In kickboxing we have always had a connection to this weekend. Yearly, the drama has always been around who will win the K-1 WGP, which usually went down in in Japan around this time every year. Will an all time great add on to their resume or will a deserving star finally get the white belt. This Glory Germany event just so happen to fall on the exact weekend that we would enjoy the K-1 Mega heavyweight tournament. As I explored this day in the sport further, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Hari/Rico along with a few other narratives added to making December 10th 2016 one of the most important days in the history of Kickboxing. Here is my list of six reason the day was more special than you realize.
6. French kickboxing
When you think of great French Kickboxers, the list is actually short. You first go to Jerome Lebanner. The heavyweight K-1 Star was awesome and he delivered some of the great kickboxing KOs of all time. Cyril Abidi had some K-1 victories and the Samir Mohammed streak also come to mind. Yet Samir was in international waist high and up kickboxing, which wasn't as popular. Many would say Lebanner if asked about French kickboxing and maybe no one else. Outside of him, most don't think kickboxing, they think Muay Thai. Farid Villaume, Kamel Jamel, Dany Bill, and Chokdee star Dida Diafat are a few of the heroes that pop out at us.
Enter Nasser Kacem. His gym Nasser-K in Lyon has produced some high level Muay Thai fighters. Fabio Pinca, Yohan Lidon, and Karim and Houcine Bennoui to name a few. However, after years of success in the art of 8 limbs, they started to get calls for kickboxing events. K-1, Shootboxing, Enfusion, Glory, the French team was in high demand. Due to bad match ups and working out the rules, there has been some bumps in the road to being successful kickboxers. Dylan Salvador lost to Makihira Keita due to repeateldy catching the low kick and firing and Karim lost to Hirotaka Urabe in Japan due to a cut as example of loses in big time kickboxing promotions that didn't allow their skill to be showcased. Yet December 10th showed that not just Nasser K, but the French may have figured the game out. Fabio Pinca won a clear decision over aggressive Moroccan/Dutch fighter Mosab Amrani, who has the style and volume to get up on kickboxing cards. Fabio was up to the task with effective offense and slick movement to limit the scores. He took a clear decision. Dylan Salvador was a late addition to the card, but he beat tournament favorite Anotoly Moiseev and Hynsi Beqiri to take his first major kickboxing promotion tournament win. It wasn't just the Nasser K team. Female fighter Amel Dehby made it to the Glory women's title match and Cedric Doumbe(more on him later) won the 77kgs Title from long time champ Nieky Holzken. It was truly a great day in kickboxing for France, who has some of the best promoters in the world and they sell out shows on a regular basis. These promoters can develop and showcase the elite stars of France for years to come.
5. They old guard still has it.
I knew that Giorgio Petrosyan would be headlining the Bellator/Oktagon Kickboxing card. I knew that Badr Hari was of course fighting on the Glory card. I had no idea that Buakaw was fighting. I watched him fight solid journeyman fighter Andre Kulebin on auto pilot for a kickboxing promotion in Lebanon of all places. He beat Kulebin with very little effort and when Kulebin attempted to turn up the pace, the far superior Buakaw just swept him or caught him with a counter kick, easy work for Buakaw who also has a victory over Dylan Salvador this year. Badr Hari may have injured himself, but before it he showed great poise and clean kickboxing. Giorgio Petrosyan, fighting at home, once again put on a memorable performance by stopping the very talented Jordan Watson. KO pop in both hands (when he doesn't break them), he found his right hook early and closed the show. At one period of time these men were considered the best in their weight classes on the planet and Giorgio may still be the best. All three men are in their 30s.
4. The Women Emerge
Overall it was a failed tournament. There was very few exciting moments or memorable fights. Best female fighter in the world Anissa Mekson was excluded from the tournament and Iman Barlow's Enfusion contract was in conflict with the Glory schedule so she was out too. Add a few injuries and the Glory tournament was not great. But the moment they announced Tiffany van Soest as the winner, her celebration and tears made you forget it all. The crowd was not very moved during her fight, but the moment she began to talk about accomplishing a dream, white belt larger than her torso, the crowd found applause. Adding to this night, Denise Kielholtz avenged a loss that she shouldn't have had to Gloria Peritore. It can be tough to bounce back when he cards wrongfully go the other way, but Denise beat Gloria in her back yard to win the inaugural 125 Bellator kickboxing championship in Florence Italy. Women's kickboxing was almost non existent in televised form. Yet the emergence of female success in the UFC has opened the door for kickboxing to showcase athletes that otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity. It was great seeing both of these ladies wearing titles and I am excited to see what the future holds.
3. Cedric Doumbe
I predicted that Cedric Doumbe would beat Yoann Kongolo in his Glory debut. I thought he had the tools and the charisma to be a future star in the sport. He came up short that night, but did not let it stop him. He won 14 of 15 fights in the last year and a half and the one loss was a robbery to Fang Bian. In that list includes a win over Murthel Groenhart, who fought with emotion and looked for the KO, while Cedric intelligently played the points game. Cedric looked to antagonize again, witty tea shirts and trash talk lead up to this bout. Nieky Holzken walked him down and looked for power punching opportunities. Doumbe again played smart, combinations to kicks and movement gave him a clear decision and made him the Glory Welterweight Champion. Holzken wasn't just champion, he was the Glory brand's most celebrated star and he has also produced the most memorable results in the past three years. Cedric beat the biggest somebody in the sport. Cedric has all the tools and he is an active champ, fighting for Glory or whoever. His natural charisma and ability to sell himself means that kickboxing once again has a young star to carry it into the future. Cedric is only 24 years old
2. The Long Card
Glory has stayed with a TV model of 4 or 5 fights on the undercard, and 5 fights on the televised US card. Yet in the history of kickboxing, co-promoting has created some mega cards. I watched Errol Zimmerman win the K-1 European GP and was blessed to see that Its Showtime attached a card that had Holzken vs Mes, Giorgio Petrosyan and much more on that day in Amsterdam. This Glory card had 14 fights and two tournaments in it. I do not think that they are ready to commit to a PPV model, but I do think they will add to their ticket sales if they are giving such a wealth of product for the price.
1. Hari vs Rico
Lets exclude how it finished. Glory has been unlucky with several of their final fights. Injuries, bad stoppages, and even having an athlete quit in frustration with ref interference. Now that that has been acknowledged, lets move on to the great. Glory 36 put together a great card that ended with an injury victory for Rico Verhoeven over Badr Hari. Until the injury, it was what we hoped for and then some. The preflight in itself was almost worth the PPV. Badr Hari, coming to the ring with his mob and personal Dutch rap song blaring, created a buzz and tension that literally had my heart racing. I knew I was about to watch something special. Adding to the moment, Badr gets into the ring, and whether it was mental game or fan fair, a crowd of people approached the ropes and yelled just outside the ring. Security had to calm the supporters down, while several cornermen attempted to help by directing the audience back to their seat. The announcer made several attempts to pacify the crowd before the fight started. It was of no good. The crowd was crazy until the end and even started a few fights of their own. This was all before the fight. The kickboxing action was fast and technical, making a great fight by both guys until the injury stopped it.
I have never experienced buzz for a fight like this. It was the best kickboxer against the biggest star in the sport. Badr, who many in the US do not even know, proved that he is still a big deal in Europe and his followers will travel to support him with their voices and their fists if it comes down to it. The usually K-1 Buzz was special, but we haven't had one in years. Since Glory has had title fights instead of tournaments, the buzz was more about the consistency of the fight cards than the fights. Last year bringing major kickboxing back to Amsterdam was the big win. This year it was putting together the "I'll believe it when I see it" fight. Injury aside, it was a fantastic moment for the sport and it brought back the special feeling we are use to having in this sport, on this weekend.