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LiverKick Best of 2013: Fighter of the Year

Photo (C) Bauzen

The year 2013 was a tremendous year for the sport of Kickboxing as we saw GLORY take aim at America as one of its home bases and really made some strides that I honestly thought we’d never see for the sport here. GLORY not only ran shows, but they ran a bunch of shows and those shows were attended by a good number of paying customers. Then, to top it off, GLORY moved from CBS Sports Network and internet PPVs to Spike TV, picking up steam and viewers with every show. That was a big deal.

GLORY wasn’t the only organization to make moves, either, as we saw another season of the SuperKombat World Grand Prix, the birth of LEGEND in Russia and K-1 starting to get the gears in motion by running both a Heavyweight World Grand Prix and a World MAX tournament within the same year. But which company did what doesn’t really matter, what matters are the fights and the fighters.

Throughout the coming week we’ll be looking at the best of 2013 throughout multiple categories, but first we kick things off with LiverKick’s 2013 Fighter of the Year, which was probably the most competitive category of them all. Just about every GLORY tournament winner deserved a spot as Fighter of the Year and the decision between the last two was incredibly difficult, but a decision was rendered. First, let’s look at the runner-up.

LiverKick 2013 Fighter of the Year - Runner Up: Andy Ristie

Man, what a year for Andy Ristie. The man was a wrecking machine with a five-fight win streak in 2013, including two wins that eclipsed the rest. Ristie’s wins were over Alessandro Campagna, Albert Kraus, Niclas Larsen, Giorgio Petrosyan and Robin van Roosmalen. The last two were by knockout to claim the spot of #1 in the 70kg division across the world, which is a herculean feat.

If it wasn’t for the guy who claimed the top spot having as great of a year as he did, Andy Ristie would have been a shoo-in for Fighter of the Year.

LiverKick 2013 Fighter of the Year: Tyrone Spong

Andy Ristie’s 2013 was incredibly impressive, but Tyrone Spong’s 2013 started off with a complete annihilation of a three-time K-1 World Grand Prix Champion in Remy Bonjasky before heading into the GLORY 9 Light Heavyweight tournament. GLORY 9 was unique in that it was an 8-man tournament, not a 4-man tournament, meaning that Spong had to win three fights in one night, which saw him knock out Michael Duut, pummel Filip Verlinden for three rounds and then stop the reigning king of the Light Heavyweight division, Danyo Ilunga, in just one round.

What followed after that was Tyrone Spong making up for one of the few strange points of contention on his record with a rematch against the legendary Nathan “Carnage” Corbett. Carnage has been the king of 95kg Muay Thai for what seems like forever now, remaining unchallenged. Carnage was on a seven-year win streak (with a random No Contest to Spong in the mix, even though he had knocked Spong out) before he met Tyrone Spong and not only did Spong look good against Carnage, but he looked incredible. No one has been able to make Carnage look that lost in the ring, which is what set Tyrone Spong apart and made him the LiverKick 2013 Fighter of the Year.

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A New Chapter for Cro Cop Ahead of Glory Debut

Glory

Peter Aerts has shown us that while a 40-year-old body that has endured a lifetime of physical punishment may not respond as vigorously as it once could, a smart gameplan can still provide a path to victory for an older fighter. Aerts’ shocking upset of Semmy Schilt in 2010 and near upset of Rico Verhoeven in 2013 was a testament both to his unreal physical and mental toughness as well as to his ability to execute an effective gameplan that pushed his opponents out of their desired fighting styles. Indeed, adapting and finding a way to win is both Peter Aerts’ unique forte and the source of his career longevity, remaining in the top-10 across multiple decades and generations of fighters.

When 39-year-old Mirko Cro Cop makes his Glory debut, he will find himself in a division full of dangerous young opponents ranging from skilled technical fighters like Rico Verhoeven to bloodthirsty knockout artists like Daniel Ghita, Gokhan Saki, and Errol Zimmerman. After enduring years of trauma fighting through the ranks of K-1, Pride, and the UFC, Cro Cop will have to fight smart, trading physical prowess for intelligent and perceptive kickboxing. He will have to become a crafty and tactically adept fighter to stay afloat in a shark tank of heavyweight talent.

Perhaps sensing the need for reinvention, Cro Cop has actually developed a close-ranged dirty boxing style in his return to kickboxing. This tactic appears to have paid off for the Croatian, who has now gone 6-0 with notable wins over SuperKombat veterans Ismael Londt, Pavel Zhuravlev, and Loren Javier Jorge as well as young American upstarts Randy Blake and Jarrell Miller, controversial home town decisions notwithstanding. While his new style may not please those who wish to see Cro Cop turn back the clock, the move reflects Cro Cop’s growth as a fighter and signifies his maturing expectations. It’s a wise decision that has allowed him to remain competitive in today’s kickboxing world.

While a fight against semi-retired Remy Bonjasky may not necessarily provide great insight into Cro Cop’s place in the heavyweight division, it will undoubtedly offer kickboxing fans around the world the chance to see one of the great legends of the sport return to the sport’s grandest stage, and in 2014, following a year of upsets which saw long-held titles, ranks, and orthodoxies overturned, Cro Cop may have some surprises--which hopefully include some vintage LHK finishes--left in store.

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Buakaw's Time to Reclaim the 70kg Throne in Kickboxing

Buakaw

The past few years have been turbulent times in the life of Sombat Banchamek, best known as Buakaw Banchamek, formerly known as Buakaw Por. Pramuk. The legendary fighter from Thailand is perhaps best known for his tenure within K-1, where he took home two K-1 World MAX Championships, cementing his legacy as one of the best 70kg fighters in the world. For fans of Banchamek, the last few years have been trying ones, as Banchamek found himself with tremendous personal and professional struggles that kept him out of the ring, or if he was in the ring, facing sub-par competition to keep the legend of Buakaw alive and well.

The first struggle was with his home camp, Por. Pramuk gym, where Buakaw felt that he was being treated unfairly and chose to leave. Well, things aren’t that simple in Thailand, with the bond between a gym and fighter being akin to that of an ironclad contract. Buakaw made impassioned pleas to the public about his poor treatment and how he, one of the biggest stars to come out of Thailand’s Muay Thai scene, was still living a life of moderate poverty and unable to visit his family at will.

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The Disbelief of Giorgio Petrosyan's Loss to Andy Ristie

Petrosyan (C) Bauzen for WKA

Saturday night was surreal, that’s the only way to describe it. Giorgio Petrosyan the king of kickboxing, the best 70 KG kickboxer we’ve ever seen, hell quite possibly the best kickboxer we’ve ever seen in any weight class. He defined perfection, he was a man who not only would win, but he would tactically embarrass his opponents for the entirety of the match. I’m not sure there is anyone else that has made more top level fighters look like amateurs more or less. The sheer thought of Petrosyan losing seemed about as realistic as an Ed Wood film. Yet, here we are a few days out and that’s the case.

After Andy Ristie rendered Petrosyan unconscious it was just pure disbelief in the arena. Everyone was gasping, their hands up in the air, mouths agape. Up to that point, Andy Ristie was fighting the perfect fight, he was throwing of Petrosyan’s timing, wasn’t letting him get comfortable with his range and he was still losing the fight on most people's scorecards. Ristie did put on the performance of a lifetime, beating the number one and two guys at 70KG. He not only defeated them, he knocked out a man who was 76-1-1 who’s never been knocked out and he knocked out a man who was knocked out once in 73 fights. It was one of the best one night performances in recent memory, it’s up there with Semmy’s K1 WGP run in 09, it was something to behold as it truly felt special.

Even though I consider myself an unbiased observer of kickboxing, I still had a weird feeling after seeing Petrosyan lose. On the train ride home from the event I was racking my brain, trying to sum up my feelings on it and the only thing I could come up with was a comment Pat Miletich made after Fedor lost to Werdum. “My heart sank not for Fedor but for the reality of perfection that is not attainable in the sport of MMA. All experienced fighters know you’re going to lose if you’re fighting world-class opponents, but Fedor was different.” For me it’s sad to see the guy who was thought to be unbeatable, bested. Sure, at the end of the day, it was bound to happen, you can only fight the best of the best for so long without getting caught.

Now I know sports are a very reactionary world, I’ve been guilty being reactionary after an event as well, it happens. After Saturday night, I saw a few people question Petrosyan his record and his skill level. Now, let me address his record, sure, there are times when he faced guys that are out of the top 20, but he also fights 5 times or more a year and he continually faces the best of the best. Now, here’s a gripe that I have, is about this talk about padding records, first of all, Petrosyan doesn’t have a padded record, plain and simple. If he did have a padded record, so what? If a promotion can pad a guys record, sell him to me as a world beater and make me want to see him fight, I’m 100% for it. That’s one of the biggest problems that I have with the UFC, they don’t know how to build guys up properly, they throw them to the wolves and if they lose, they lose all drawing power. Now onto the Petrosyan’s skill, I hate the fact that this is even a question, he’s the best 70KG kickboxer ever, end of story. The way he slips punches, counters, draws everyone into his fight, it’s a thing of beauty. Combat sports are tricky, it’s not like baseball where you have numbers to quantify how good a player is. It’s all an eye test, you have to have a trained eye to see it and while I don’t consider myself an expert, I do consider myself a seasoned viewer and have seen a fair share of Petro’s fights. Any positive adjective you can think of, Petro fits it.

At the end of the day, perfection isn’t something that can be obtained, it’s the idea of it that’s so beautiful, the idea of a man trying to become this abstract idea, it’s just so fascinating. Everytime you tell yourself it’s something that can’t happen, someone will come along and change your mind and Petrosyan was that guy. Even with his knockout loss, Petrosyan will continue to chase the unobtainable goal of perfection.

 

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