to run them giving more time and train athletes. In parallel, I plan to offer kids seminars for nutritional education, sports education, self-defense, in order to strengthen their self-confidence and any other important experience I can offer.
LK: Is there a fighter out there that you believe could help the Mike Zambidis legacy continue on, or do you think that you are retiring as a one-of-a-kind talent?
MZ: I believe that every athlete is unique; no one can be the same with the other. Of course nowadays, there are many good athletes in the world who can offer many things to kick boxing and achieve great things. On the other hand, I believe that the Golden Era of kick-boxing has ended and strong teams like the ones gathered in Japan or in heavyweights like Peter Aerts, Ernesto Hust, Le Banner, Bernado, Loginidis, Andy Hug and in K-1 max 70 kg with Masato, Kraus, Kyshenko, Drago, Buakaw, Souwer and many others won’ t exist again for 2 reasons: Firstly, it is rare to have good fighters in their best physical condition to compete in the same event and secondly the global economic crisis which dissolves dreams and shrinks everything.
LK: Are there any regrets from your career, or are you satisfied with your accomplishments?
MZ: After 178 fights, 155 wins and 87 KOs, I would be ungrateful if I said that I am not satisfied with my accomplishments. Thank God, I don’t have second thoughts and I am happy. I would be ungrateful if I was not happy with what I have accomplished. Definitely, there were a lot of difficulties, frustrations , injustices and injuries during all this wonderful trip but I keep the good moments, that were definitely more and I am glad because I used all the bad ones to become more mature and get myself in the next battles more «angry» in a creative and investing way and complete human and fighter.
LK: Is there anything that you'd like to say to your fans and supporters all throughout the world?
MZ: I would like to thank them personally, one by one. Their support, energy and love are precious for every step I take. I’ ve always felt very honored for the people who supported me in my fights around the world. That’s why I was training and I gave 100% of my soul and body in my battles so that I could please them.
I was lucky enough to actually be behind the scenes at Glory 22 in Lille so watching this video made by Benini Stephane just brought back the intensity in Stade Pierre-Mauroy that evening. It was a beautiful venue and Glory did a great job dealing with its size. Each dressing room only had about 4 fighters in it, and they were chosen appropriately according to when they were fighting so that everyone had time and space to warm up.
Stephane has made a black and white and a color version of the video and he really captured some wonderful moments.
We had been waiting to see this video of Glory lightweight champion Robin van Roosmalen vs "Stone Cold" Steve Moxon which took place on June 3rd in New York. This was a charity black tie event for the Happy Hearts Fund, as you can see by the poster the co-main event featured Pierre Andurand, one of Glory's biggest shareholders. I personally think its really great of Pierre to get in the ring and try at least one fight, it really shows that he is a huge kickboxing fan and just an overall good guy, maybe we will get to see that video soon.
Van Roosmalen vs Moxon was a much more competitive fight than I had anticipated considering Moxon has been a little bit off his game lately. Moxon fought really well and showed great head movement and footwork avoiding Robin's hooks early. Eventually Robin started with the leg kicks and that's when the tide changed in the Glory champions favor. This was just a very fun fight to watch with two very similar style fighters.
This weekend WLF ran what they had been billing as the fight of the century. No, not Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather (although they did promote it as on part with that), but instead Buakaw Banchamek vs. Yi Long. It was muay thai legend vs. kung fu legend and of course, only in China. China has seen a steady rise in interest in kickboxing over the past few years, helped in part by Wu Lin Feng, K-1 and Kunlun airing on national television there.
So this fight happened and I dunno, take from it what you will.
Lion Fight 22 is on Friday evening on AXS TV, live from Las Vegas and as always, they are promising a night of high octane muay thai action. They’ve yet to fail to deliver since they’ve gone live on AXS TV and even though there was a last minute change to the main event, the show is still primed to deliver a lot of full rules muay thai action. A part of that action is Jason Andrada vs. Anthony Castrejon at 122lbs.
When it came time for me to decide who to focus on for this event, as much as I respect Kevin Ross and Tiffany Van Soest or the main eventer Jo Nattawut, it was hard not to be drawn to Jason Andrada. Andrada is not the most experienced fighter on the card -- even though he had a long, storied amateur career before turning pro -- but he’s been featured on Lion Fight events for a while now. He’s coming off of a tough loss to John Nofer that came via an elbow TKO but he was all smiles after that loss, showing more character in loss than most show in victory.
Andrada is one of those guys that you might not see main eventing Lion Fight events, but more often than not you see him on the card and when you see him, you know to expect a fun fight and for him to leave it all in the ring. It’s not a coincidence, either, because his disposition is that of a laid back guy that is always looking to put on a show. Andrada sees himself as one of the many guys who is just trying to make an impression.
“You know, I think for some guys, guys like the ones that I’ve been fighting like Nofer, they’re all looking to make a name for themselves just like I am. There are a lot of guys out there that aren’t getting featured on TV like I am and they are clawing for those spots,” he explained. “All of these guys out there they go out there swinging, not many fighters that I’ve encountered are gonna take a shot and not want to go down swinging. Look at a guy like Pedro Gonzalez, for example. A lot of people in muay thai want to see someone demonstrating their perfect muay thai technique, but he’s more of a brawler, an MMA guy. I like watching him fight and so do a lot of other people, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.”
He was quick to point out some of the more established names in the world of muay thai like Kevin Ross, Chad Mulkey, Joe Schilling and Tiffany Van Soest earned their spots through not only being skilled, but through their humility, personalities and experience. Andrada is quite accomplished in his own right, but he’s quick to point out those that have accomplished more than him and how he strives to be better and achieve what they have.
Muay Thai might be a career for Andrada now, who spends most of his time at the gym training for fights or holding classes, but he likes to get some distance sometimes as well. “I love fighting, of course,” he said. “But sometimes I need time away from it, so I’m not one of those guys that has to watch every fight ever. I’ll watch my friends, you know? If Kevin, Chaz, Joe, any of my friends are fighting I’ll watch it and look, I could read off a pretty long list of fighters that I’m friends with and watch them fight, but I’m not a junkie for it anymore or anything. It’s nice to take time away. You know, I come home, I watch TV, watch Netflix, just relax sometimes and get some distance. It keeps the passion there.”
His fight on Friday is a rematch with Anthony Castrejon, the two of them meeting a few years back when they were both amateurs in a bout that Castrejon won via a head kick knockout. Andrada is open to any and all challenges, but was not really looking for this rematch. “I mean, we’ve fought before, he landed a nice head kick, which was good for him, but we are professionals now. A few of my recent professional fights have been rematches from my amateur days, which is fine,” he explained. “But look, like 1/3rd of my pro fights have been rematches from my amateur days. He’s been calling me out since before he fought Victor Saravia, so he’s wanted this for a while. I’m looking to grow as a fighter and be ready to challenge these international guys. I’m not saying that I’m looking past anyone,” he said. “I’m really not, I just want to be fighting guys from all over the world now. I want to be fighting guys from Japan, Europe and Thailand, I want to be ready to be able to go overseas and make a big impression. I don’t know if these rematches are going to really prepare me for that.”
He goes on to explain that it isn’t a great fight for either of them, considering that a loss for either guy could be the end of their Lion Fight careers. “I look at how UFC handles losses and you know, once you start racking up a few in a row they tend to cut a guy. I don’t want to be that guy and I’m sure that Castrejon doesn’t want to be that guy, either. Two straight losses wouldn’t be a good thing.”
Andrada is a guy that isn’t afraid to talk about his shortcomings, although he admits talking about losses can be tough. “Man, it sucks when I meet somebody new and they are like; ‘what do you do?’ I tell them that I’m a fighter and they ask about my last fight and it’s like, you gotta tell them that you came in second place,” he joked. “Nobody wants to have to say that, to say that you lost, but you gotta look forward.”
When it comes to Kevin Ross, it’s hard for Andrada to not talk about his friend and cohort with nothing but respect. “Kevin is a great guy, really. I mean, I learn so much from him still and no matter how much success he has, he’s always the same guy,” which spiraled into us discussing how Ross handles himself in the ring, how he’s always entertaining and composed, but always easy to talk to and deal with. “Yeah, I mean, he’s like the Keanu Reeves of muay thai in a way. He has all of this success and he hasn’t changed, he’s still the same guy. At the same time, he’s been through a lot of tough stuff in his life and he doesn’t let it drag him down. He’s always that guy that I like to be around.”
It should be noted that Andrada himself is heading down that same path right now; the amiable guy that seems always cool to be around. He loves to eat and is eagerly awaiting his favorite part of his post-fight life; feasting on some pizza. What struck me the most was that I was talking to him while he was gearing up to head out to the weigh-ins for Lion Fight 22, him just having stepped out of an epsom bath and he was not only in good spirits, but exhibited the same easy-going, friendly demeanor that Ross always projects while still focused and prepared for his fight.
Becoming a star in any sport is difficult, there will be setbacks, there will be moments of glory and there will be those quiet, contemplative moments. Andrada has experienced many of these throughout the span of his professional and amateur career thus far and tomorrow night looks to be another in those collection of moments that will make up his career while he continues to strive for greatness and move up the ladder. What we know is that no matter what Andrada is looking to put his body on the line and to entertain us and that he’ll do it with a smile. Because he’s that ridiculous.
Lion Fight 22 airs tomorrow night, May 22nd on AXS TV at 10:00pm Eastern time.
Finally, right? Here we are with the every few monthly update to the LiverKick rankings. These rankings are updated when there is the most movement across divisions, which now seemed like a good time considering some of the recent shakeups across multiple divisions. As always, I will explain that our rankings are tabulated on who beats who, not on talent, not on flair of wins or even past success. If you were a monster three years ago but lost to a few guys in the top ten and got squeezed out then you got squeezed out. A win over a top ten fighter will get you a spot, but if you aren't fighting anyone in the top ten it'll be pretty tough to get in unless someone drops out due to inactivity. After one year of inactivity a fighter will be dropped from the rankings and upon return will need to compete at the top ten to regain ranking.
So let's get right to May, shall we? At Heavyweight there wasn't much movement at all. Within the ranks of the top ten nobody within the top ten has lost to a top ten opponent or beaten a top ten opponent above them. The only omission is a sad one in Ben Edwards, who has focused on boxing instead. Samedov moved up because of this and Ismael Londt made his return to the rankings after an absence had knocked him off a few years ago. It was down to him or Pavel Zhuravlev and it was heavily weighed before we decided to add Londt back.
For Light Heavyweight there was a similar situation of a few fighters being considered inactive and were forced to be removed. In this case it was two of the best in the world in Tyrone Spong and Nathan Corbett. In turn GLORY's Zack Mwekassa made his rankings debut and Reduon Cairo gets the nod for all of the good work that he's been doing around the world. Not much has changed at Middleweight, outside of Simon Marcus bumping up to #2 due to the draw with Artem Levin and everyone else shuffling down. After careful consideration we decided that Robert Thomas should remain unranked until he scores a top ten win and after much deliberation decided to give the man who beat Simon Marcus earlier this year, Fang Bian, a nod.
Welterweight remains untouched. Lightweight had a bit of shuffling, including Enriko Kehl moving up, Souwer moving down and more. Aikpracha after a few losses has been removed and Dylan Salvador, who holds impressive wins over a few in the top ten, has been added.
Now Featherweight. Oh Featherweight, how do we even explain your existence right now? After a long study of the division we came to the conclusion that if GLORY had really moved on from the Japanese talent in this weight class that it was difficult to hold their division as the gold standard as with every other division. A division without Masaaki Noiri or Yuta Kubo is difficult. Right now there is so much talent within that division all fighting each other in Japan that their omission feels tough to justify. K-1 Japan, KRUSH and ShootBoxing have been pumping out fights between the best in the world and we could not ignore it.
So we poured over the division and came to a rather shocking conclusion; Yasuomi Soda was the #1 Featherweight in the world. How? He beat Minoru Kimura and then Minoru Kimura beat Kaew Fairtex. From there it'll all make sense.
"You're always training to fight someone who is training to fight you..." That is a fighter's life according to Simon Marcus, and that's a very accurate portrait when you think of it. Simon Marcus, is not an enigma, he's not one for shadow games or deception. Who he is however, is a man of ordinary means and on Friday, May 8th, a man with an incredible opportunity, the chance to become the middle weight champion of GLORY, the world's premier kickboxing association. Ahead of this event, I had to opportunity to speak with Simon about what we can expect on Friday night as well as a peek into the life of the "Bad Bwoy".
For people who are unaware, Levin and Marcus have faced each other before. During that bout that was conducted under Muay Thai rules, Marcus was the victor. While he admits that a previous win over an opponent may inspire some level of confidence knowing that you have previously beat that person. Today, Marcus chooses to focus on the task at hand and what it will take to be victorious again. Marcus has also made the choice not to focus on the what ifs, especially 'what if he loses'. He stated that in his life, he continues to strive and even in those instances when a fight does go his way he has a desire to continue to improve and get better as a person. Of the things that has striven to improve in the ring, Simon stated that he has upped his cardio which he demonstrated during open work outs at The Boxing Gym on Wednesday as well as during his hard fought victory during the middleweight tournament last month in Dubai. Marcus also stated that he has challenged himself in improving his conditioning, strength and overall pushed himself to his limits in preparation for GLORY 21. He states that even on the winning side he is never satisfied with his performance and is always looking for ways he can improve. While he is highly critical of himself, Marcus also expressed that he is attempting to learn how to enjoy those successes.
Coming into the world of a disciplined fighter at age 18, as in the case of many other fighters, provided an outlet and an opportunity for him to turn a negative into a positive. Instead of getting into trouble for fighting, it has now become his passion and something for which he now receives praise. As for his personal road to GLORY, Marcus stated that he trained as hard as he could, fought as much as he could and believed in himself. In addition to that Marcus stated that he travelled and made a lot of sacrifices. He also stated that many times he fought for free and did everything he could to get experience, good training and anything he could to get better, not necessarily looking at the immediate pay out but his long term goal of getting to the top.
What does he bring to the ring? Simon Marcus brings a warrior spirit and an intellectual mentality, not to mention a lot of power and heart. Additionally Simon Marcus brings excitement and a willingness to pull out all the stops to get the win.
As for the future, Marcus plans to completely focus on GLORY and winning/defending the title. His vision does not stop there. Simon Marcus would like to be a person who will take GLORY to another level and having people interested and seeing what the best striking in the world is about.
To anyone who might be interested in embarking on a journey such as this, Simon Marcus stated that he would not discourage anyone from pursing a fighter's life, but he quickly differentiated between having a calling vs. having an interest. He stated if a person is just interested in being a fighter for the accolades or whatever comes along with it, that might not be the way to go. He added that if someone has a love for fighting or a person has fighting in them, and they feel that fighting brings out the best in them or develops them, then that would be a more satisfying path to take. Fighting as a career and as a lifestyle is difficult emotionally and physically.
After retirement, which Marcus stated at this point he doesn't know when that will occur, his love of fighting, teaching and martial arts directs his future to remain on its current path, in the realm of combat sports entertaining options of possibly promoting or opening a gym and in that way continuing to pass the tradition on. If we hadn't met Simon Marcus as the Muay Thai/kickboxing practitioner that we see today, Marcus stated that it's very difficult to guess where he'd be today as he was always fighting and getting in trouble doing it. He admits that when he was younger he had an interest in basketball and was a good player in high school but didn't have the focus on school to continue on this path. From where he sits now Marcus appears to be happy, he is an accomplished fighter, a father and fighting in an organization that he feels is right on the cusp of becoming something huge!
Beyond Friday night, Marcus has no one in particular on his radar, stating that he believes his greatest fight is with himself because he has the belief that in anything you do, there is a constant inner battle to become the best version of you.
So while on Friday night at GLORY 21 we won't get to see Simon Marcus vs. Simon Marcus, we will witness a continuation of this young man's journey to champion status in a battle between two of the best middleweights in the world. On Friday night, Simon acknowledges that he has tremendous opportunity and when it's one man's time, it's his time and critics can say what they like, but Friday is his time. He feels he has done the things necessary to have earned this opportunity. To his fans, Simon Marcus sends out a sincere and heartfelt thanks. To those who have supported him and all the friends and family who have traveled to San Diego he expresses sincere gratitude.