Today in Texas, Bellator finally announced what we've known for quite a while now: Bellator will be running professional kickboxing shows. The first event will be piggybacked onto the Oktagon/Bellator event in Italy, much like we've speculated. The names that Coker introduced at the press event today were Kevin Ross, Joe Schilling, Keri Melendez, Raymond Daniels and Anastasia Yankova. These will most likely be the banner fighters for the promotion moving forward.
Many have noted that Schilling is fighting on the upcoming GLORY card, but there have been some weird contractual issues between Schilling and GLORY, I wouldn't be shocked if this was simply finishing things out.
Carlo di Blasi was there to discuss rules, regulations and promotional impact worldwide. This event will air immediately after the Bellator event does, meaning that Spike and Bellator are putting their all into making this event seem huge.
So this is finally happening. After almost a year of rumors and false starts, Scott Coker's kickboxing organization is finally happening.
On Friday, April 16th Bellator Kickboxing will hold their first event in Italy, the event will air on April 22nd at 11pm Eastern, directly following Bellator 153, which sees the debut of former UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson. With one month to go there have been questions as to what sorts of rules and weight classes the new promotion will be using and today they are announcing just that.
Bellator Kickboxing will be adhering to MMA weight classes, a smart move that keeps uniformity between both brands and helps to make kickboxing less confusing to newer viewers. According to Bellator, the weight classes that they plan on featuring are listed below.
Heavyweight: 265 pounds
Light Heavyweight: 205 pounds
Middleweight: 185 pounds
Welterweight: 170 pounds
Lightweight: 155 pounds
Featherweight: 145 pounds
Bantamweight: 135 pounds
Flyweight: 125 pounds
Much like MMA, there will be a one pound allowance, although that will be different in title fights.
The fights will be following the general ruleset that we've known for a long time now as "K-1 rules," which means that regular fights will be contested in three rounds with each round clocking in at three minutes. In case of a draw there will be an extension round, but only one. For world title fights there will be five rounds. As for the actual rules, here is what they sent us in regards to how the fights will take place.
The competitors will attack and defend using punches (including spinning backfists), kicks and knee strikes.
Each non-title fight is scheduled for three, three-minute rounds with the potential for an extra sudden victory round if the bout is scored a draw. Title fights will be scheduled for five, three-minute rounds.
Prohibited techniques include: elbow strikes, throws, takedowns, and submission attempts or striking a downed fighter. Fighters may only clinch if they immediately attack with a knee strike.
Three judges will score Bellator Kickboxing using the “10-Point-Must” system applying a prioritized criterion that values knockdowns, impact on the opponent and clean scoring strikes.
The debut card currently looks like this:
Updated “Bellator Kickboxing: Torino” Fight Card:
Bellator Kickboxing Middleweight Main Event: Melvin Manhoef (49-12) vs. Alexandru Negrea (8-2)
This weekend Bellator presents Bellator MMA: Dynamite 2, a hybrid MMA and kickboxing event followed by Bellator Kickboxing 2. At Bellator Kickboxing 2 Raymond Daniels will be one of the banner fighters, taking on Stefano Bruno during the telecast. Whenever Daniels is in the ring you can expect something spectacular and in his first Bellator bout Daniels delivered exactly that. In just 30 seconds he was able to finish Francisco Morrica with a spinning back kick, the move that has become a pro wrestling-like finisher of sorts for Daniels.
But the thing is, Daniels has been working incredibly hard on rounding out his kickboxing game and he’s rarely getting to show it. “Yeah, you know,” Daniels told us, “it’s funny because we do all of these things in training camp and have plans to try them out, but the openings are there, so I take them and I knock guys out.”
Raymond Daniels is acutely aware that he provides what nobody else in professional kickboxing currently can in spectacular knockouts. He’s even got a signature kick that is credited with many of his knockout victories. Does it bother Daniels, though? “Not really. I know what I’m capable of, I know what I train and people will get to see it eventually. We always plan on showing off what I’ve learned, but I’ve mastered certain techniques -- and when I say master I mean that I’ve been practicing them for years -- and it’s like what Bruce Lee said; ‘I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.’ There are just certain techniques that I know when to set up, I know how I’m going to land, what happens if I miss. So yeah, when I see that opening I’m going for it.”
As Daniels continues forward in Bellator and becomes more and more synonymous with crazy knockouts and one of the more recognizable names in kickboxing, the question comes of what does Daniels look to do with his future. Does he stay humble and teaching karate, or does he have to move on? “I’ll always find time to teach,” he explained. “It’s a part of me and it’s so important to me. I think about what it did for me growing up, how it helped to shape and mold me. You don’t have to go on to become a world champion for martial arts training to be important in your life. When I was a kid I thought that I had it all figured out, but now that I’m older I realize that while I’m in a better position, I’m still not perfect. I’ve got an 18 year old son that just graduated from high school and he’s trying to figure his life out, it’s funny because he has these plans and he thinks that he’s got it figured out, now it’s his time to learn that he can be wrong.”
When it comes to fighting, though, Daniels does have his eyes on the prize. While he’s not overlooking his opponent this weekend, he will be looking for another spectacular knockout. “That’s just what I do. Against that traditional kickboxing and muay thai style I’m able to really frustrate guys, to make them move like they aren’t comfortable, to be aware that I hit from different angles. It keeps them on edge.”
But for the future? “Karim Ghajji won that title on the first show and I’m not that guy, I’m not gonna call out the champion before he has a chance to settle in. Let him have his moment, let him be happy with his accomplishments, but I’m coming for him. I’m a world champion, that’s what I do. I’m not looking beyond this next fight, but the way I see it, if I win this fight and get another big knockout I’ve got a pretty good claim to challenge for that title. Then I can make my way to another world title. That’s just what I do.”
Daniels does make a point, I can’t imagine anyone else challenging Karim Ghajji at this point. We’ll have to tune in this weekend to see what Daniels brings to the table and if we get another spectacular knockout. Bellator Kickboxing 2 airs directly after Bellator MMA: Dynamite 2 on Friday, June 24th.
On June 24th in St. Louis, Missouri Bellator will be holding their second Bellator MMA: Dynamite event, but instead of running kickboxing fights during the show, there will be a second event directly following the MMA portion of the card on Spike TV featuring the kickboxing card. Officially titled Bellator Kickboxing 2 it will be headlined by the Joe Schilling vs. Hisaki Kato rematch, only this time contested under kickboxing rules. What's unique is that riding the wave of Bellator MMA: Dynamite 2, Joe vs. Kato will open the card in a way to immediately grab the attention of Bellator MMA viewers.
While the card is not complete yet, the fights that are signed and ready are as follows. Kevin Ross is expected to fight on Bellator Kickboxing 2, as should Denise Kielholtz.
Perhaps the thing that caught my eye the most about the early leaks for the inaugural Bellator Kickboxing card was some of the names included. Sure, Melvin Manhoef makes a lot of sense, considering he’s signed to Bellator for MMA already, but it was the names Denise Kielholtz, Raymond Daniels and Kevin Ross that really caught my eye. All three were stars in other promotions before; Kielholtz in Enfusion Live, Daniels in GLORY and Ross in Lion Fight. While Daniels departing GLORY came as a bit of a shock, Kevin Ross signing with Bellator Kickboxing was the real surprise.
Kevin Ross is perhaps the poster boy for muay thai in the United States, to the point where Ross himself is sort of a meme. Seriously, Ross is sort of a meme for this photo of him bowing, fists extended towards the camera with the words “muay thai” scrawled across his knuckles. Chances are that you’ve seen that photo before, even if you aren’t super into kickboxing or muay thai. Regardless, Ross made his name among hardcore fans as a tough-as-nails American nak muay who wasn’t afraid to fly over to Thailand and scrap with the best of them or to sign on to face top level Thais in his home of California. The list of Thai opponents stretches from Coke Chunhawat to Malaipet, Sagetdao and even, yes, one of the greatest of all time in Saenchai.
Win, lose or draw (Ross actually has zero draws to his credit) Ross is always looking to entertain. “I’m there to put on a show for the fans,” he explained to me. “I put everything into my fights, I’m never taking it easy or trying to just hold on, I’m always doing my best even if it means losing.” This is the Kevin Ross that endeared himself to a larger audience thanks to Lion Fight’s television deal with AXS TV that saw Ross as one of Lion Fight’s centerpieces for so long. Much like Ross explained, he entertained in each and every outing with Lion Fight, which is what made the fact that Lion Fight somehow let him go all the more insane. Who let’s a guy like that go?
Bellator’s Scott Coker made a deal that Ross simply couldn’t resist. “What’s important to me is staying active, being able to go anywhere and fight anyone if I have downtime. That’s what they offered me. Of course, Bellator is my home base and takes priority, but part of my deal is that I can take outside fights.” If you’ve never spoken to Kevin before he’s an incredibly nice guy, always easy to talk with. I joked with him about how he had multiple fight offers in China, only for those to fall apart due to his contractual obligations and exclusivity. “Yeah, exactly,” he said. “I can take outside fights now. If you are gonna keep me under lock and key at least keep me active. Fighting once or twice a year just isn’t enough.”
As I mentioned above, Ross is best known for muay thai. In fact, if you talk to Ross he’ll express his love and passion for the sport, but kickboxing has been on his agenda for a while now. Ross has had multiple false starts when it comes to kickboxing, from being booked with K-1 in China to GLORY announcing that they signed Ross only for Lion Fight to impose their will and keep Ross from fighting there. I’ve always seen Ross as sort of a ride-or-die guy for muay thai, but he brushed that off.
“Muay thai is my passion,” he explained, “but I’ve always loved kickboxing as well. I’ve always been a fan of it and it’s a really good fit for me. I can’t throw elbows or anything, but that’s okay.” His style actually adapts incredibly well to kickboxing. Ross has a fluid style that relies a bit heavier on range than your average muay thai fighter. Sure, kickboxing lacks the clinch or the elbows, but that also means we probably won’t have that many more Kevin Ross bloodbaths, which got a laugh out of him. “Yeah, I’m comfortable with kickboxing, for sure. You’ll see the same Kevin Ross that you always see, I’m gonna be fighting my heart out as always.”
And fight he will, because on April 16th he’s schedule against Matteo Taccini, whom we both admitted to not exactly know a ton about. “I know that he’s young, I know that he’s hungry and for me this isn’t anything different. I’m prepared to be myself and to fight like I always do, whatever he brings to the table I’ll be prepared for. It’s gonna be a fun fight.”
The future's looking bright for Ross, who admits that he’s been fighting for over 13 years now. The inevitable question was that now that he’s under contract to Bellator would he consider MMA, something that he had considered for a long time in the past, but was able to avoid. The answer was pretty simple. “If I was going to do it, I would have done it already, you know? For a long time I thought that I was going to, I was getting ready for it. Never say never, I guess? But probably not.” We had agreed that it makes a bigger statement for him to stay where he is, and according to Ross he’s already see the flow move towards kickboxing and muay thai thanks to the popularity of Glory and Lion Fight. “I’m already seeing fighters trying to make their way in kickboxing, choosing it over MMA, I think that you’ll see more of that in the future.”
When I brought up the topic of if MMA and kickboxing needed to be connected closely for kickboxing and muay thai to grow, or if it was detrimental he was optimistic in it finding its own audience as well as appealing to fight fans in general. “It’s a little of both, I think. I don’t think that being closely related to MMA will be a bad thing for it, or that anyone will look down on it. I think that people will realize that it’s different and that it’ll come into its own. I’m just happy that I get to be a part of it and to help move the sport forward still.”
The decision that Ross made to jump to Bellator Kickboxing is a huge one for the sport, with Ross being incredibly upbeat heading into his first fight for the organization and clearly holds Scott Coker and his past accomplishments within kickboxing and MMA in high regards. “I mean, it’s Scott Coker,” he said, “his track record speaks for itself. Nobody has more experience doing what he’s done and how he’s done it, I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out and I’m honored to be an important part of it. He’s got the right fighters, the right team and the right network in Spike TV in place to help to make this a success.”
Indeed, Scott Coker made his mark on kickboxing a great deal of years ago with his own events before he took the reins of K-1 USA and before Strikeforce transitioned to MMA and took the world by storm. On April 16th (airing on April 22nd on Spike TV) we’ll see the vision start to fall into place with Kevin Ross at the forefront against Matteo Taccini.
This past Friday at Bellator Kickboxing 2 Joe Schilling stepped into the ring against Hisaki Kato. Kato holds a victory over Schilling under MMA rules, but to many this was Joe's chance to shine and avenge the loss to Kato under his own rules. The fight was going Joe's way until a fateful blow landed and Joe was down on the mat. That blow was a spinning backfist, only many were quick to note that it looked more like the elbow or forearm connected, not the glove.
Technically under ISKA rules that was an illegal shot. Throughout the evening I heard talk about there being heated discussions backstage about the legality of the blow and even rumblings of it being overturned. Cooler heads prevailed and that talk has died down. Interestingly enough, Joe appeared on a recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience this week where both men talked about losing, talked about the kind of awful people who exist online and talk smack at fighters as well as the legality of the blow.
At about 13:47 listen for the talk of the shot and how both seem to agree that shots like that should probably be legal anyway.
There's also just some solid talk about kickboxing and muay thai in the show as well.
On April 16 in Torino, Italy Bellator Kickboxing will finally make its debut. The card, set to be headlined by Melvin Manhoef, is starting to come together with a few interesting bouts. Melvin Manhoef finally has an opponent in Alexandru Negrea and Mustapha Haida will fight Karim Ghajji in a very, very interesting battle between a battle-hardened veteran and a fighter that many see with a bright future in Haida. Raymond Daniels, Denise Kielholtz and Kevin Ross are still scheduled without opponents.
Updated “Bellator Kickboxing: Torino” Fight Card:
Bellator Kickboxing Middleweight Main Event: Melvin Manhoef (49-12) vs. Alexandru Negrea (8-2)
With Bellator Kickboxing: Budapest airing on Friday evening here in the States, Bellator is looking to make a tidal wave within the kickboxing industry by announcing their next event, a split MMA and kickboxing event, happening on December 10th in Florence, Italy. The show will feature Bellator Kickboxing's top talent, include a women's rematch, this time for the vacant Bellator Flyweight World title between Denise Kielholtz and Gloria Peritore. In addition to that, the names of Raymond Daniels, Kevin Ross and Joe Schilling were mentioned, but the biggest news yet is their latest acquisition.
The Doctor himself, Giorgio Petrosyan, will be fighting for Bellator Kickboxing, making his debut on December 10th.
Updated “Bellator Kickboxing: Florence” Card:
Female Flyweight World Title: Denise Kielholtz (45-3) vs. Gloria Peritore (11-1-1)
While we've known for a while that Giorgio Petrosyan will be making his Bellator Kickboxing debut this December in Firenze, his opponent has remained unknown. That is, until now. Bellator has confirmed to LiverKick that Giorgio Petrosyan's first test inside of the Bellator ring will be against none other than British muay thai standout Jordan Watson. The two were scheduled to clash earlier this year until Watson was forced to pull out due to injury.
Watson is coming off of a victory over Sanny Dahlbeck earlier this year in the Yokkao ring and has been one of the names to help put the UK on the map over the past few years, participating in wars with fighters like Dahlbeck, Sitthichai, Saiyok, Khem, Steve Moxon, Aikpracha, Yodsanklai and more. This will prove to be an interesting test for Petrosyan.
Petrosyan took some time off after his loss to Andy Ristie in December of 2013 and since his return has been fighting, but the toughest test that he's had has been the young Josh Jauncey. Watson will be a great litmus test to see where the Greatest of All-Time stands currently and fans should welcome the chance to once again see the Doctor do what he does best.
Bellator Kickboxing's debut is in just under a month now, being headlined by Melvin Manhoef taking on Alexandru Negrea in a middleweight bout that should have a lot of fireworks. The other announced bout is with hot European prospect Mustapha Haida taking on Karim Ghajji in what should be an exciting battle between two top fighters. Also on the card is Raymond Daniels, Denise Kielholtz and Kevin Ross, but until now their opponents have not been finalized.
We've learned from Bellator that their three opponents have been finalized and that these are official. America's favorite son in muay thai, Kevin Ross, will be making his Bellator Kickboxing debut against the young Italian fighter, Taccini Matteo. Dutch champion Denise Kielholtz will be fighting a veteran Italian striker with a whole slew of amateur and professional accolades in Veronica Vernocchi while the explosive, always exciting Raymond Daniels will be fighting someone with experience in amateur kickboxing, MMA and boxing in Morrica Francesca.