Now that 2015 is in the books, Combat Press is taking a look back at the best that the sport of kickboxing had to offer. Over the next few weeks, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the ring to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
Sittichai Sitsongpeenong made his claim for “Fighter of the Year” early in 2015. The competition for the award was stiff — Artur Kyshenko, Yodsanklai Fairtex and Takeru all went undefeated in 2015 — but nobody could match the record of the young Thai fighter.
Sittichai entered the Kunlun Fight 64-man Middleweight World MAX Grand Prix at Kunlun 15 in January. The tournament consisted of single-night qualifying tournaments throughout the year that would eventually lead to one man being crowned champion.
Sittichai met current top-10 77-kilogram fighter Murthel Groenhart in his opening-round bout. Sittichai controlled his much larger opponent with his trademark left kick and step-in knee. He was the aggressor in the exchanges against an aggressive, but somewhat inconsistent opponent. Sitthichai switched up his striking attack, and the maneuver opened the door for his left kick at the end of his combinations. Sittichai slammed a hard left kick into the midsection of Groenhart, dropping him to his knees on the mat. Groenhart tried for the knockout early in round three after realizing where the judges’ decision was headed. Sittichai avoided most of the punishment in the wild exchanges, taunting Groenhart after the fighters broke before immediately getting back to brutalizing the body of Groenhart. The size advantage for Groenhart didn’t play a factor against such a skilled and precise striker. Sittichai capped off his spectacular performance with a brutal left head-kick finish with less than 30 seconds left in the fight. The expert Thai became only the third man to stop Groenhart in over 70 career fights.
Sittichai met two-time K-1 MAX world champion Andy Souwer in the finals of the four-man, one-night qualifying tourney. Sittichai went right to work against the body of Souwer, who had defeated Jiao Fukai in his opening-round bout. Sittichai expertly navigated the power that earned Souwer 96 career knockouts and landed his jab and follow-up straight left while staying mostly out of harm’s way. The decorated Muay Thai practitioner dropped Souwer with a brutal step-in, rear-leg knee in the second frame. Souwer was able to continue, but Sittichai just kept targeting the body, much like he did in his semifinal fight with Groenhart. Sittichai punched, kneed and kicked his way to another dominant unanimous decision victory to earn his place in the tournament.
Sittichai met French Muay Thai fighter Crice Boussoukou for the second time at à La Nuit des Titans 2015 in France. The Muay Thai rules bout was a rematch of a 2012 contest in Pattaya, Thailand. Sittichai won the first bout and absolutely dominated the rematch. He used his knees and elbows to damage Boussoukou in the clinch, something he is unable to do under K-1 rules. Sittichai landed his left kick and straight left on frequent occasions throughout the five-round encounter. He was able to switch up his offensive attack and throw in some devastating elbows on the end of his combinations. Sittichai took the unanimous decision in another impressive performance.
Sittichai met fellow southpaw Dylan Salvador in his return to Kunlun Fight in May. The Frenchman is known for his upset wins over top fighters, but Sittichai had defeated Salvador just six months prior. Sittichai couldn’t use his typical heavy, left-kick strategy. Instead, he was forced to eat Salvador’s left low kicks while trying to find a home for his right kick and left hand. The hotly contested first round may have been won by Salvador with his damaging low kicks, but he was unable to land many head strikes. Sittichai picked up his pace in the second round. He was the more diverse fighter, landing knees, kicks and punches in combination against the ropes and on the outside. The fight was most likely tied heading into the deciding third round. Salvador started to land his punches more effectively in the final frame. The fighters went back-and-forth throughout the round, Salvador would land a good strike and Sittichai would return. Sittichai’s volume decreased greatly in the final round, possibly opening the door for Salvador to capture the frame. The judges’ scores were read and Sitthichai was handed his first loss in over two years.
Sittichai returned to the ring when he made his GLORY debut in the GLORY lightweight contender tournament at GLORY 22: France in June. Sittichai faced former GLORY lightweight world champion Davit Kiria in the opening round of the four-man, one-night tournament. Sittichai cut off Kiria’s offense by using his trademark left middle kick to the arms, chest and midsection. The skilled Thai fighter used his jab and ability to break his opponents with a high volume kicking game from the southpaw stance. He used his defensive clinch ability to avoid any damage from Kiria’s punches in close and to land his own knees to the body. Sittichai put Kiria away with a brutal knee strike to the body mid-way through the second frame, earning his 98th career win and 26th knockout in becoming the first fighter to ever stop the former champion.
The win put Sittichai in the final opposite Canadian prospect Josh Jauncey, who defeated local fighter Coulibaly Djime in his first fight of the evening. Jauncey was undefeated in GLORY. He had won first four fights and finishing three inside of the distance. Sittichai showed he was too experienced for the fast-rising Jauncey. Sittichai was the more precise and technical striker throughout the three round decision. Sitthichai utilized his left kick to dominate his over-matched opponent in the tournament final victory that earned him a future shot at the GLORY lightweight champion Robin van Roosmalen.
Sittichai entered the Fight League 70-kilogram tournament field just two months later and on short notice, replacing his injured training partner Kem Sitsongpeenong. Sittichai ran through his three tournament opponents, finishing his final two en route to another tournament title. Sittichai defeated Iraqi fighter Emad Kedyar on points when Kedyar was injured late in the bout. Sittichai had a tougher than expected fight against the aggressive Moroccan Walid Hamid in his semifinal bout. Sittichai opened a cut above the eye of Hamid. The doctor checked the cut multiple times in the second round before the bout was eventually stopped. Sittichai entered the tournament final against Belgian fighter Yassin Baitar. The expert used his underrated clinch work to completely decimate the body of Baitar. Sittichai spent much of the fight slamming knees and punches into the midsection of a very tough opponent, giving way to an opportunity to attack the head. Sittichai landed a right uppercut to the body before stiffening Baitar with a left hook to the head. Sittichai won the tournament and improved his winning streak to five.
Sittichai returned to Thailand for Kunlun Fight 31 and his final-16 match-up in the 64-man tournament. Sittichai fought 27-year-old Spaniard Jonay Risco, a veteran with over 50 wins in his kickboxing career. Sittichai’s ability to be just outside of his opponent’s strikes rang true against the high-volume slugger. Sittichai avoided much of the striking arsenal of Risco while landing heavy left kicks and straights to the body and head. The fighters were given a brief break when Sittichai’s cup came untied during the fight. The fight restarted after Sittichai’s corner secured his jock strap to the applause of the crowd. The stop in action didn’t stop the all-out action in the fight. Sittichai pulled away shortly after the restart. His ruthless onslaught to the body was starting to wear on Risco, both mentally and physically. Risco, who was coming off a close win over Souwer at Enfusion Live 27, was utterly dominated by Sittichai on his way to the Kunlun Fight 70-kilogram tournament final eight.
Sittichai returned to GLORY for his lightweight championship bout against reigning titleholder van Roosmalen at GLORY 25 as the favorite. Many pundits didn’t give the Dutch fighter much of a chance with the clash of styles between the southpaw and orthodox fighters. Sittichai did his part in making that claim, landing his left kick throughout the fight. Sittichai opted to forgo his typical volume of punches and instead use his kicks to damage the arms and body of the champ. The strategy was working until van Roosmalen started to throw back when the two fighters would clash in the middle of the ring. Van Roosmalen was seemingly getting eaten alive by the kicks of Sittichai despite landing almost five times as many punches throughout the five-round bout. When the judges’ decision was read, the punches weighed more than the damaging kicks and van Roosmalen was crowned champion once again. The reaction from the promotion and fans alike was that Sittichai was robbed of the GLORY title due to bad judging from the sanctioning body, the ISKA. The controversial decision didn’t stop the momentum of the surging Sittichai.
Sittichai was scheduled to face Muay Thai legend Yodsanklai Fairtex, who is undefeated since 2012, at Kunlun Fight 35 in December, but the fight was canceled due to an injury to Yodsanklai. The opening in the final eight of the tournament was given to top-10 fighter and K-1 World GP 70-kilogram champion Marat Grigorian. Grigorian was initially eliminated from the tournament field against Yodsanklai at Kunlun Fight 22 earlier in the year. Sittichai used his left straight and jab to keep Grigorian at bay whenever the heavy-handed striker decided to enter boxing range. Grigorian made good use of his lead right uppercut and left hook, but he couldn’t consistently land his punches. Sittichai countered almost every time Grigorian stepped in to attack. Sittichai controlled the first round with his left kicks and straight punches. He controlled much of the second round before Grigorian picked up his volume and increased his inside low kicks. The third round proved to be tough for Sittichai. Grigorian was able to put Sittichai down twice with a right inside low kick. Sittichai came back strong, but his final fight of 2015 proved to be one of his hardest. Sittichai had his hands raised as he took the majority decision win with two judges giving him two of the three rounds. His tenth and final win of the year cemented Sittichai among the best kickboxers in the world.
Sittichai is already making claims to become the 2016 “Fighter of the Year” with two wins in one night to capture the Kunlun Fight Middleweight MAX World Grand Prix title in January. Sittichai knocked out Superbon “Superball” Banchamek in the semifinals before needing an extra round to defeat rising prospect Enriko Gogokhia in the final, avenging a 2013 loss to the Ukrainian fighter. Sittichai is scheduled to return to GLORY for the lightweight contender tournament at GLORY 28, opening the door for the possibility of a rematch with van Roosmalen for the GLORY title.
Other finalists: Artur Kyshenko, Yodsanklai Fairtex, Nieky Holzken, Kaew Fairtex, Takeru and Rico Verhoeven
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2015 Kickboxing Award winners.