Some relationships were never meant to be.
GLORY and Spike TV is a perfect example of that. Spike TV’s decision to enter the kickboxing business dates back to before the GLORY deal, with them announcing in August of 2012 that they had come to a deal with K-1 Global to air their events in the United States. While we could write a whole hell of a lot about the failings and shortcomings of K-1 Global, they saw the writing on the wall when it came to Spike TV and pulled out of the deal after just streaming one event on their website with very little support.
By this point GLORY had officially transitioned from United Glory events run by Golden Glory officials largely as a showcase for fighters who they managed and trained to being folded into the new organization called GLORY Sports International. GLORY eventually scooped up It’s Showtime, along with the host of fighters under contract with them and by mid-2000 had begun to hit their stride as one of the premier kickboxing organizations in the world.
Spike was still hungry for kickboxing content, though, especially after they lost the rights to air UFC events exclusively.
By mid-2013 GLORY was well on its way to overtaking the former juggernaut that was K-1, with K-1 Global running less and less events, conceding to GLORY’s overtaking over the market. GLORY had its eyes on the American audiences and by the summer of 2013 were in talks with Spike TV. This, at the time, felt like the beginning of something big. For those of us on the inside in the sport it was clear that K-1 Global was not prepared to run events on American TV at the time, but GLORY seemed to have their ducks in a row when it came to production. An early working relationship with current CEO Jon J. Franklin opened up doors in television to get GLORY into conversations and by the time that we were all watching GLORY 10 on an internet stream we were doing so with the knowledge that GLORY 11 would be on American television.
Kickboxing’s return to American television felt like a big deal. HDnet (now AXS TV) had been airing K-1 events as of 2008, but their reach at the time was still not immense and didn’t reach beyond the core fans. HDnet/AXS’s handling of the sport was with respect and care, their broadcast teams working closely with K-1 in Japan to make everything seamless. That was the level of excellence that kickboxing on television in America would be held to, but only now it would be broadcast out to a much wider audience on a network like Spike TV. Spike TV was famous for being the network that was there when UFC finally became big.
The broadcasts would never reach that level of polish, though. Instead there was just a struggle.
If even a little bit of that “magic” could wear off on the sport of kickboxing it could finally take off. After covering the death of FEG, which included fighters publicly decrying the organization and demanding pay being the only kickboxing news stories that mainstream MMA sites had picked up in years, this felt like a win for the sport. Kickboxing needed this win badly and it felt like things had turned around with this deal. Part of what made K-1 thrive in Japan was its partnership with Fujii TV, who set aside a budget in the realm of $1 million per show (or more depending on the show), allowing for those huge, legendary events to happen.
At the time inside reports from GLORY had their shows losing money with each show, anywhere from the realm of $100,000 for smaller events to upwards of $500,000 to even $1m for big events. What was clear was that for kickboxing to exist on the level that we all knew it, the sport needed an advocate. Early GLORY was largely in part to healthy investments from Pierre Andurand, Ivan Farneti, Marcus Luer and Scott Rudmann who made up the core ownership of the promotion early on through various agreements and companies, but it was unrealistic to expect individuals to keep pouring money into a venture without any return. The Spike TV deal would hopefully open up the American market to GLORY and bring in more possible investors and sponsors. It did. There have been multiple investments and capital injections since the Spike TV deal, but everything all said it wasn’t enough.
Spike TV Simply Wasn’t the Network.
I vividly remember the night that GLORY 11 aired on Spike TV. For me, personally, I had taken a giant gamble back in 2009 when faced with pursuing a career writing about MMA I instead chose to veer off onto a path that included the more rough-and-tumble sport of kickboxing. At the time kickboxing was an afterthought, an exotic Japanese import that only the diehard “PRIDE NEVER DIE” fans were watching in the wee hours of the morning. Major MMA outlets were amplifying their coverage of major grappling events, but kickboxing shows were mentioned in passing or in a diminutive manner. I saw an opportunity to help the sport that I loved to be more accessible beyond trawling through message boards and blogs of varying languages for news. I was already doing this for myself, why not post about it for everyone?
Fraser Coffeen and myself ventured off onto this path and since then there have been many bumps in the road, such as Fraser having to make a tough decision in early 2011 to depart the site for the greener pastures of MMA after kickboxing looked to be on life support. The journey as a whole had twists and turns, from an MMA site we helped to co-found to a WordPress site dedicated to K-1 to an offer from SBNation to join their network, to leaving that network for the great unknown. All that culminated with GLORY 11, though. The gamble was looking to finally pay off; kickboxing was going to be reaching a broader audience.
The excitement that night was palpable. I still felt that GLORY 10 was the show that should have been live on Spike TV for their debut, that show featuring Joe Schilling winning the Middleweight tournament in heroic fashion, an American champion on a worldwide stage after years without, but you can’t win them all. Instead Rico Verhoeven’s coronation was the beginning of the relationship on Spike TV, which was hard to complain about. The event had a few minor hitches, but it still felt like a success. The ratings came in and they weren’t great, but they weren’t bad, either. There looked to be hope.
Rumors of the network’s pay being paltry started to swirl around almost immediately, with there already being skeptics that Spike TV wasn’t going to be the right fit for the promotion or the sport. Viacom, upon losing UFC, looked to immediately replace the newly-created gap by purchasing a controlling stake into Bellator MMA, which led many to believe that an independently owned and operated promotion like GLORY would see many hurdles in dealing with the network. Why promote the brand that they don’t own when they already had one combat sports league that was struggling? When the ratings didn’t skyrocket fears started to build that Spike TV might sour on GLORY.
Somewhere along the line the decision was made to “test the waters” on PPV for GLORY, with the promotion pouring money and effort into the GLORY 17 event to air on Spike with GLORY Last Man Standing to air on PPV immediately afterwards. The event was billed as their biggest show ever, but many feeling that GLORY’s attempt to make it onto PPV was far too early for the young organization, especially with only six months of being on American television without drastically increased ratings. Were American audiences ready to plonk down their hard earned money to watch GLORY’s biggest show ever? The answer was an emphatic no with Dave Meltzer reporting the numbers as 5,000 or less. GLORY officials confirmed it, claiming international buys more than doubled that number, but the damage was still done.
A long absence followed while the company decided on where to go next. What followed was a management shake-up and some restructuring, with Jon J. Franklin assuming the company’s helm and shows having a leaner budget all-around. Rumors started to circulate about top fighters departing due to contract disputes and fan opinion online had shifted from favorable to them looking for other promotions to pledge support to, like the Dubai-based GFC featuring Badr Hari. When GLORY relaunched it was with much leaner shows, lacking the big screens and jam-packed cards with an increased concern with the budget.
The ratings followed suit, fluctuating wildly as tensions rose between Spike TV and GLORY in the background. GLORY events changed from Saturdays to Fridays to accommodate for Spike’s new marketing of “Friday Night Lights Out” and their time slot never quite felt set in stone. Start times varied wildly and if you were a fan looking to watch kickboxing the distinct lack of marketing of the events on the network and elsewhere didn’t help to solidify when they’d actually air. Critical mass was reached when the decision came down that GLORY 22 would be aired live on Spike TV at 4pm in the afternoon but not replayed later on.
The decision seemed insane to many, with 4pm on a Friday being possibly the worst time to air an event. The results on previous tape-delayed events were mixed, at best. GLORY 13 in Tokyo pulled in strong ratings for the Welterweight tournament and Peter Aerts vs. Rico Verhoeven, while GLORY 15 featuring the Light Heavyweight tournament with Tyrone Spong vs. Gokhan Saki in the finals pulled in poor ratings after Spong’s leg break went viral, thus spoiling the result of one of the most-hyped tournaments in the company’s history. GLORY 22 live at 4pm felt like one of the final nails in the coffin for the relationship.
Sources on both sides were unhappy with the deal and fingers were pointed wherever they could be to help shift blame. Around this time there were whispers of Scott Coker looking to run his own kickboxing events on Spike TV. Things were in an embryonic state at that point, but the rumor was interesting, considering GLORY was Spike’s kickboxing show and to the best of everyone’s knowledge still had a contract with the network. The month of “October” kept coming up in conversations, with many believing that October would be the end of the arrangement for good, although it wasn’t clear where the organization would go from there.
Then Dynamite was announced, with Ariel Helwani breaking the news that there would be a “co-promoted” event between Bellator and GLORY on Spike TV. For those of us in kickboxing, though, that didn’t make much sense, especially after the debacle that was GLORY 22 and the relationship turning quite toxic. The more that I and others interacted with Bellator PR about the event, the more we were softly corrected on calling it a co-promotion. No, it was Bellator MMA Dynamite 1, not Bellator/GLORY Dynamite 1. Joe Schilling, while promoting his next Bellator fight and asked about the show was quick to claim that GLORY wasn’t invited, that they were crashing the party and had bought their way onto the event at last minute.
We were assured, at the time, that GLORY was happy to be working with Bellator and vice versa. In line with that we were told that it wouldn’t make sense for Spike TV to not use their official kickboxing show on an event like Dynamite, so of course GLORY was in the conversation from the start. While logical, things still felt off. The talk was that GLORY had their backs to the wall in regards to that event and when you analyze the matchmaking it was clear that GLORY had very little input as to what they could and couldn’t get on television for that show. Two of the three fights that aired under “GLORY rules” were with fighters contracted through Bellator with no relation to GLORY at all.
MMA fans that night made it very clear that GLORY had “blown it” all over social media, that they were given a chance to shine on a big Bellator event and had, for some strange reason, opted to book fights like Gilbert Melendez’s wife vs. some girl and Paul Daley vs. some Bellator guy. You know, because GLORY would totally use an opportunity like that to showcase Bellator fighters as opposed to their own, right? The one fight that GLORY was able to sneak onto television was the GLORY Light Heavyweight Championship bout between Zack Mwekassa and Saulo Cavalari, which failed to deliver the fireworks that everyone was hoping for, but still put on a solid display.
It was simply too little, too late.
By the time that GLORY 24 had rolled around it was incredibly clear that GLORY and Spike were through. Any talk of GLORY 25 did not include any discussion about where it would be airing and the promotional materials for GLORY 25 and 26 did not include mention of Spike TV at all. Both events were also mentioned more than a few weeks in advance of the show and fight cards were announced further in advance than we had ever seen on Spike TV. There was also a distinctive lack of B-string Bellator fighters on the lineups.
Jon J. Franklin, when prompted by Michael Stets of MMAMania on GLORY’s future in television, said that they would be announcing their new home on television when they were able to and that GLORY 25 would air on American television. That seemed like as good of a public acknowledgement of the deal being done as possible without just saying it in plain English. I’ve been asked why this wasn’t publicly discussed or the story “broken” before and the answer is quite simple; this is the world of television. Even if the relationship was not a strong one, Spike announcing in advance that they had “canceled” GLORY while GLORY was shopping for a new television deal could have led to panic and potentially stalling out discussions with other networks.
This closely mimics what happened between Spike TV and their former professional wrestling partner, TNA Wrestling. TNA’s ratings had been steadily decreasing and advertisers had been opting out of advertising during TNA programming. Spike decided to drop TNA and Dave Meltzer broke the news, leading to Spike’s silence and TNA publicly scrambling and inserting their foot into their mouth at every possible turn before turning up on Destination America where the same exact thing happened after a brief period of time.
I’m not willing to exclusively point fingers at Spike TV for GLORY’s shortcomings on the network because it takes two to tango. Decisions were made on both sides that were detrimental to the sport and the organization, leading to the relationship deteriorating to the point where it no longer exists. GLORY’s long absences from the airwaves for European-style vacations, inability to keep talent happy and eagerness to do anything to appeal to American audiences all helped to lead to where we are today, but Spike’s insistence on changing times, days, being inflexible and insistent on having some level of control over the content of the shows can easily be pointed to as reasons for the failure as well.
Whatever the reasons, that relationship has now come to a close, leaving Spike without kickboxing programming and GLORY without a television deal. Various sources have been telling us that GLORY has either secured a new deal or is in the process of doing so, but that it most likely won’t be in time for GLORY 25. Wherever they do land here’s to hoping that the relationship is more of a partnership and is better for the sport of kickboxing because, realistically, kickboxing deserves better. It deserves a whole lot better than this.