2012 has been a year in kickboxing where new stars have emerged and established themselves as formidable fighters. Like always though, there are some fighters who had great years in 2012 but went under the radar, awaiting an opportunity on the biggest stages of the sport to potentially join the likes of breakout fighters like Murthel Groenhart, Davit Kiria and Sanny Dahlbeck. Much of kickboxing dwells in relative obscurity to many and there are a lot of good fighters that haven't gotten or are waiting on a big opportunity. The purpose of this post is to profile some fighters who had great years in 2012, but ultimately went under the radar.
Franci Grajs had a great year where he established himself as the #1 fighter in kickboxing at 85kg. The thing is, 85kg is not very well known by most fans, who are mostly familiar with 70kg and heavyweight. Grajs' performance at the Enfusion: Trial of the Gladiators final was his coming out party, and even though he beat fighters like Sahak Parparyan and Andrew Tate, he still hasn't gotten much recognition outside of this website. That's the nature of kickboxing when it come to divisions that aren't 70kg and heavyweight. 2013 will be a year where the likes of GLORY and K-1 have said they're going to bring in the 85kg division, and hopefully it will be when Grajs gets his big opportunity.
Vitaly Lisnyak has put together a very solid year, winning the W5 Fighter tournament at 60kg. He's gotten better with each fight, showing an increasing adaptation to kickboxing, as he comes from a Muay Thai background. His lone loss on the year came back in May to fellow up and comer Sofian Bougossa, but as aforementioned, Lisnyak has improved significantly since then. W5 did a great job of developing and building up fighters this year, and with 2013 possibly bringing a growth and expansion of W5, expect to see more of Lisnyak there. Despite not being a well known division, the weight range that Lisnyak fights in sees quite a bit of crossover with fighters from around the world, and there are plenty of match-ups out there for him.
Cheick Sidibe started the year off with a setback, a loss to Artem Levin in March. Of course there's no shame in losing to Levin though. After that, Sidibe has been on a tear, particularly in the last quarter of this year where he's racked up numerous wins over solid competition all over Europe. He's travelled to and won in England, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia this year. He also did fight on It's Showtime's smaller show in Belgium on May 12, where he particularly raised my eyebrows in defeating up and coming Dutch fighter Jason Wilnis, handing him the first loss of his career. That fight was also at 85kg, and similar to Franci Grajs, hopefully Sidibe can get an opportunity on the big stage at that weight next year. He usually fights around 81kg but he looked great in defeating a legitimate and solid 85kg fighter in Jason Wilnis, and has put on very strong performances in all of his other wins.
Vladimir Mineev is only 22 years old but I'd already consider him past the status of a prospect. He's one of the better 95kg fighters and put together a 6-0 record in 2012. His recent win over Ali Cenik showed that he still has a lot of room for improvement, but it also showed that he can overcome adversity and defeat a solid 95kg fighter. He faced a gradual rise in competition this year and I'd say we can expect more of the same in 2013. His last loss came all the way back at the end of 2010, to Igor Jurkovic, and he even beat Sergei Lascenko back in 2009. It will be interesting to see how Mineev handles a step up in competition and to evaluate his progession. Cenik was a tough fight, but ultimately he passed the test.