How is kickboxing doing now? It’s a question many of us have had on mind lately. There’s plenty of product out there, but the industry is feeling a lot like it did in 2011—stagnant with no clear indication of growth. It’s pretty clear that Glory has failed to live up to its initial expectations as the next major combat sports phenomenon, which may have been unrealistic from the get-go, and that for all the news—such as it is—that we have to report on, nobody’s making any big promises. That said, despite major questions looming regarding its TV deals and with Bellator dipping its toes into the kickboxing waters, Glory marches on with a surprisingly full schedule of events for the rest of the year with its first stop in Denver, CO, for Glory 24. This event featured a heavyweight contender tournament between four legitimate hopefuls as well as a middleweight main and co-main event that saw Joe Schilling make his return to kickboxing and Dustin Jacoby test the division’s very harsh waters. Read on for my breakdown of this event and its storylines:
Ben Edwards. Let’s address this first. Ben was clearly not in shape to fight, less so in the mile high city. He looked completely deconditioned, more so than I have ever seen him before. He’s spent time away from kickboxing over the last year and tried his hand in boxing, but I don’t think he would have been successful in a boxing ring last night, not to mention kickboxing. He’s a supporter and friend of LiverKick, and I can only assume that he took the fight under difficult circumstances. We hope he’s well and that things get better for him because he’s an excellent performer and comes off like an even better guy.
Jahfar Wilnis. The heavyweights in general had a difficult task competing at altitude, but Jahfar was very game and brought incredible aggression and technical kickboxing to the table, finishing Ben Edwards with hard low kicks and going three relentless rounds with Benny Adegbuyi. The tournament final was very close, and while I think Wilnis was stealing rounds and deserved the nod in the end, the fight was close enough not to call the outcome a robbery. If this were K-1, I think the matter would definitely have been settled with an extension round, but the Adegbuyi rematch with Rico Verhoven is desirable and with performances like that, Wilnis will undoubtedly get a title shot in the near future. Heavyweight needs new faces at the top, and Jahfar Wilnis may have just secured his spot.
Benny Adegbuyi. Is it just me, or was the audience going crazy for Benny? I’m not sure how it happened, but the man legitimately crossed over with the Denver crowd! As a consistently entertaining and top performing kickboxer, Benny deserves it, and I’m glad to see him earn that recognition. His rematch with Rico has a lot of momentum going into it now, and I’m excited to see what kind of heat it gets in Amsterdam.
Dustin Jacoby. He was groomed as a rising American kickboxing star after he swept the Road to Glory tournament field two years ago, but he was thrown to the wolves in his subsequent fights, taking on veteran and elite fighters like Michael Duut, Alex Pereira, Mourad Bouzidi, and Danyo Illunga. He came up short in these encounters but demonstrated his grit, athleticism and improving kickboxing technique with every fight. His win over Wayne Barrett established both the weight class that he should compete in and his legitimacy as a kickboxer. Jacoby has worked hard over the last two years, spending time with Hemmers Gym in the Netherlands and learning the kickboxing game from the ground up, and he demonstrated that technique in this fight. Some will argue that Barrett’s performance diminishes the win, but let’s face it, Jacoby has needed to prove that he can be an effective technical kickboxer, not that he can take anyone’s shots. His presence provides additional depth to Glory’s formidable middleweight division.
Joe Schilling. This is a frustrating time for Schilling. He’s a bankable fighter in search of a stable platform that will allow him to make the money he wants, but he happens to dominate in a sport that’s not lavishly paying out anymore. Attempts to build him up in MMA were unsuccessful, which I suspect is a much larger setback than anyone has revealed—hence Bellator: Dynamite, a way for Bellator to apparently promote kickboxers without promoting kickboxing. As an aside, it’s really not clear to me what Bellator’s goal is with Dynamite, especially as it concurrently blocks attempts by Paul Daley and LiverKick friend John Joe O’Reagan to sell a legitimate title fight with Nieky Holzken. That said, it’s hard to guage Schilling’s position in all of this, but it seems that for the time being, he’s back on track with Glory and wants to be a center attraction, calling for a spot on the Amsterdam show and calling out Artem Levin again. Seeing more of Joe Schilling is something that will absolutely get no complaint from me.
The future: where are we going? Will Glory still be on TV? I wish I knew. We come to these crossroads time and time again, but I give credit to Glory for trucking on in spite of this. I suspect that something is in the works but that we won’t find out any time soon. Until then, we’ll keep enjoying the action as it comes.