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LiverKick Best of 2013: Fight of the Year

Photo (C) GLORY

The year 2013 was a tremendous year for the sport of Kickboxing as we saw GLORY take aim at America as one of its home bases and really made some strides that I honestly thought we’d never see for the sport here. GLORY not only ran shows, but they ran a bunch of shows and those shows were attended by a good number of paying customers. Then, to top it off, GLORY moved from CBS Sports Network and internet PPVs to Spike TV, picking up steam and viewers with every show. That was a big deal.

GLORY wasn’t the only organization to make moves, either, as we saw another season of the SuperKombat World Grand Prix, the birth of LEGEND in Russia and K-1 starting to get the gears in motion by running both a Heavyweight World Grand Prix and a World MAX tournament within the same year. But which company did what doesn’t really matter, what matters are the fights and the fighters.

Throughout the coming week we’ll be looking at the best of 2013 throughout multiple categories, with yesterday being the Fighter of the Year and today instead turning to the fights themselves. There were a lot of great fights this year, but only one of them could be the Fight of the Year. Surprisingly enough, the Fight of the Year happened near the tail-end of 2013 in the GLORY 13 Welterweight tournament.

LiverKick 2013 Fight of the Year: Nieky Holzken vs. Joe Valtellini

This was a fight that had everything going for it. Throughout the year there were a lot of upsets in the major GLORY tournaments and fans didn’t always get what they wanted to see, but going into GLORY 13 the fans wanted to see Nieky Holzken square off against Canadian fighter Joe Valtellini and they got just that. Valtellini moved on to the finals after a beautiful headkick KO on Raymond Daniels while Holzken picked up a decision over Karapet Karapetyan, leading into what was the fight that the fans wanted to see.

This was a fight that had it all; drama, technique, momentum shifts and even ended with a knockout. If you are a Kickboxing fan this is the kind of fight that gets you excited and makes you want to share it with non-Kickboxing fan friends in an attempt to turn them. In this fight Valtellini showed any of the remaining doubters that he belongs in the top of the Welterweight division and can not only hang with the likes of Nieky Holzken, but get within a breath of taking Holzken out. Without a doubt a possible rematch is something to look out for in the future.

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LiverKick Best of 2013: Fighter of the Year

Photo (C) Bauzen

The year 2013 was a tremendous year for the sport of Kickboxing as we saw GLORY take aim at America as one of its home bases and really made some strides that I honestly thought we’d never see for the sport here. GLORY not only ran shows, but they ran a bunch of shows and those shows were attended by a good number of paying customers. Then, to top it off, GLORY moved from CBS Sports Network and internet PPVs to Spike TV, picking up steam and viewers with every show. That was a big deal.

GLORY wasn’t the only organization to make moves, either, as we saw another season of the SuperKombat World Grand Prix, the birth of LEGEND in Russia and K-1 starting to get the gears in motion by running both a Heavyweight World Grand Prix and a World MAX tournament within the same year. But which company did what doesn’t really matter, what matters are the fights and the fighters.

Throughout the coming week we’ll be looking at the best of 2013 throughout multiple categories, but first we kick things off with LiverKick’s 2013 Fighter of the Year, which was probably the most competitive category of them all. Just about every GLORY tournament winner deserved a spot as Fighter of the Year and the decision between the last two was incredibly difficult, but a decision was rendered. First, let’s look at the runner-up.

LiverKick 2013 Fighter of the Year - Runner Up: Andy Ristie

Man, what a year for Andy Ristie. The man was a wrecking machine with a five-fight win streak in 2013, including two wins that eclipsed the rest. Ristie’s wins were over Alessandro Campagna, Albert Kraus, Niclas Larsen, Giorgio Petrosyan and Robin van Roosmalen. The last two were by knockout to claim the spot of #1 in the 70kg division across the world, which is a herculean feat.

If it wasn’t for the guy who claimed the top spot having as great of a year as he did, Andy Ristie would have been a shoo-in for Fighter of the Year.

LiverKick 2013 Fighter of the Year: Tyrone Spong

Andy Ristie’s 2013 was incredibly impressive, but Tyrone Spong’s 2013 started off with a complete annihilation of a three-time K-1 World Grand Prix Champion in Remy Bonjasky before heading into the GLORY 9 Light Heavyweight tournament. GLORY 9 was unique in that it was an 8-man tournament, not a 4-man tournament, meaning that Spong had to win three fights in one night, which saw him knock out Michael Duut, pummel Filip Verlinden for three rounds and then stop the reigning king of the Light Heavyweight division, Danyo Ilunga, in just one round.

What followed after that was Tyrone Spong making up for one of the few strange points of contention on his record with a rematch against the legendary Nathan “Carnage” Corbett. Carnage has been the king of 95kg Muay Thai for what seems like forever now, remaining unchallenged. Carnage was on a seven-year win streak (with a random No Contest to Spong in the mix, even though he had knocked Spong out) before he met Tyrone Spong and not only did Spong look good against Carnage, but he looked incredible. No one has been able to make Carnage look that lost in the ring, which is what set Tyrone Spong apart and made him the LiverKick 2013 Fighter of the Year.

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A New Chapter for Cro Cop Ahead of Glory Debut

Glory

Peter Aerts has shown us that while a 40-year-old body that has endured a lifetime of physical punishment may not respond as vigorously as it once could, a smart gameplan can still provide a path to victory for an older fighter. Aerts’ shocking upset of Semmy Schilt in 2010 and near upset of Rico Verhoeven in 2013 was a testament both to his unreal physical and mental toughness as well as to his ability to execute an effective gameplan that pushed his opponents out of their desired fighting styles. Indeed, adapting and finding a way to win is both Peter Aerts’ unique forte and the source of his career longevity, remaining in the top-10 across multiple decades and generations of fighters.

When 39-year-old Mirko Cro Cop makes his Glory debut, he will find himself in a division full of dangerous young opponents ranging from skilled technical fighters like Rico Verhoeven to bloodthirsty knockout artists like Daniel Ghita, Gokhan Saki, and Errol Zimmerman. After enduring years of trauma fighting through the ranks of K-1, Pride, and the UFC, Cro Cop will have to fight smart, trading physical prowess for intelligent and perceptive kickboxing. He will have to become a crafty and tactically adept fighter to stay afloat in a shark tank of heavyweight talent.

Perhaps sensing the need for reinvention, Cro Cop has actually developed a close-ranged dirty boxing style in his return to kickboxing. This tactic appears to have paid off for the Croatian, who has now gone 6-0 with notable wins over SuperKombat veterans Ismael Londt, Pavel Zhuravlev, and Loren Javier Jorge as well as young American upstarts Randy Blake and Jarrell Miller, controversial home town decisions notwithstanding. While his new style may not please those who wish to see Cro Cop turn back the clock, the move reflects Cro Cop’s growth as a fighter and signifies his maturing expectations. It’s a wise decision that has allowed him to remain competitive in today’s kickboxing world.

While a fight against semi-retired Remy Bonjasky may not necessarily provide great insight into Cro Cop’s place in the heavyweight division, it will undoubtedly offer kickboxing fans around the world the chance to see one of the great legends of the sport return to the sport’s grandest stage, and in 2014, following a year of upsets which saw long-held titles, ranks, and orthodoxies overturned, Cro Cop may have some surprises--which hopefully include some vintage LHK finishes--left in store.

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Buakaw's Time to Reclaim the 70kg Throne in Kickboxing

Buakaw

The past few years have been turbulent times in the life of Sombat Banchamek, best known as Buakaw Banchamek, formerly known as Buakaw Por. Pramuk. The legendary fighter from Thailand is perhaps best known for his tenure within K-1, where he took home two K-1 World MAX Championships, cementing his legacy as one of the best 70kg fighters in the world. For fans of Banchamek, the last few years have been trying ones, as Banchamek found himself with tremendous personal and professional struggles that kept him out of the ring, or if he was in the ring, facing sub-par competition to keep the legend of Buakaw alive and well.

The first struggle was with his home camp, Por. Pramuk gym, where Buakaw felt that he was being treated unfairly and chose to leave. Well, things aren’t that simple in Thailand, with the bond between a gym and fighter being akin to that of an ironclad contract. Buakaw made impassioned pleas to the public about his poor treatment and how he, one of the biggest stars to come out of Thailand’s Muay Thai scene, was still living a life of moderate poverty and unable to visit his family at will.

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The Disbelief of Giorgio Petrosyan's Loss to Andy Ristie

Petrosyan (C) Bauzen for WKA

Saturday night was surreal, that’s the only way to describe it. Giorgio Petrosyan the king of kickboxing, the best 70 KG kickboxer we’ve ever seen, hell quite possibly the best kickboxer we’ve ever seen in any weight class. He defined perfection, he was a man who not only would win, but he would tactically embarrass his opponents for the entirety of the match. I’m not sure there is anyone else that has made more top level fighters look like amateurs more or less. The sheer thought of Petrosyan losing seemed about as realistic as an Ed Wood film. Yet, here we are a few days out and that’s the case.

After Andy Ristie rendered Petrosyan unconscious it was just pure disbelief in the arena. Everyone was gasping, their hands up in the air, mouths agape. Up to that point, Andy Ristie was fighting the perfect fight, he was throwing of Petrosyan’s timing, wasn’t letting him get comfortable with his range and he was still losing the fight on most people's scorecards. Ristie did put on the performance of a lifetime, beating the number one and two guys at 70KG. He not only defeated them, he knocked out a man who was 76-1-1 who’s never been knocked out and he knocked out a man who was knocked out once in 73 fights. It was one of the best one night performances in recent memory, it’s up there with Semmy’s K1 WGP run in 09, it was something to behold as it truly felt special.

Even though I consider myself an unbiased observer of kickboxing, I still had a weird feeling after seeing Petrosyan lose. On the train ride home from the event I was racking my brain, trying to sum up my feelings on it and the only thing I could come up with was a comment Pat Miletich made after Fedor lost to Werdum. “My heart sank not for Fedor but for the reality of perfection that is not attainable in the sport of MMA. All experienced fighters know you’re going to lose if you’re fighting world-class opponents, but Fedor was different.” For me it’s sad to see the guy who was thought to be unbeatable, bested. Sure, at the end of the day, it was bound to happen, you can only fight the best of the best for so long without getting caught.

Now I know sports are a very reactionary world, I’ve been guilty being reactionary after an event as well, it happens. After Saturday night, I saw a few people question Petrosyan his record and his skill level. Now, let me address his record, sure, there are times when he faced guys that are out of the top 20, but he also fights 5 times or more a year and he continually faces the best of the best. Now, here’s a gripe that I have, is about this talk about padding records, first of all, Petrosyan doesn’t have a padded record, plain and simple. If he did have a padded record, so what? If a promotion can pad a guys record, sell him to me as a world beater and make me want to see him fight, I’m 100% for it. That’s one of the biggest problems that I have with the UFC, they don’t know how to build guys up properly, they throw them to the wolves and if they lose, they lose all drawing power. Now onto the Petrosyan’s skill, I hate the fact that this is even a question, he’s the best 70KG kickboxer ever, end of story. The way he slips punches, counters, draws everyone into his fight, it’s a thing of beauty. Combat sports are tricky, it’s not like baseball where you have numbers to quantify how good a player is. It’s all an eye test, you have to have a trained eye to see it and while I don’t consider myself an expert, I do consider myself a seasoned viewer and have seen a fair share of Petro’s fights. Any positive adjective you can think of, Petro fits it.

At the end of the day, perfection isn’t something that can be obtained, it’s the idea of it that’s so beautiful, the idea of a man trying to become this abstract idea, it’s just so fascinating. Everytime you tell yourself it’s something that can’t happen, someone will come along and change your mind and Petrosyan was that guy. Even with his knockout loss, Petrosyan will continue to chase the unobtainable goal of perfection.

 

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GLORY 12 Impression from Press Row

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Ristie (C) Bauzen for WKA

It seems as though 2013 has been the Year of the Underdog for Glory. With the exception of Tyrone Spong, none of the current champions entered their respective tournaments as the favorite, but rather as the third or fourth seed. Perhaps it is fitting, considering that kickboxing as a sport is also still a bit of an underdog in the United States when compared to boxing and MMA. However, one of the best things about sports, and combat sports in particular, is a spectacular upset, and last night’s Glory 12 show was an inspiration and triumph for underdogs everywhere. Anyone watching could not deny the caliber of fighters or complain about the finish rate - no less than eleven of the sixteen bouts ended by (T)KO, and no grumbling or controversies surrounded the existing decisions. It was a fantastic night and one that will hopefully continue to strengthen awareness of the American kickboxing community.

Saturday night’s Lightweight tournament winner Andy Ristie showed the world that he didn’t give a damn about no rankings by knocking out number one ranked Giorgio Petrosyan, and then Robin van Roosmalen. Both men seemed to have some difficulty dealing with Ristie’s aggressive and unorthodox style. The “Machine” applied relentless pressure, and didn’t allow the top two favorites to rest or figure it out.

Wayne Barrett (C) Bauzen for WKA

In the main event, despite having far less experience, New York’s own Wayne Barrett won a Unanimous Decision after an intense battle with the favorite and recent Glory Middleweight tournament winner, Joe Schilling. Barrett let everyone know that Petrosyan wasn’t the only doctor in the house. If you can’t stop crazy, then call Barrett the psychiatrist, who visibly rocked Schilling with punches and knocked him down for two eight counts in Round 2. Schilling came back hard in Round 3 and returned the favor by feeding Barrett a vicious knee that put him down briefly, but Barrett managed to stand back up and they fought to the bell. Both fighters showed incredible heart.

  • Other notable moments included:
  • Brian “the Lion” Colette added another first round knockout win at Madison Square Garden to his record, somehow managing to land a right head kick from the scrum that laid out his opponent, Warren Thompson.
  • Saulo Cavalari knocks out veteran Mourad Bouzidi with a nasty right hook just one minute and 23 seconds in the first round, extending his 16 KO record to 17.
  • Francois Ambang uses great hand combinations to set up a nasty low kick that cut off the leg of his opponent, Eddie Walker, giving him the win by TKO in round 3.
  • Robin van Roosmalen versus Davit Kiria in the semi-final was a treat to watch. Two extremely tough, technical strikers not willing to give up an inch to the other stood in the center of the ring and banged it out. Kiria faded in rounds 2 and 3, but still a very exciting ‘dialogue’ between the two.

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GLORY and the Underdog Story Conundrum

glory

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.

schilling

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.

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The LiverKick.com GLORY 12 Preview

Glory

GLORY 12 New York is tomorrow, live on Spike TV at 9PM Eastern featuring a one-night, four-man Lightweight tournament as well as a main event showdown between Joe Schilling and Wayne Barrett. This is GLORY’s second outing on Spike TV, which makes it a pretty big deal, this also means that you should be tuning in without doubt or question, as the best in the world, Giorgio Petrosyan, is going to be live on free television.

This, my friends, is our breakdown of the card from top-to-bottom with predictions included.

 

  • Lightweight Semi-Finals: Robin van Roosmalen vs. Davit Kiria -- This is going to be an incredibly exciting war between two of the world’s finest Lightweights. Davit Kiria is a guy who came from relative obscurity, given a chance due to training with Dave Jonkers and Semmy Schilt on early GLORY events before they realized that they had something special. These two fought back in 2011 while Robin van Roosmalen was on the rise, with Kiria’s technical style neutralizing RvR’s go-for-broke brawling style. Kiria has grown a lot as a fighter since this last fight and I feel like both men are going to look to put on a show. Kiria’s win over Murthel Groenhart shows how capable he is at handling aggressive fighters now, I think that he shocks fans with a win.
  • Prediction: Davit Kiria
  • Lightweight Semi-Finals: Giorgio Petrosyan vs. Andy Ristie -- Poor Andy Ristie. Ristie has been a star on the rise in the last few years, with his exciting style and his affable personality making him a fan favorite. Since stepping up in competition though, the fireworks have been halted for Ristie a bit, as he’s had problems running through the competition like he was known for before. Giorgio Petrosyan is his stylistic nightmare and outside of a cut or Petrosyan breaking his hand and being unable to continue, I think we all know Petrosyan walks away with the W.
  • Prediction: Giorgio Petrosyan
  • Lightweight Tournament Reserve Bout: Warren Stevelmans vs. Ky Hollenbeck -- After a bit of reshuffling we end up with this fight as the tournament reserve and honestly, Ky Hollenbeck deserves this spot. Hollenbeck is one of the few Americans who has made a big statement of late and has shown to have the skill and determination to be a player in the elite field. Warren Stevelmans is nothing to scoff at as a fighter, but I feel like Ky is on a roll right now. Man, whatever happened to Sanny Dahlbeck?
  • Prediction: Ky Hollenbeck
  • Jamal Ben Saddik vs. Ben Edwards -- A clash of the titans! A Heavyweight showdown between two burly guys! I’m mildly excited about the debut of Big Ben, who has really helped to refine his style over the past few years and has been showing a lot more in the way of technical chops. Jamal Ben Saddik is also a big dude with a lot of power, but I’m not sure how to really feel about him in the grand scheme of things at Heavyweight. Is JBS going to be an elite fighter, or is he just a guy who got a few good wins and will be a gatekeeper? This fight helps to determine this.
  • Prediction: Ben Edwards
  • Joe Schilling vs. Wayne Barrett -- It’s East Coast vs. West Coast in the battle of Middleweights. Joe Schilling has long been one of the biggest names in America for Kickboxing and Muay Thai and his huge win at GLORY 10 in the Middleweight tournament has shown that he had a lot of people talking about him for good reason. Wayne Barrett is a young hot shot who has had a few fights as a professional Kickboxer with them mostly being absolute annihilations of his skilled opponents. The thing is, his youth and inexperience run into Joe Schilling, who has fought all over the world and not only fought, but beaten the best at Middleweight. I think it seems like a forgone conclusion that someone is taking a nap, but whomever it is will probably not feel too much shame in the morning.
  • Prediction: Joe Schilling
  • Lightweight Tournament Finals: Giorgio Petrosyan vs. Davit Kiria -- I’m really most interested in seeing this rematch as opposed to any other possible Petrosyan match that could happen. Want to know why? I feel like Robin van Roosmalen is extremely skilled and can hit like a mack truck for the weight class, but that a fighter like Giorgio Petrosyan will not let his guard down long enough to let him do any work. A fighter like Kiria on the other hand has evolved his game a little bit to where it would be more of a chess match, plus Kiria is a bit less predictable with throwing the big spin kicks and all. I still pick Petrosyan in this one, but think that Kiria could show something new.
  • Prediction: Giorgio Petrosyan

 

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Why Giorgio Petrosyan on Free Television is Must-See

Petrosyan

There is a term that fans in the combat sports community tend to throw around a lot, to the point where the meaning has become dubious at best. That term is GOAT. If you are somehow blissfully unaware, GOAT stands for “Greatest of All Time.” In a lot of cases, it is difficult to use such a term as, well, let’s be honest here, most of these fighters haven’t been competing for long enough to really get a beat on where they’ll stand in the Pantheon of Combat Sports. This preface is to explain how the term shouldn’t be taken lightly just so I can really explain to you how important it is to be able to use this label for Giorgio Petrosyan without any sense of irony.

Giorgio Petrosyan is other-wordly. There is just no doubt about it, when you are watching Giorgio Petrosyan you are watching the most skilled Kickboxer that we’ve ever seen in the sport’s rich history. Petrosyan earned the nickname “The Doctor” for his surgical-like precision with his hands and feet, with his ability to take little-to-no damage against some of the best strikers in the world while slipping strikes and landing them from every angle imaginable. In fact, the only knock on Petrosyan seems to be his proclivity to break his left hand, which has led to Knockouts becoming more and more scarce for him.

The fact that on Saturday evening American audiences will be treated with seeing Giorgio Petrosyan fighting (possibly twice) on free television seems to be lost on many with the leadup into GLORY 12 New York. Sure, there are a lot of great names on the card and a lot of great fighters featured, but none have accomplished the things that Giorgio Petrosyan has. Giorgio Petrosyan holds two K-1 World MAX Championships as well as last year’s GLORY 70kg Slam Championship with many believing that this year will be yet another 70kg tournament victory for him.

I’m under no illusion of Giorgio Petrosyan becoming a huge draw in the United States or that American fans are going to tune in by the millions this weekend to watch the best pound-for-pound fighter -- potentially in all combat sports -- compete and make the best in the world look like frustrated amateurs, but the hope is that maybe, just maybe a few new fans will see the technical master that is Giorgio Petrosyan and fall in love with the sport in a whole new way.

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Peter Aerts Only Retiring in Japan... For Now

Peter Aerts

When it comes to Peter Aerts I fear that I'll always be biased, as he was the guy who really got me into Kickboxing. It was one of those memories that I'll never shake free of and never plan on forgetting, the 1994 K-1 World Grand Prix. So this talk of retirement is a bit harrowing, even if he is 43 years old and it might be time to hang 'em up for his own safety.

Put Peter Aerts in a fight and I'll always believe that he has a fighting chance of walking away victorious in that fight. Why? Because he is Peter Aerts. That's why.

The news from Japan today was that Peter Aerts was going to be retiring at GLORY 13, but you know, it is a translation and can be rough. We received confirmation from a GLORY official today that this will be Peter's retirement in Japan, much like his It's Showtime bout against Tyrone Spong was his BeNeLux retirement. This means that this isn't the final curtain call for the Dutch Lumberjack, but still be prepared for that.

Some of our sources are sticking to their guns that this will be Peter's full retirement, but for now, who knows? GLORY's Japanese PR people are also selling this event as a "Farewell to an Era" with Peter Aerts, Remy Bonjasky and Semmy Schilt. Their retirements could be a very real part of this show.

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