There is going to be some big changes in the Kickboxing world come this year, a change that has been a long-time coming and will see a good deal of pushback from hardcore fans, with that change being that both GLORY and K-1 are going to be pushing individual Championships over tournament champions this year. That isn’t to say that there won’t still be tournaments, as GLORY will be holding Contendership tournaments and K-1 has made mention of still running some tournaments, just not annual World Grand Prix and World MAX tournaments. For a sport that became popular for one-night tournaments this is a huge change.
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen World Titles in Kickboxing, not by a long shot. In fact, there are a lot of fighters out there in the wild right now who hold one, if not multiple, World Titles through different sanctioning bodies. The ISKA, PKA, WKA, WAKO and many more still sanction World Championships much in the way that we see Boxing with fragmented titles not belonging to any one promoter. The truth of the matter is, though, that those “World Championships” are only as valuable as the promotion, the fighters competing for it and the Champion who holds it.
K-1 attempted to establish Championship titles in the past, with Badr Hari being the first K-1 Heavyweight Champion and Semmy Schilt being the first (and only) K-1 Super Heavyweight Champion. This was K-1’s attempt to move away from the traditional K-1 tournament format in 2007 only to see pushback from both fans and their television partners, keeping the K-1 World Grand Prix as the primary means of crowning a champion.
The announcement by GLORY that this year would see them crown champions across six weight classes is huge, as is K-1’s move under the K-1 Global banner to crown champions outside of the tournament format and to stick to it. While for fans the idea of big tournaments is still the most exciting way to crown champions, it is also a mess for promoters while we watch the established names from the original K-1 starting to retire or show signs of wear and tear. The truth is without huge backing like K-1 had in the 90’s and 00’s from major television networks, building stars in more regions than K-1 ever had to is a huge chore.
Fans will always love their hometown heroes, but with Japan no longer being the home of Kickboxing building stars is now a matter of a global struggle, where you have to do more than appear on Japanese game shows and talk show programs to build up a name. As we saw with GLORY’s Lightweight Tournament, no one is safe, even the unstoppable Giorgio Petrosyan. Establishing Champions makes for something consistent, something that you can sell to the world, a face and a name to go on a masthead. In the case of tournaments you can sell who you think will win, but being able to bill them as your Champion is very different.
Fans understand what a Champion is, will be able to latch onto a Champion and the promotion can market that Champion as the best in the world. I, for one, think that it’ll be a nice change of pace to see Champions established in Kickboxing and for those titles to mean something. The unpredictability of tournaments is exciting and all, but if Kickboxing really wants to grow as a sport it needs to be more inviting, it needs to be more stable, which is exactly what having Champions will do for it.