Few narratives in sports make for compelling entertainment like the classic underdog story does. We all know it by now; there is a clear favorite going into the showdown, but the underdog is able to overcome the odds and walk away as the champion while the world is shocked. For GLORY we’ve seen this happen a staggering number of times in the last few months. In fact GLORY 10, GLORY 11 and GLORY 12 all featured this exact thing happening in their respective tournaments.
At GLORY 10 American kickboxer Joe Schilling went into the tournament confident that he’d not only meet Artem Levin in the finals, but that he’d defeat him. Fans who know Schilling were pulling for that, but the rest of the world saw Levin walking away as the champion yet again. Of course, Schilling was able to pull off a dramatic victory over Levin and completely reshape the division, taking his place as the top guy in the Middleweight division.
GLORY 11 saw a similar Cinderella tale happen as Gokhan Saki was defeated by Rico Verhoeven (bad down or not, Rico still won the fight), spoiling an anticipated rematch between Daniel Ghita and Gokhan Saki that everyone was expecting. In fact, Rico Verhoeven was able to defeat the great Daniel Ghita and walk away as the champion in the Heavyweight division.
Then the impossible happened for a third time at GLORY 12 New York where everyone was expecting another meeting between Giorgio Petrosyan and Robin van Roosmalen, the two top fighters in the Lightweight division, only for Andy Ristie to dash their plans, knocking both men out and taking the crown. That meant that there was turnover in both of Kickboxing’s historically strong division, Heavyweight and Lightweight, within the matter of a month.
I’ve been saying this for a while now, but Kickboxing is going through a transition period at the moment, where the old guard is starting to filter out while new stars are taking their place. Heavyweight and Lightweight are the divisions that have carried over from K-1 and have long-been rather stable divisions with the same few names up top with only minor turnover in the top ranks. Within the last few years though we’ve seen things changing, as Semmy Schilt, Peter Aerts and Remy Bonjasky weren’t going to be the top Heavyweights forever and stars like Badr Hari never won their big championships and sort of fizzled out.
At Lightweight we’ve seen Masato retire, Andy Souwer start to slow down and taking less and less fights against the tippity top of the division while Buakaw Banchamek has been embroiled in legal problems or just fighting endless streams of winnable bouts in Thailand. Giorgio Petrosyan has been the torchbearer for the Lightweight division in the interim, but his left hand seems to not be able to hold up long enough to allow Petrosyan to really shine as the best in the world that he is.
For GLORY this awkward time in history happens to be when they are making their big push into new markets, notably the United States. GLORY has chosen to do so by promoting four man, one night tournaments on every card and as we’ve seen over the last three, they are unpredictable. While these tournaments have been exciting for fans and have made history, for a promotion like GLORY that is trying to sell its product and its champions to new, hard-to-tackle markets it is a bit of a nightmare.
Three times in a row on American soil we’ve seen a division change hands in a tournament, with the Champion being upset and a new Champion rising up the rankings. While the lack of stability is exciting to hardcore fans who have been following for years now, for newer fans it becomes a game of trust and it is difficult to trust that someone is the best in the world in their division if the first time that you see them you see that fighter beaten. Imagine being told that Anderson Silva is the best in the world only for the first time you see him fight is the Chris Weidman bout. Imagine the first time you see the GOAT Fedor Emelianenko it is the Dan Henderson fight. It would be hard to continue believing that these fighters truly are the best if your first impression of them is seeing them laid out on the mat with their opponents standing over them.
It’s starting to become clear why K-1 is looking to move away from the tournament format for each division, as while it can lead to excitement, the unpredictability makes it difficult to build up stars and to market them to fans when who the top guy is continues to be in flux. While I’m not ready to tell GLORY to just give up on the tournament format altogether, tournaments on each event are taking up a lot of the television time and seem to be presenting Kickboxing as an ever-changing atmosphere, when the reality is that most of these divisions have been static for years.
I have no doubt that all of these divisions will eventually even out, but they sure are having a lot of transitions during such a pivotal time for the sport. I’d love for new stars to be born from these tournaments, but the one night tournament format leaves a lot of this in question for the time being, especially if there is only one tournament per weight class a year.