GLORY’s next event is August 7th in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Las Vegas is known for being one of the fight capitals of the world and GLORY will finally make their debut there in the historic Hard Rock. The main event of the show is a GLORY Welterweight Championship bout between Nieky Holzken and Raymond Daniels, two men that have fought before and will meet for the newly-vacated championship.
In a way, Daniels vs. Holzken is a perfect way to sum up GLORY as an organization at the moment. GLORY began with a bang, pushing out nothing but star-studded cards with fights between top names from K-1 and It’s Showtime, but things have changed quite a bit since then. Some would say the changes were unwelcome, while others would argue that the health of the organization and the sport in particular should come before glitz and glamour. Chief among them would be GLORY’s CEO Jon J. Franklin.
Franklin was involved with GLORY previously, but his role was in assisting them with television rights deals and not running the entire organization. After some reshuffling after GLORY Last Man Standing failed to deliver in PPV sales last year Franklin was placed into the unenviable position of the CEO of GLORY and basically just told, “fix it.” GLORY started off big, just as big as the shows it was replacing from Japan, but the problem was there was really no market for it anymore and the shows, while impressive, helped the organization to bleed money for the first few years.
“You know,” Franklin explained to me when talking about the difficulties of taking over. “First thing I thought was that I was going to come in and trim the fat. Just come in and cut out everything that we didn’t need, make the whole operation leaner, more profitable and to ensure that we’ll still be running shows down the line. You can’t just cut everything, though, which I learned the hard way early on. There are contracts in place and if you don’t honor those contracts things can get messy in a hurry, even if those contracts were expensive for us at the time.”
That included some of the older, bigger name fighters who have now mostly retired or moved on to what they consider greener pastures for the time being. There was a marked change in direction for the organization after Franklin joined, which he is willing to admit wasn’t always perfect, but has been adjusted with some fine tuning. “Was the Oklahoma show maybe a bit of a stretch for us? Probably, in hindsight, yeah. That might have been a bit too far in the other direction, but if you look back at our recent shows I think that we’ve really found the right mix for us that keeps the fans in the arena happy and is enjoyable to viewers.”
Part of the change was removing some of the more costly aspects of the production, which meant cutting back on production staff that were attending events and even scaling back on travel expenses. “As cool as the ramp was to have, it was an expense and due to how tight our shows are on Spike TV, you’d never really see them anyway. On top of that, most of our more memorable entrances were fighters interacting with the crowd more, like Gokhan Saki at GLORY 15 Istanbul.”
As for the travel? “I travel coach now, which a few of the older guys were kind of shocked by. ‘How does it look that our CEO is traveling coach?’ They asked me, just not understanding it, still worried about image. I think that it shows that we are very serious about our organization and for its longevity that we aren’t spending frivolously or concerned about things like that. I don’t mind doing it and I believe that it sets a good example for everyone else.”
In a way, Nieky Holzken vs. Raymond Daniels is the perfect GLORY title fight under Jon J. Franklin’s leadership, especially in the Hard Rock, a venue that as a boxing promoter he had worked to put on shows numerous times in the past. Holzken is one of the most renowned and revered kickboxers in the world while Raymond Daniels is an American fighter who might not have the same level of credentials as a professional that Holzken does, but has worked tirelessly to transfer his skills in karate to the sport of kickboxing. His work has resulted in some of GLORY’s most spectacular knockouts and for Daniels becoming one of the more viral and notable stars for the organization.
“He’s incredible,” he said about Daniels. “I think that showcasing a fighter like Daniels helps to set us apart and really stand out. Nieky is an incredible boxer and Daniels is an incredible athlete who does things that nobody else does inside of the ring. The two-touch kicks, spinning back kicks, just everything that he does takes your breath away and leaves an impression.”
Many older fans see the fight between Daniels and Holzken as a forgone conclusion, but Franklin isn’t worried about a loss for either man hurting their image, instead noting that fighters with heart and personality tend to stand out. “I know that I’ll take some flak for this, but how can you not love a fighter like Dustin Jacoby? He’s still learning the ropes in our sport, but he entered the Road 2 Glory tournament on a day’s notice and won the whole thing, he fought Mourad Bouzidi on short notice and in Bellator stepped into the cage against King Mo on short notice. The guy is a fighter and he’s exciting to watch. I don’t think that losses define a fighter at all and I think that fans have certain connections with fighters and that doesn’t just fade away after a loss or two.”
GLORY is, of course, involved with the big Dynamite event in September that will showcase Bellator fights in a cage and GLORY fights inside of the GLORY ring. The event was in the works for quite a while and Franklin talks about how pleased he has been in the whole process. “How can you not like working with Scott Coker? I’d say he’s one of the top promoters in the world. He’s been a pleasure to work with and we are looking forward to putting on a great show. I mean, Bellator has an amazing platform that they’ve grown since Scott came in and we get to be a part of that with Dynamite.”
The inclusion of GLORY seems almost academic considering the caliber of events that they’ve produced in their short tenure and how Franklin and crew have been able to work miracles out in the previous few events with their reduced budget. Franklin does credit the fighters for sticking with them through the transition, as well. “What people don’t realize is that 95% of our fighters stuck with us through lean times. That is incredible, they really believe in what we are doing and believe that this is where they belong. Look at guys like Errol Zimmerman or Rico Verhoeven who stuck with us through everything and are just excited to get out there and fight.”
The card isn’t settled yet for Dynamite, but GLORY has promised to bring their A-game for this. There was talk of the event possibly happening without GLORY’s assistance, but the reality here is that GLORY’s stable of fighters are some of the very best in the world. The Dynamite event is a huge stage for kickboxing in general and GLORY has top talent in healthy supply to wow both old and new fans alike. It also speaks further for the health of the relationship with Spike TV, which Franklin feels strongly about.
“I was just out there at the Bellator show and I walked away from my meetings with Scott and everyone at Spike TV feeling very positive about it,” he explained. “We have a longterm deal with Spike with extension options and everyone who see GLORY programming feels strongly about it. Could the landscape change in the future, could our relationship change? It could, but that is the nature of television. We aren’t concerned, though, we have a healthy relationship and a lot more shows that we are planning right now.”
The market is ever-changing for combat sports but what is clear is that GLORY is in this for the long haul and is looking to help to grow the sport worldwide as well as the United States. While Spike TV is usually the hot topic, Franklin made sure to mention that they don’t plan on abandoning their international markets any time soon. They have healthy television relationships all throughout Europe and Asia and he notes how it is easier to fill up arenas throughout Europe with their top talent, like in Lille, France where Rico Verhoeven defended his GLORY Heavyweight Championship against Benjamin Adegbuyi.
In a way, it is refreshing to speak with Franklin and to hear him be so candid about the past and future of the organization. They are very aware of their product and aware of any possible missteps that may have happened in the past and are always looking for ways to provide quality entertainment to all of their fans across the world, all while spending responsibility and ensuring that the company has a bright future. Because, as Franklin told me, having less opportunities for fighters to work and make money is good for no one, so all of the fighters are invested in the future of both the sport and the organization.
GLORY 23 is Friday, August 7th live on Spike TV from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.