Just one day after GLORY announced that its 21st event would take place on Friday, May 8, at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, the night’s headliner, middleweight champion Artem Levin, spoke about the event.
The Russian recently relocated to Southern California and believes it will ensure he remains one of the best kickboxers on the planet.
“Right now I live in San Diego, but originally I am from Siberia in Russia and this is most important to me,” said the champion. “Coming here was a good opportunity for me, for my career, because [America] is the best place for combat sports. [There are] many MMA gyms and many strong guys for my training.
“I like to train and teach MMA guys. I teach Muay Thai because sometimes when I see their techniques in the stand-up, it is funny. So I can give them advice and teach techniques and special techniques. It’s interesting for me. They know who I am and they know what GLORY is — the No. 1 promotion in kickboxing in the world.”
After securing his title by winning the GLORY Last Man Standing tournament last June, Levin awaits his first challenger. The challenger will come in the form of the winner of the GLORY 20 one-night, four-man middleweight contender tournament, which takes place Friday, April 3, in Dubai. In one half of the bracket, Dutchman Jason Wilnis takes on Brazilian Alex Pereira. American Wayne Barrett meets Canadian Simon Marcus in the other pairing.
“It will be a very interesting tournament,” said Levin. “Whoever wins will be my next opponent. I need to get back in the ring and I want to show my friends a new fight.”
Levin has faced three of the four tournament participants in the past, earning wins over Wilnis and Pereira, but falling against Marcus under Muay Thai rules. Add in the fact that Wilnis recently topped Barrett at GLORY 18 in November and Levin’s familiarity with the fighters makes the upcoming tournament that more intriguing for the titleholder.
“This is a soldier; this is a warrior,” Levin said of the Dutchman Wilnis. “He has an aggressive style. He will push, push, push. Wilnis showed me the way you need to fight against Wayne Barrett.”
Levin continued by elaborating on Barrett, “In his last fight, he showed his weakness. He is a very strong fighter and has very good punches and interesting techniques. Maybe a little bit similar to me. But Wilnis [was too] strong for him in the last fight. But for me, it’s a very interesting opponent.”
Despite a prior loss to Marcus, Levin went on to cast doubt on his prospects in the tournament.
“Simon Marcus… I don’t know,” Levin said. “In his last fight, he fought in China and he looked terrible. I think Simon should take a little bit of rest. Maybe Joe [Schilling] broke something down in him, I don’t know. But, I await opportunity for a rematch against Simon Marcus. This is very important for me.”
Of the four fighters, the Brazilian Pereira is the fighter that most recently stepped into the ring with Levin. The champion was quick to praise him.
“For me, he is the favorite in this tournament,” Levin said. “I know his power. This is a very big guy, tall guy, strong guy. I watched his fights many times, and this guy can knock out anybody in this tournament. He is my favorite.”
Although Levin will have to wait until April to find out whether his predictions come true, the 28-year-old has been plenty active in the gym. The Russian has spent time working with former UFC title challenger Nick Diaz.
“[Working with Diaz] was a good experience for me. Diaz is a very interesting person. He is like Joe Schilling — sometimes I think he hates everybody,” declared Levin with a laugh. “He has great conditioning, great wrestling, jiu-jitsu and good heart.
“But sometimes Nick doesn’t have a plan. Or he has a plan, but he doesn’t use it. Or he uses it for the first 10 seconds, but then he fights without the plan. He has good boxing techniques and an aggressive style. He likes to push, push, push. But sometimes this is stupid. I like smart boxing. I like to move. But Nick has a good coach for boxing. I looked at his training and I was impressed.”
In addition to his work with Diaz, Levin has worked with another fighter that may come as a surprise: the aforementioned Schilling. The pair has met twice in the GLORY ring, with each fighter claiming victory. Levin exacted revenge on Schilling in June in the finals of Last Man Standing.
“We’re not best friends, but we are friends and I respect him,” said Levin of his American counterpart. “For me, Joe Schilling is a good guy — he is a difficult person, but a good guy. I understand he has emotions. He likes emotions and emotions like him.
“Outside the ring, we are friends, and in the ring, we are warriors. I like his style. He is hard in the ring, strong fighter, and he fights to the last second of the fight.”
Having split the first two meetings, Levin is anxious for a rubber match with his friend and rival. However, the pair may have a hard time agreeing to a location for the bout.
“We both need this fight,” exclaimed Levin. “I want this fight in Russia and Joe wants it in the United States. I already fight him two times in the United States. But, for me, if I am best of the best, then it doesn’t matter where, when or who I fight. I must be the best wherever the fight happens.”