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LiverKick Throwback: Ramon Dekkers and Rayen Simson Double Knockdown

The world of kickboxing has a rich history to fall back upon so we here at LiverKick figure, why not? Why not give a glimpse into some of the fights from the past that have made up this wonderful sport and tie it all in to the present. The kids on the Instagram and Twitter like to call Thursdays "Throwback Thursdays," I'm just going to say that this is a LiverKick Throwback.

This week we head back to 1997 when "The Diamond" Ramon Dekkers was already over ten years into what would be one of the most storied careers of any Dutch Kickboxer and he went against the very tough Dutch fighter Rayen Simson. Simson was on the rise at this time, qualifying for the 1997 Shoot Boxing S-cup, which he went on to win after his bout with Dekkers, but that's neither here nor there. What we are talking about now is Dekkers vs. Simson.

This was a classic Dutch style fight with both men showcasing stylistic nuances that we see to this very day. Of course, it is no shock due to Ramon Dekkers training with Cor Hemmers for many years, but it's still interesting to note how his style has led to so many other fighters' utilizing a similar style to his and seeing great success. Most of this fight is Dekkers in control, but when things get wild, well, they get really wild. This fight is perhaps best known for the crazy double knockdown that happens, with Simson fighting to his feet first.

Dekkers was forced to stop fighting due to an eye injury and the corner stopping the bout, but damn, what a slugfest. 

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Where Does Glory Go From Here?

I made a pretty big deal about PPV buyrates and their impact on the future direction of Glory, but in fact, I didn’t have lofty expectations as to how the Last Man Standing tournament would perform. Modest results were anticipated, although putting a number on that and interpreting its significance is hard to do. This event was a picture-perfect example of a combat sports PPV done right, but some might be wondering: in light of the projected numbers, where does Glory stand? I would argue that Glory stands on perfectly solid ground and in arguably a position better suited to take on the American combat sports market.

We’ve learned a number of important things from following the TV ratings and watching the fight cards themselves: 1) Glory is a consistent performer on SpikeTV, generating ratings on par with or slightly below Bellator and better than WSOF. 2) Glory has found a consistent formula for their 2-hour time slot, staging 4-man contender tournaments, co-main title fights, and a main event SuperFight--that’s a lot of quality kickboxing in one night. 3) Glory has developed a stable of marketable talent that could headline future events. Joe Schilling and Joseph Valtellini are superstars tailor made for SpikeTV with the skills to sell a fight and the exciting styles to deliver on fight night.

For the two and a half years that Glory has spent trying to establish an identity and a consistent product to deliver to American audiences, it seems like the end result has finally been achieved, and it is 100% solid. Each card features a couple of well-known headliners and a contender tournament with prospects who are still making their name. This keeps costs low by not breaking bank on a mega card full of 6-figure talent, and it allows Glory to book and sell-out smaller venues that it can continually revisit. This model has been successfully followed by Strikeforce, It’s Showtime, and now Lion Fight.

Does this mean that Glory won’t stage big PPV shows anymore? No, but it does mean that Glory will need to be strategic and creative in how it plans future events. The SpikeTV formula will work well in the United States when Glory must necessarily operate in 2,000 to 3,000 person venues, but if places like Istanbul can really put more than 10,000 butts in seats, then there are greater possibilities. Co-promotion with Bellator would also be a major boon to Glory. While Glory may not have the muscle right now to be a PPV success, it could easily enhance the marketability of a Bellator PPV. Bellator/Glory Dynamite 2014 on PPV, anyone? Bellator and Glory could not be in a better position to attempt something like this, especially with Scott Coker in the driver’s seat clearing the way to stable co-promotion. Having multiple smaller shows with only a couple of big shows per year is the right step to sustainability long-term.

Finally, let’s remind ourselves of where Glory truly stands. In terms of its success, Glory is nowhere close to being the UFC, and neither is it close to being Bellator. It is a big, international organization that does slightly better than or about the same as a regional fight promotion. It has shouldered substantial loss to get to where it is now. However, it is unequivocally gaining momentum. The combat sports community is interested in Glory and wants to see more, and every event is gaining more traction in the hearts of fight fans. The ratings, while not a skyrocketing success, are stable. The stage is set for Glory to have its breakthrough moment with the right talent, the right broadcast deals, and the right formula in place. Glory needs to keep putting itself on TV with more small shows while waiting for the right moment to bring out the big guns. It may not happen this year, but that moment will come eventually. Until then, it’s up to us to keep tuning in, to keep supporting the sport, and to keep spreading the word. Kickboxing is alive, and it is finally here.

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Liverkick Throwback: Changpuek Kietsongrit vs Ivan Hippolyte

This fight took place in Nagoya, Japan at the K-3 Grand Prix '95 Quarter-final, Ivan Hippolyte went on to beat Toshiyuki Atokawa and Taiei Kin to win the tournament. Changpuek was one of the first Thai's to go abroad and fight in all types of disciplines, he was often taken advantage of and put against much bigger fighters. He was only between 70 and 80kilos (154-175lbs) but yet he has fought most of the k-1 heavyweights like Ernesto Hoost, Branko Cikatic and Andy Hug.

Ivan Hippolyte is a Dutch kickboxing pioneer, as you can see in this fight he still has a very Muay Thai style stance but his hands were amazing. He is still known as one of the best kickboxers to come out of Holland. Hippolyte is now the trainer at Vos Gym, one of the best gyms in Amsterdam, Netherlands and has trained champions like Remy Bonjasky, Mirko CroCop, and Warren Stevelmans.

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Washing Away the Myth of the Eurocentric Kickboxing Machine

I want to preface this by saying that without a doubt the sport of Kickboxing owes a lot to its European roots. Without some of the pioneers in Europe the sport of Kickboxing would absolutely not be what it is today. That being said, I feel like after GLORY 17 and Last Man Standing we can effectively say that Kickboxing belongs to no one country or continent. Sure, some of the all-time greats are Dutch and yes, the original home of K-1 was without a doubt Japan, but it’s 2014 and the world has become a smaller place. Talent is no longer concentrated to secretive gyms or trainers, instead it is being spread out and being found across the world.

For the longest time fans had to hear that American Kickboxers sucked. The history that came with American Kickboxing, the fighters like Benny Urquidez, Don Wilson, Rick Roufus and the many other who cut their teeth across the world against the best of the best was somewhat washed aside. I mean, why not? Names like Rob Kamen, Ramon Dekkers and Cor Hemmers carry a lot of weight with them, as do the names of fighters like Peter Aerts, Remy Bonjasky, Semmy Schilt and many others. How could American fighters compare?

At GLORY 17 and Last Man Standing North America got to show the world just how seriously Kickboxers from this continent need to be taken and should leave fans open to talent from other nations as well. Joe Schilling once again found himself in a tough finals against Artem Levin, this time Levin walking away victorious, with North American fighters Wayne Barrett and Simon Marcus having incredibly strong showings as well. Joseph Valtellini showed the world what a kid from Canada can do when given a chance, bringing home the GLORY Welterweight Championship in a tough fight against Marc de Bonte. Then on GLORY 17 Canadian Gabriel Varga proved himself to be one of the best Featherweights in the world, ready to take on the best of the best and vye for the GLORY Featherweight Championship. 

At this point it’s hard to argue that America and Canada aren’t producing top talents, because both nations are producing some of the very best that the world has to offer. Is Europe still producing some of the absolute best talents in the world in Kickboxing? Absolutely. It’s impossible to argue against the talents we are seeing coming from the Netherlands, the UK, France, Germany and many others, but it’s no longer a monopoly. For a while Dutch Kickboxing was the alpha and omega and while Dutch Kickboxing is still very strong, it would be crass to ignore the talents coming from all across the world to prove themselves as the best of the best. 

Kickboxing is a global sport and the name on the gym or the prestige of the nation are no longer deciding factors alone. The amount of work put in, the quality of the training, the talent and the desire are what matter at the end of the day. I, for one, look forward to continue to watch fighters from all corners of the world stepping up their game on a regular basis.

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Glory 17: Glory Prepares to Distinguish Itself As a Combat Sports Brand

Glory 17 is a turning point for Glory in many ways, marking its entry into the American PPV market by staging the largest, most significant kickboxing tournament on American soil in decades. But even more noteworthy than that, this event signifies the opportunity for Glory to truly distinguish itself as a unique combat sports product that is capable of delivering where other brands may falter, particularly the UFC. The UFC’s present difficulties are well known: problems with a ballooning roster, complaints about “boring” fights, and problems marketing fighters have led to great inconsistency in the quality of UFC events. Glory, on the other hand, has experienced few to no difficulties in this regard--and for very interesting reasons. In this article, I will talk about some of the things that I think make Glory a fairly unique entity in the combat sports world.

1. Each Glory weight class has more elite fighters than a single card can accommodate.

The Last Man Standing tournament is essentially a display of the entire Middleweight division, and it is a scary division, featuring Artem Levin, Joe Schilling, Simon Marcus, Wayne Barrett, Filip Verlinden, and Melvin Manhoef as well as dangerous contenders like Alex Pereira--all of these men are either champions, former champions, or fighters who have distinguished themselves against championship-level competition. Whereas some promotions might struggle to fill fight cards with less accomplished talent, Glory has the unique problem of struggling to fill fight cards with overqualified talent, bumping the likes of Levin to the non-televised SuperFight Series. If you ever find yourself wondering why a fighter like Giorgio Petrosyan gets to occupy the fourth slot on the Glory main card, it’s frequently because any Glory card could offer you a choice of several main event fights.

2. Glory has complete control of the rules of the sport.

No matter how many three or four-letter-name sanctioning bodies Glory will claim accountability to, the fact remains that Glory, as an organization in today’s combat sports market, is unique because of the complete control that it has on the rules of the sport. By frequently changing its clinch rules, its knockdown rules, and its 8-count rules, Glory has crafted and refined a viewing experience that is more fast-paced and exciting, producing a high volume of memorable fights and highlight reel moments. This is an ability that neither the UFC nor any other MMA organization possess, and the end result for them is a perpetual struggle to reconcile the Unified Rules of MMA with the type of fights that UFC wants to sell. Glory, by contrast, can eliminate any rule that negatively affects the viewing experience.

The flipside is that we also don’t have to talk about drug testing in the sport of Kickboxing. Glory is in a peculiar position here as well, operating between the lines of an oversight structure that is very dated and arguably unequipped to handle a multimillion dollar professional sport. Indeed, WKA’s official rules, published in 2011, leave drug testing up to the discretion of the “WKA supervisor, tournament promoters, and the official doctor,” who “can and may perform tests” but don’t necessarily have to do so unless directed by local law, making WKA’s actual responsibility very unclear. The procedure, standards, and logistics of testing are either mentioned in vague terms or not outlined at all. Glory, for its part, hasn’t forced the issue, leaving us to enjoy the fruits of ambiguity. In other words: don’t ask, don’t tell, and Pride never die.

3. Glory is learning how to market its fighters.

This is an issue that we’ve discussed several times here on LiverKick and which Dave Walsh expounded on in his excellent piece comparing kickboxing to the history of regional pro wrestling promotion. Behind every fight is an evolving narrative with at least two central characters, and as viewers, we’re interested in not only the fight itself but also in how the fight will determine the next chapter of the story. The promoter’s job is to build anticipation and interest in the fight and to illustrate what it means in the grand scheme of the division. With Glory 17, Glory has been proactive in producing media which tells us the story, including an excellent video on the rivalry between Rico Verhoeven and Daniel Ghita. The authenticity of this rivalry (for the critics’ sake) is as irrelevant as the authenticity of the 2009 rivalry between Badr Hari and Alistair Overeem--it felt real at the time and it electrified the atmosphere at the Saitama Super Arena. As Glory gains screen time on television and PPV, promotional efforts like this will be increasingly vital to its success.

While Glory got off to a rough start, it seems like the organization has found its identity as a kickboxing promotion and major combat sports brand. It is undeniably a unique presence in today’s sports entertainment market. If this event is a success and the Glory audience continues to grow, I think that Glory could become a leading company. Until then, you will have to join me in keeping fingers tightly crossed.

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Why Kickboxing Fans Should Rejoice About Bellator's Changes

In case you haven’t heard already, it was announced today by Bellator that Bjorn Rebney has departed from the organization and that his replacement is former Strikeforce head Scott Coker. Coker was restricted under his deal with Zuffa from competing with them until March of this year, which was when Viacom began making a play to push Rebney out and to replace him with Coker. The rumors are no longer rumors and it is indeed now fact; Scott Coker is the new head of Bellator and Bjorn Rebney is out.

Now, I’m sure that you are asking yourself; why does this matter to Kickboxing. The answer is a long one, which you already knew because I only give long answers. GLORY is on Spike TV and in case you haven’t noticed, GLORY has had problems gaining much power with Spike TV since they joined up with the network. GLORY’s ratings have been just as good as Bellator’s have been and they’ve done so with a whole lot less backing compared to Bellator.

See, Bellator had a majority share sold off to Viacom a few years ago, making them not only a part of the Spike TV family, but embedded into the very essence of the network. Viacom now had a stake in not only Bellator’s survival, but its growth and prosperity. While I can’t speak firsthand of Bjorn Rebney, there have been reports for years about how he does business and that the way in which he handled Bellator wasn’t much different. I remember balking at the leaked Bellator contracts when the promotion first began, then we all remember the contract disputes with guys like Eddie Alvarez and Ben Askren.

It’s safe to say that not many in the fight world are big fans of Bjorn Rebney. Kickboxing fans shouldn’t be, either. You’d think that with GLORY under the Spike TV umbrella that there were natural crossover appeals for Bellator and GLORY, in fact, better crossover appeal than between Bellator and TNA Wrestling. Yet the crossovers that we saw were between Bellator and TNA Wrestling, TNA being a distant second place to the WWE and has been in constant financial and creative turmoil for years now. Not even pro wrestling fans like TNA Wrestling (you could argue that MMA fans don’t like Bellator, either, but that’s another story). 

So why not work with GLORY?

The answer is simple; GLORY is a great, polished and professional product. It offers something exciting and if people watch it, they fall in love with it. Bellator on the other hand has had to struggle for any gains in viewers and at times had to sacrifice their “vision” of tournaments to even attract marginal attention from the MMA press and fan base. We’ve had many reports that Rebney considered GLORY as the competition for Spike’s and Viacom’s affections, not something that he could work with and form mutually-beneficial deals with.

GLORY is on the rise and is doing so through rather modest means, while Bellator has had to dip into Viacom’s coffers to push expensive stars like Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz as real competition. While I can’t speak to boardroom affairs or meetings that happened behind closed doors, there has been a sense that a reason why we haven’t seen more GLORY programming on Spike TV or more support for the GLORY brand had a lot to do with Rebney’s attitude towards Kickboxing and GLORY. 

This is why the inclusion of Scott Coker is like a beam of light through a cloudy day for GLORY and Kickboxing fans right now. Scott Coker’s history is one that is rich not only in Mixed Martial Arts, but Martial Arts in general. Scott Coker was a longtime Kickboxing promoter, even working for K-1 on their US events. Before you rag on those events, remember that K-1 gave him extremely limited resources for those events and that any of the good that came for K-1 USA came through Scott and his very talented and motivated team (later on Mike Kogan had similar struggles but did an admirable job as well).

Scott Coker isn’t afraid of Kickboxing, in fact, Scott Coker loves Kickboxing. Kickboxing is how he broke into the world of promoting fights and nobody in the United States did it as successfully as Coker did it. Scott Coker also isn’t afraid of working with other brands on mutually-beneficial arrangements. Strikeforce came into prominence through a landmark deal with EliteXC that brought Strikeforce’s fighters, following and respect to PPV with some of EliteXC’s big names that they had signed, making for truly memorable events. It later led to Strikeforce absorbing EliteXC and becoming the #2 promotion in the world overnight. 

Now, do we think that things are going to immediately get better? Probably not. In fact, it might take a while. Scott Coker might bring about change, but Scott Coker still has to answer to Viacom at the end of the day and without a financial stake in GLORY they might not see the value in pushing it too hard. Then again, there is a contract in place and they are paying GLORY for the programming, so it makes sense to maximize the brand to its fullest and I see no reason why Scott Coker and Bellator would turn away a chance at working with another successful, unique brand to help build credibility for both. 

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LiverKick Throwback: Melvin Manhoef Destroys Paul Slowinski

The world of kickboxing has a rich history to fall back upon so we here at LiverKick figure, why not? Why not give a glimpse into some of the fights from the past that have made up this wonderful sport and tie it all in to the present. The kids on the Instagram and Twitter like to call Thursdays "Throwback Thursdays," I'm just going to say that this is a LiverKick Throwback.

Melvin Manhoef will be fighting in the Last Man Standing tournament on June 21st in Los Angeles for GLORY, meeting Filip Verlinden in the first round of the tournament. To say that Melvin Manhoef at Middleweight will be a force to be reckoned with is putting it lightly; Melvin Manhoef was a force to be reckoned with at Heavyweight. If you need proof of that, look no further than December 6th, 2012, when Melvin Manhoef fought in the Reserve bout for the K-1 World Grand Prix 2008 against tough Australian slugger Paul Slowinski. 

Paul Slowinski is a legitimate 6'3" 240lbs while Manhoef is 5'8" and has fought as low at 170lbs in the past. This is just so you understand the size difference going into this fight and why Melvin Manhoef is so impressive. Melvin Manhoef was never the best Heavyweight Kickboxer in the world, but he was able to knock out some of the best and make it look easy. That's incredible. 

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Francois Ambang's Struggles and Humble Beginnings

If you've ever been poor it's a situation you will probably never forget. Especially as a child, seeing those around you take for granted the things that we look upon as basic is something that can have a tremendous effect on that individual. For most who have experienced any form of deprivation, generally one vows to make things different, to have a better future. All, however, are not successful for an escape, depending upon the route one may experience very detrimental consequences. In this situation sometimes, a beautiful flower can sprout in a field that was once thought barren. That flower is humility.

Humility is defined as the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people; the quality or state of being humble. The definition, however, is deceptive in that there is an implication of weakness, self-deprecation or meekness. In reality, however, someone who truly exhibits this quality embodies great strength. When I think of Francois Ambang, humility is one of the first qualities that comes to mind. He is a man who has known great adversity but through those times he has persevered. He has never forgotten from whence he came. His story begins in west Central Africa in Cameroon where he grew up in poverty with his parents and six siblings. Despite having certain disadvantages, Ambang has faced his challenges with confidence, a confidence that brought him to the United States with little knowledge of the language and/or customs. What Ambang did bring with him to the steps of the Combat Sports Center in Virginia was a natural athleticism and strength. He also has had a long held desire to constantly improve himself as a fighter and make not only his family but his fans proud as well.

Ambang cites that he first began his combat sports training in karate, boxing and savate. Following his move to the United States, Ambang expressed that his primary interest was in boxing. In short time, however, he was able to easily establish himself in the kickboxing arena, learning to throw the sharp combinations of punches and brutal leg kicks for which he is now famous. With an overall 12-5 record, Ambang continues to hone his craft now on the Glory stage where he currently is ranked at number 10 in the welterweight class with a 1-2 record. To date he cites as one his most memorable fights the bout with Joseph Valtellini at Glory 9 in New York.

One thing has been clear since his arrival on Glory's stage, Ambang's potential for greatness is ever present. Beginning with his participation in the ‘Road to Glory’ welterweight tournament in 2013, where he beat three opponents in one night to score a GLORY World Series contract. Ambang is confident that his time as a champion in this organization is sure to come. Those who watch the promotion should believe as well as this confidence is not braggadocio but a true love for his family and fans.

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Andy Hug, The Freebirds and the Von Erichs: What Kickboxing is Missing Right Now

I want you to visualize what is one of the most iconic knockouts in the history of Kickboxing. Visualize Andy Hug landing that spinning back kick on Mike Bernardo’s knee in the K-1 World Grand Prix 1996 Finals and the gravity that came from that kick. It was a tremendous story; Andy Hug, the undersized fighter who had lost to Bernardo twice before had finally overcome the odds when everything was on the line. It was hard to not feel something from that knockout. 

The concept of sport at its best and most effective is when there is an emotional bond between the athlete and the spectator. Without a doubt there is a magical spark that happens when an athlete achieves a lifelong dream while a spectator, one that is emotionally invested in the athlete, watches on and cheers. In part it is due to living out a fantasy vicariously through the athlete; being able to see someone achieve their dream, to, if even for just a brief moment, be able to see someone reach those great heights that always seem out of reach. 

In combat sports, which are about the individual and not a team, the ultimate goal is usually to win a World Championship. It’s a story that writes itself, a story about climbing to the top of the mountain and becoming the best, then defending that title and continuing to be the best. When the fans have an emotional investment in the fighter it is just amplified and the journey is all-the-more satisfying.

It’s these things that make combat sports the most fulfilling ones to spectate in the world, but it is also what makes them so inherently frustrating to be a fan of. Conventional wisdom points towards acquiring the most talent, to toss them into the ring against each other and hope that not only a World Champion emerges, but that a star will be born as well. The problem with this is that the more names that are involved, the more individuals with their own stories, personalities, strengths and weaknesses are in play and after a while they begin to get lost in the shuffle.

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Why Daniel Ghita vs. Rico Verhoeven II is Such a Big Deal

GLORY

On June 21st live on PPV Daniel Ghita and Rico Verhoeven will square off for a second time within the GLORY ring, this time for the GLORY Heavyweight Championship. The last time that they met they were vying for the GLORY 11 Heavyweight Tournament crown, this time it is for a tangible Championship, one that will be worn and defended with pride. At GLORY 11 the promotion made their Spike TV debut with Daniel Ghita vs. Rico Verhoeven as the explosive main event, possibly one of the best Heavyweight fights in GLORY’s brief history thus far.

Of course it is not without controversy. Gokhan Saki has decried the referee in his opening round bout against Verhoeven for counting a controversial down against him, which mentally “broke” him and led to Verhoeven picking up the victory. Regardless of that, Verhoeven earned his spot in the Finals against Daniel Ghita, but even then everyone assumed that Ghita would coast to victory.

He didn’t. In fact, Verhoeven vs. Ghita was so closely-contested that when you look at the stats for the fight, they have Ghita winning by a small margin. Daniel Ghita was quick to point this out on social media recently as both men traded barbs digitally before their fight next month. Do the numbers tell the story? I’m not quite sure. After another viewing of Rico vs. Ghita I I had scored the bout the same way that I did the first time; Daniel Ghita won the first round and Rico Verhoeven won the last two rounds. Round two was up for debate, sure, but round three was very clearly Rico, especially with how he ended it.

GLORY 11 was, in a way, a historic event and was seen by more fans in the United States than GLORY has ever had watching before. What they walked away with was an understanding and respect for both Daniel Ghita and Rico Verhoeven as the top Heavyweights in the world. Many longtime fans would be quick to point out fighters like Badr Hari, Gokhan Saki and Tyrone Spong could and might break into GLORY’s Heavyweight scene and make a huge impact, but GLORY made their Spike TV debut and two stars were born.

Verhoeven and Ghita is the first real rivalry to be built up by GLORY since their Spike TV debut, making this rematch the first in GLORY’s post-Spike TV history and their biggest fight to date. It doesn’t hurt that both men are well-spoken, educated and easy to get along with, important traits for combat sports stars in the United States. I was impressed with how Rico Verhoeven handled the press at GLORY 16, with Verhoeven not only more comfortable in the ring but also comfortable out of the ring as well. 

GLORY is taking a chance by promoting Verhoeven vs. Ghita as the headliner on their first PPV event, but in a way it is symbolic. Both of these men helped to christen the new era for GLORY and will be an integral part of GLORY’s next big step to prominence. The best part about it is that both men are tremendous talents and that this fight not only appeals to those newer fans that GLORY has recently won over, but to fans who have been following the sport of Kickboxing for years now. 

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