On Friday night, February 24th live from Chicago, Illinois, GLORY returns to the ring with GLORY 38. The event is set to make some further sense out of the ultra-competitive light heavyweight division by showcasing a GLORY Light Heavyweight Championship bout and also deciding a new contender in a tournament, with the winners of each going on to fight for the title at GLORY 40.
GLORY Light Heavyweight Championship: Artem Vakhitov (Champion) vs. Saulo Cavalari (Challenger)
This is a rubber match between two of the divisions top fighters for one of the most important and prestigious of GLORY's titles. So no, that magical Gokhan Saki return didn't happen, but the division has proven itself to be one of the promotion's strongest even in his stead with fighters like Mwekassa, Cavalari and Vakhitov stepping up and proving themselves to be worthy. Each man holds a win over the other, but perhaps their last meeting where Vakhitov was able to wrestle the title free of Cavalari's grasp told us the most about what to expect from their third clash.
While Cavalari has proven himself to be a scary presence in the division with heavy hands and the technique to go along with it, Vakhitov feels like he's moving on to a different level. Where Cavalari is more likely to brawl and grow sloppy, Vakhitov reins it in and tightens his game up. Cavalari walked away with a split decision in their first meeting and in their second Vakhitov had made sure to change his game plan up enough to where he could pick up a decisive win. So yeah, Cavalari is a knockout artist, but Vakhitov has the defenses to weather the storm and the offense that is able to nullify Cavalari's offense and keep him off balance enough for Vakhitov to impose his will. I think we actually see a more decisive Vakhitov win this time out, especially considering how he absolutely destroyed Mwekassa in his first title defense.
GLORY Light Heavyweight Tournament: Zack Mwekassa vs. Zinedine Hameur-Lain, Danyo Ilunga vs. Ariel Machado
The winner of the main event will fight the winner of this tournament at GLORY 40, giving us a really good feel for the division and where it's headed. That being said, all four men are entering the tournament with at least one loss, which is a bit confusing when crowning a contender for a title. For example, Danyo Ilunga just lost to Michael Duut. Where's Michael Duut? Zinedine Hameur-Lain lost to Pavel Zhuravlev, where's Pavel? In Machado his loss was to a fighter in another weight class, so it feels weird but excusable, and for Mwekassa he lost his last title fight, which once again, feels excusable.
Still, I'd be remiss if I wouldn't prefer this as Pavel Zhuravlev vs. Ariel Machado II and Mwekassa vs. Michael Duut. But I'm sure there are contractual situations, injuries and the usual chaff to worry about, so we've got what we've got and outside of those losses, there isn't a lot to complain about. While I initially see Danyo Ilunga vs. Zack Mwekassa in the finals, I'm not entirely sure that Ariel Machado doesn't beat Ilunga and fight Mwekassa. If so, I'm not sure that I pick Mwekassa over Machado considering Mwekassa still shows weaknesses to kick-heavy fighters.
So yeah, if it's Danyo Ilunga against Mwekassa, I pick Mwekassa to win it all. But Machado is absolutely the dark horse here.
Richard Abraham vs. Antoine Pinto
For a while this fight baffled me. Why would this be on the main card in what is essentially the co-main event position? Abraham has a series of impressive wins, but not against any top fighters with any really visible knockouts and Pinto is making his debut. Then it struck me; Abraham is a local guy and there is this phenomenon in the United States where the arenas get packed full of friends and family of the local fighters on the card. After their guy fights, they leave. So while you might see a packed arena during the SuperFight Series, by the time the main event rolls around it's a sea of empty seats. So yeah, put Richard Abraham near the top of the card and you'll retain a lot of that crowd.
I still don't get that mindset and why you would attend a show and not care about seeing some of the best fighters from around the world -- even out of curiosity -- but whatever.
Pinto's brother made his debut recently and showed that coming from muay thai you really do need to adjust to kickboxing rules if you aren't a kick-punch kind of fighter. Has Antoine learned this lesson? My bet is not really, or at least not in enough time to properly figure it out. Abraham feels like GLORY's next American star and that's pretty cool.
Benjamin Adegbuyi vs. Anderson "Braddock" Silva
Man, it's just tough to be a Braddock Silva fan sometimes. He's talented, skilled and destroys fighters outside of the top ten, but he takes on all-comers without fear and sometimes it just doesn't work out. Adegbuyi is a guy who has improved with every fight and I don't see that stopping any time soon. So power, technique and now cardio are all within his toolbelt heading into this fight. Is it just a tune-up fight? I guess so, but never count Braddock out.
Murthel Groenhart vs. Thongchai
GLORY's Welterweight division has been tipped on its head with Nieky Holzken being dethroned by Cedric Doumbe, leaving the rest of the division in a state of flux. Who will be the next challenger and who will emerge as the next rising star? For Murthel Groenhart, who arguably held two wins over Holzken in everyone's eyes but the judges, this is a chance for a fresh start against a man who has only beaten him once prior. But his first draw is an incredibly tough opponent in Thongchai Sitsongpeenong.
Thongchai is a former Lumpinee Champion and current Rajadamnern 160lbs Champion, meaning that he's essentially one of the best in the world without question. His first foray into the GLORY ring was an impressive win over Casey Greene that showed that he didn't need to have a long adjustment period to the rules, he was just ready to go. Of all of the fights on this card, this is perhaps the most pick 'em. I think that Thongchai is incredibly skilled and tough, but this is Murthel's fight to lose. To Murthel this is a chance at redemption and to solidify his status as the uncrowned champion, for Thongchai it's just another fight.
Catalin Morosanu vs. Maurice Greene
All due respect to Maurice Greene, but holy shit. Catalin Morosanu is an incredibly tough, incredibly exciting fighter who has proven himself time and time again as one of the best heavyweights in the world. In the latter half of 2016 Morosanu looked pretty rough and his signature cardio wasn't there, but he was suffering from a bad back injury that kept him out of the gym. Hopefully that is shored up.
The Romanian who credits Bob Sapp as his hero and inspiration has already proven himself to be a much, much better version of Bob Sapp. Shorter? Yes, but hits just as hard. Less muscular? Yes, but he's got incredible cardio and it means that he can throw bombs all night without slowing down. That has led to some incredibly exciting fights and it's very rarely that you'll walk away from a Morosanu fight without a surge of adrenaline running through your system. This is perhaps the most exciting GLORY signing at heavyweight in a long, long time.