Yesterday in NYC, USA, GLORY’s first forray into American kickboxing got off to a pretty fantastic start. The card featured a slew of good match-ups, including a light heavyweight tournament headlined by “King of the Ring” Tyrone Spong. GLORY 9 also held superfights starring Daniel Ghita, Brice Buidon, Errol Zimmerman, Rico Verhoeven, and more.
The light heavyweight tournament got off to a exciting beginning as Danyo Ilunga battered Mourad Bouzidi for three rounds, Dustin Jacoby won a close decision over fellow American Brian Collette, Steve McKinnon lost his second controversial decision in a row to Filip Verlinden, and Tyrone Spong was flash knocked down by Michael Duut, only to stand seconds later and finish Duut with one of the nastiest hooks of the night.
In the semi-finals, Ilunga routed Jacoby despite a valiant effort from the MMA prospect turned kickboxer. While Dustin has already come a very long way since his introduction to the sport, not having the awareness to check low kicks will be his undoing against more skilled opponents. On the other side of the bracket, Verlinden and Spong fought a technical battle for three rounds, which Spong clearly got the better of. The Suriname native took home the decision victory, qualifying for the finals against Ilunga.
The main event left somewhat of a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Despite the widely held belief that Spong had all the tools to dispatch Ilunga before the end of 3, the referee seemed to have other plans. Midway through the first Spong launched a stinging combo that seemed to have his opponent moderately shaken. However, while Ilunga covered and prepared to counter attack, the ref jumped in and called a halt to the bout in one of the most premature stoppages I’ve ever seen in a tournament finale. Spong was declared the victor by TKO and claimed his prize of $200,000 as the GLORY light heavyweight champion.
Also on the card, Daniel Ghita showed why he was, and is, one of the most feared fighters in the heavyweight division. After briefly exchanging with Brice Guidon, Ghita absolutely unloaded on the Frenchman with ripping body shots, waited for Guidon’s attempt to counter, then smashed a left hook into his opponent’s jaw. Brice went limp immediately, giving the Savage Samurai his first win in four fights.
Rico Verhoeven was out to prove he was a top heavyweight tonight, and boy did he put on a performance. Facing the former GLORY championship contender, Errol Zimmerman, Verhoeven looked to be in the best shape of his life. He outworked and outstruck Zimmerman, landing hard shots throughout the night, eventually winning by decision on all the judges score cards. Now that Verhoeven has proven himself to be one of the elite at heavyweight, I think it’s time he faced either Daniel Ghita or Gohkan Saki, a win over either of which would put him in a position to re-challenge Semmy Schilt for the status of number 1 in the world.
Canada’s Joe Valtellini showed why he was a cut above the other North American talent as he demolished the legs of Road to GLORY 70kg winner Francois Ambang in a third round TKO victory. While Ambang was certainly game, and highly impressed me with the crispness of his striking, he faded as time went by and fell victim to the typical American anti-leg-kick-checking policy. His thighs simply couldn’t sustain the beating, and he succumbed to Valtellini’s strikes halfway through the final round.
Rounding out the card, Wayne Barrett absolutely destroyed Road to Glory winner Mike Lemaire, announcing his presence to the world with a crippling knee to the face that ended Lemaire’s night. Finally, American Randy Blake proved he wasn’t all hype by demolishing Koichi Pettas en route to a unanimous decision victory in the light heavyweight tournament reserve bout.
Last night GLORY disproved the old myth that American fighters don’t have the potential to stand in the same ring as kickboxing greats. Dustin Jacoby went to to toe with the formerly #1 ranked light heavyweight in the world, and showed tremendous heart by refusing to fall to Ilunga’s crippling leg kicks. Keep in mind that Jacoby has been training kickboxing less than a year, and he was able to unanimously steal a round from arguably the second best fighter in his division. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
While Francois Ambang faded after a round and a half, he looked surprisingly maintained and composed against Valtellini’s power, which had crumpled the veteran Murat Durekci earlier in the year. Again, fighters like Ambang have not been in the sport for long and have huge amounts of room to grow and refine their craft. Ambang is huge for his weight and has fantastic hands. If he improves his leg defense it would be a pleasure to see him take on international competition.
Overall, it was a good event. Typical high quality production, every ticket to the Hammerstein ballroom was sold out, and we got some great fights. I still have my doubts that kickboxing will truly catch on the in the States, but if GLORY throws more events like these then it’s a surefire way to prove me wrong,