Kickboxing has had a long history throughout Europe and Asia, but it really got bigger in the 90’s when K-1 started up in Japan. K-1 was aimed at an audience in Japan that was obsessed with Heavyweights, mainly from professional wrestling. Pro wrestling in Japan was all about Heavyweights, with the prestige of being called “Heavyweight Champion” holding a ton of weight with the local culture. So when K-1 got off the ground, of course Heavyweights were the primary focus.
It wasn’t until 2002 when K-1 started to take another weight class seriously -- 70kg MAX -- mostly because of the young, handsome and talented Masato. Masato was a star in the making, but was at least 30kg less than most of K-1’s big stars, so they needed to create a new division. That division was the MAX division and since then has been one of the best divisions in the Kickboxing world.
Part of the problem, though, is that for many years fighters had to aspire to be either a Heavyweight or a MAX fighter, with there being no in between. For a lot of fighters who were too small to be Heavyweights and too big to be MAX fighters that left them to work the minor circuits in Europe and Japan without any hopes of the bright lights and world titles being in their possession. That has changed in the past few years, with It’s Showtime really making a name for themselves with expanded weight classes that highlighted more talent. Everyone followed suit and now with GLORY we finally get the realization of this.
If you don’t believe me, look no further than GLORY’s GLORY 17 and Last Man Standing events on June 21st. Sure, on GLORY 17 the big feature bouts are Heavyweight and Lightweight (70kg/MAX) between Cro Cop and Jarrell Miller and Ky Hollenbeck and Andy Ristie, but the card also features a Featherweight Contender’s Tournament. Then while Last Man Standing will crown a GLORY Heavyweight Champion in the main event between Daniel Ghita and Rico Verhoeven, the GLORY Welterweight Championship is on the line between Joe Valtellini and Marc de Bonte and the Last Man Standing tournament will crown a Middleweight Champion.
Even a few years ago the idea of a major Kickboxing event, probably the biggest of the year, being headlined by a weight class that isn’t Heavyweight or Lightweight seemed like insanity, yet here we are.
GLORY still recognizes the importance of Heavyweight and Lightweight, but are willing to feature some of these other weight classes as just as important, which has helped to create new stars. Joe Valtellini was a virtual unknown to the world just over a year ago, now not only Kickboxing fans know who he is, but combat sports fans in general. Someone like Nieky Holzken was always toiling away in Europe as one of the best in the world, but was virtually unchallenged with nowhere to house his talents and bring in opponents.
There is a brave new world in Kickboxing right now and you don’t need to be in one of two categories to become a star anymore. You just need to be good.
Dave Walsh has been covering MMA and Kickboxing since 2007 before changing his focus solely to Kickboxing in 2009, launching what was the only English-language site dedicated to giving Kickboxing similar coverage to what MMA receives. He was the co-founder of HeadKickLegend and now LiverKick. He resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he works as a writer of all trades.
His second novel, Terminus Cycle, launches on March 24th.