Frequently Saturday night, at Glory Last Man Standing, Artem Levin resembled an untouchable task for whoever he met in the 8-Man Middleweight tournament that centered the PPV. His high-wire hands down stance, out of which he toggled between thundering left hook body and head shots, quick jabs, and jumping knees, governed by his speed, accuracy, and great head movement.
I personally had the opportunity to watch Levin fight last month, in Denver, at Glory 16, and I quickly gained a greater appreciation for his work. From my floor seat it was easier to catch his movement, the shifting of stances and various feints that precipitated and flowed into every move.
Since 2009 Levin has lost to two opponents, Joe Schilling, who he beat in their rematch Saturday night, and Simon Marcus at Lions Fight 9. He is now the Glory Middleweight Champion, the best kickboxing organization in the world. Noted MMA writer, Jack Slack, pondered the possibility that Levin was the best fighter on the planet Monday in his breakdown of Glory Last Man Standing.
But Levin has shown weaknesses that opponents have and could exploit better to now wrest the Glory Middleweight Championship from him:
I. Can Start Slow and Sloppy
The earlier rounds provide the best opportunities for opponents to hit Artem Levin, because he is feeling them out and has not yet committed to his hand-checking that enables him to punch and knee inside so well.
Many of his Glory fights have followed a simple narrative: they either begin even or in favor of his opponent, then he picks it up in the second, and finally pours it on in the third. His match against Sahak Parparyan at Glory 7 Milan aptly encapsulates this gradual escalation of dominance.
In the beginning of the fight, Levin left his head center and unguarded when he threw one of his favorite punches - the left hook to the body - and Parparyan would throttle him with a right cross. After taking a few more, he started checking Parparyan’s right hand but Parparyan then switched to his left, which while having to come farther to find Levin’s chin still landed.
By taking advantage of Levin’s down hands, throwing him off when he tried to clinch, punching in combinations and sneaking in leg kicks in front or behind them, he won the round. Levin followed it nicely, though, taking the second on most judge’s cards and dominating the third and especially fourth.
The biggest mistake Parparyan made was not carrying it into the subsequent rounds. This is a terrible error against Levin who is going to get better the longer the fight continues and who is capable of switching into a higher performance level if he feels he has to do more to win the fight.
Robert Thomas also found early success against Levin at Glory 16. Stepping into a throw a lead left jab, Levin stood completely sideways, right hand down. Thomas capitalized and struck with a left hook. Then Levin crushed him the remainder of the contest, blasting him with a couple powerful left hooks of his own.
Achieving first round does not presage success in the second or third against Levin (in these two cases, it obviously didn't), but it is opportunity to steal a round when he isn't jumping between front kicks, head punches, body punches, spinning back fists, etc. tearing you apart and clearly winning the fight.
II. Varied Attack
Falling into a pattern against Artem Levin seldom churns positive results. Once he discerns a trend he exploits it. The first Joe Schilling fight concluded in a loss for Levin, the fourth of his professional career, but also showcased some of his particular brilliance. Using the superman punch, for instance, Schilling was able to get closer to his chin, since many of his punches were ducked or quickly countered.
The second superman punch Schilling executed is indelible, the high water mark of one of Glory’s seminal events, yet it was the change in defense Levin made from the first superman punch that created the knockdown in the second round (and maybe Schilling’s leg). While Levin often counters his opponents’ punches, especially with a left hook, sometimes he does not make that his immediate priority. On these occasions he employs his size, speed, and athleticism rather than craft and angles. When Schilling first attempted a superman punch, Levin bent backwards, perhaps not expecting Schilling to be able to reach him.
At 6’4’’ Levin can anticipate succeeding in analogous situations. The technique allows him to evade the strike and also gain position as his opponent’s momentum still carries him forward. If Levin continued using this technique, Schilling might have missed the second superman punch, but it also might have spared the viewer a special example of his in-ring intelligence.
Following the knockdown, every time Schilling lifted his leg seemingly either to check a kick or set into motion another superman punch Levin lifted his leg, too, and turned into his body with a right hook. If he missed the right hook he would capitalize on the momentum and his opponent’s inability to see his back hand and flow into a spinning back fist. He also brilliantly once stepped outside of Schilling’s raised right leg and shot through a clean left straight.
Part of Levin’s wider success, including this, was the limited versatility of Schilling’s attack. He could figure it out and quickly assume an appropriate response. Many of Levin’s opponents have shared this characteristic. Simon Marcus was one of the exceptions, which, along with his terrifying clinch game, caused Levin trouble in their Lion Fight 9 contest.
It was also an example of how a varied attack can make his ability to implement his offense and start taking you apart difficult.
III. Hands Down
Levin’s penchant for keeping his hands low should theoretically tempt more head kicks. Against Schilling and Marcus, Levin took a solid kick to the jaw. Marcus’ was right up the middle, knocking Levin’s mouth guard out, and giving Marcus an opening to jump on him; whereas, Schilling’s caught him stepping back, his chin up and hands down, moments before the end of the round.
That he hasn't incurred greater damage regularly, kicks or otherwise, further inculcates the deft of his footwork and defense. When he does get hit it is primarily due to his predilection for keeping his head in the same place. Levin was able to move inside well against Parparyan but he wouldn't always dip into his left body hook that he leads precariously with, and Parparyan would register a breaking right hand on his chin.
Schilling didn't always make Levin pay for this in their first or second fight. To slow Levin down coming in, Schilling used his teep that did give him a chance to launch a 1-2 and maybe side step out, but Levin routinely came over top of it with a left hook. By keeping his hands low, Levin gives opponents the opportunity to hit him; however, they have to hit him, and predominantly they don’t.
Levin can be a dominant fighter, as his Glory Last Man Standing PPV performances showed, but he has also been detrimental to himself. Against Parparyan in the first round, he repeatedly came forward and pressed his head through his guard. Despite the referee warning him to stop head-butting, he continued to do it, and had a point taken away from him. If he had recused himself from that, or matured to pulling his guard up earlier in the fight, he might have been able to win the fight in the third rather than the extra fourth round.
Equally problematic is his habit to hug his opponent after he lands his strikes to stifle their offense and get out their range with the break. This is a different calculation in Glory than Lion Fight or another organization fought under Muay Thai rules, where the time allotted for clinches is more liberal. In Glory Levin doesn't have to worry about being held there if he facing a stronger opponent, and he can fit in his occasional knees to the body if he feels before and during the referee’s attempt to separate them.
Conversely, outside of Glory, and particularly against Simon Marcus, it was not nearly as beneficial. Marcus was undefeated prior to Saturday night in large part due to his masterful clinch work. In the first round of their fight, Levin was able to pivot away and throw Marcus into the ropes. As the fight went on, though, Marcus was wearing on him with knees to the side body that he was trying to escape with and crossing and uppercut elbows.
He suffers physically and on the scorecards in these instances, while he only suffers on the judge’s scorecards fighting in Glory when he might actually be dominating the bout. This is the problem, for he could theoretically lose a fight he was winning because he refused to sever himself from needless practices. Yet they are not needless to his strategy.
They are his strategy. The objective of every fight is to win. Levin wins.
The danger, though, these, along with the other weaknesses addressed in this article, pose cannot be ignored. They certainly are not by him and that is one of the reasons he has been successful and won the Glory Middleweight Championship last weekend.
Maybe these are not weaknesses. Maybe they are his strengths, and that they occasionally falter is a mathematical normality. They could be the key to defeating him or the key to him defeating you.