GLORY’s Scott Rudmann Talks GLORY 46 and Building GLORY China

When analyzing the modern sport of kickboxing it is virtually impossible to do so without considering the impact that China has been able to make in a rather short period of time. China went from the closed off home of Wushu and Sanda to one of the epicenters for the sports of kickboxing and MMA almost overnight. For western fight organizations China is the last frontier for them; the lone holdout and a burgeoning market, brimming with potential to be the largest market in the world for the sport. The problem is that most western companies have failed in moving into China and found that without a strong, Chinese-based company, the country of China isn’t all-that interested in foreign organizations moving in.

For GLORY, China has always been on their radar, but they’ve been careful about it. Instead of simply heading in, putting on a show aimed at their usual audience and checking off a box on a list to be able to say “well, we’ve done China,” they’ve taken the more methodical approach in building an entirely new company and doing business “the right way.” Integral to that process has been GLORY’s Scott Rudmann, who co-founded the company alongside Pierre Andurand in 2012. Rudmann is no stranger to international business deals and has been focused on the vision that is GLORY China for years now.

In a way, GLORY China has been Rudmann’s baby, and while he’s been involved with the company since its inception, the strides that he’s been making in China have the ability to push the company — and the sport — further into the future. To Rudmann, this isn’t just a new market, but a new way of looking at professional kickboxing. Why? It’s simple: there is a lot of untapped talent in China, a lot of fans hungry for kickboxing and not enough high level product to keep them happy.

“We wanted to do this differently, that’s why GLORY China is an entirely different company, based out of China, with a Chinese team behind it.”

“There’s always this hurdle in China,” Rudmann explained, “where companies come in and they’re viewed as outsiders, like they don’t understand. We wanted to do this differently, that’s why GLORY China is an entirely different company, based out of China, with a Chinese team behind it. GLORY is the largest shareholder, but still a minority shareholder, owning  less-than-50% of the company. This is a Chinese company through-and-through. And you know what? It’s gratifying because when we started work to enter China, the media industry people and combat sports community in China, they already know the GLORY name, they respect the our league, they know the brand and they know the fighters. GLORY has actually been on television here in China from the very beginning, back in 2012. We were on Guangzhou Sports Television network, so it’s really a pleasure to be back here in Guangzhou to hold the first GLORY China event, and yes, this time it will be live on Guangzhou Sports TV.”

This was an important point to Rudmann: that the quality of GLORY’s fighters is always what sets them apart from their competition. While GLORY fighters have fought outside of GLORY, sometimes even in China, there are many fighters in China who have yet to compete on this level of competition. “The top GLORY fighters have honed their skills around the world against the best of the best, right in their face in the GLORY ring, in cities all over the world, where a guy coming out of the Muay Thai discipline might face a top athlete from the Dutch kickboxing tradition, and lya world class Karate-based fighter in the same night. I’ll tell you what, the first five Chinese athletes we have signed have won every bout, there are fierce, and we expect to see them making their way up the rankings. They will all be in action here in Guangzhou tomorrow night, along with some other true superstars that we have recruited from the Chinese national system with the help of our partners here the Tagou school, the world’s largest martial
arts academy.

“As for the Chinese audience, you don’t have to educate the Chinese audience to what standup fighting is, where in America, first we have to educate many fans about how we are different than MMA. Kids grow up with Kungfu stories in China, or train in it. This is the country that invented Kungu and there’s a strong martial arts background. But as a professional sport? There was only one brand in China for a long, long time, which was WLF. WLF was actually a martial arts variety show that was on provincial television there. It was owned and operated by the local television station, which of course is a government entity. They were never trying to run a global — or even Chinese — sports league like we are, they were trying to make a television show that was about combat, for entertainment. They’ve got associated gyms, a pool of athletes and they did very well.

“…these people know the GLORY name and were excited for their fighters to be fighting professionally for GLORY. They weren’t comfortable with any of the other promoters, and I think that says a lot about what we are bringing to the table here.”

“Then, really in the last three years, a little while after we started GLORY, these other promotions started sprouting up in China,” he continued. “Some of these companies have gotten incredible valuations as a business, mostly because valuations in China are massively inflated since the market is looking forward to hopeful values that might be achieved when the Chinese sports industry matures in the far future, but the quality of their actual shows and their core fighters haven’t gone up, which makes it seem a bit questionable. To my knowledge, there is only one time in our history at GLORY where we actually asked to borrow an athlete from another promotion, but we literally get asked by Chinese promotions to borrow our fighters every two weeks. We’re looking to be different, we’ve even partnered with a martial arts school, Tagou Martial Arts School, that has 40,000 students. Their school is actually at the base of the mountain of the Shaolin temple in China. Think about that and just how many people that is. That is what we have to work with and these people know the GLORY name and were excited for their fighters to be fighting professionally for GLORY. They weren’t comfortable with any of the other promoters, and I think that says a lot about what we are bringing to the table here.”

The value of GLORY China being a majority-owned Chinese company also pays dividends, because while the GLORY brand is valuable, as are the host of fighters, in China business tends to be smoother when there is trust. “So when the director of other combat promotions who are trying to enter China calls someone to do business there, he’s calling on behalf of an American or Singaporean company, or as an employee of theirs. When someone from GLORY China does that same thing, he’s calling on behalf of a Chinese company that is based out of China. That goes a long way here and gives us a great advantage. One of our major partners here is Yao Capital, as their team is amazing, plus Yao Ming is the biggest sports star in China, and he is the chairman of their firm, so we have unmatched access here.”

Their other plan is not just for GLORY China to be a dormant company that runs a big show every year or two, instead the vision for GLORY China is to be its own, independently-run sister company that will have its own host of talent, championships, rankings and events. “So this is the beginning of GLORY China,” Scott told me. “This is the first show and it’s a big GLORY show like we put on everywhere else, but more than 60% of the fight card is Chinese talent. Not just solid talent, this is top Chinese talent and I’d say that this is the best fight card for stand-up combat ever put on in China. Full stop. But we aren’t going to stop there, this is a part of a much bigger plan. The idea is to run around 4 – 6 GLORY China events within the next year on their own, with their own talent, specifically for the Chinese market. We’ll have GLORY China championships established and perhaps there will be European, American or other Asian talent from our roster on these cards as well, but they mostly won’t be the same fighters that fight for GLORY international right now. Then the best of the best will compete on the bigger GLORY events later on, and we’ll have more shows like GLORY 46 in China.”

GLORY 46 has a number of big fights on the card, including Simon Marcus taking on Alex Pereira for the GLORY Middleweight Championship, which was strategically selected. How so? Simon Marcus is already a star in China, with over 16 fights in that country alone against Chinese stars. Even Alex Pereira has fought in China prior. As for the GLORY 46 SuperFight Series headliner Rico Verhoeven, he has also fought in China prior.

Verhoeven’s opponent, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, has caused quite a stir with kickboxing and MMA fans, due to his history in MMA and a string of knockouts at the tail end of it. Rudmann assures us that the concerns over Bigfoot’s health are overstated. “GLORY matchmaking is certainly among the best in the world; Cor Hemmers and Remon Daalder know what they are doing. Our safety measures are rigorous. You know, all of this stuff about Bigfoot, we’ve run him through a barrage of tests. You name it and we’ve done it, from brain scans, cardiac scans to mental health checks. Checked not only by his doctor, but also by ours. He is fight and ready for action. He’s perhaps the most-tested athlete on this whole card. Because look, we don’t want something bad happening to any of our fighters on our events. This is a sport and the health and wellbeing of our fighters is important to us. Our fighters are what makes us great, fighters and stars drive the attendance in the arena and the television deals and all the rest of the business. In fact, one of our big concerns is what if Bigfoot knocks Rico out, what would we do then? He’s knocked out Alistair Overseem, one of the greatest heavyweights in kickboxing (Alistair, are you listening? Accept Rico’s challenge and step in a GLORY ring!), Bigfoot has beaten Fedor Emelianenko, Bigfoot’s incredible bout with Mark Hunt is legendary — and 80-90% in stand-up mode. MMA fighter have different game plans, different angles and different tactics. Bigfoot has great stand-up if you watch his reels, plus he’s been training in stand-up since he was a kid. Yes, he’s probably half a step slower than Rico, but he has immense power. Bigfoot is a dangerous opponent and Rico is taking this bout very, very seriously. Anyone who thinks that Bigfoot is not in there with a chance to win has got it completely wrong.”

So while the validity of that fight and its ability to bring in viewers while airing live on UFC Fight Pass at 6am eastern time on a Saturday (as well as via free, open VOD the following week) morning remains to be seen, the whole Chinese experiment seems to be a well-measured one with the intentions as clear as day: GLORY sees China as a market that has been growing, but nobody has tackled it quite the way they have just yet. According to Rudmann, the plans for GLORY’s expansion are long term, with them trying to play as far away as 20 or even 30 years down the road where they’ve been able to make the sport more viable and burned into the collective consciousness. Until then GLORY has their work cut out for them this Saturday with their first trip into mainland China with GLORY 46.