Now that 2016 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.

Story of the Year – Marc de Bonte Passes

In a year where kickboxing promotions continued their growth with major investments, high-level signings and incredible events, the top story of the year is an unfortunate one.

When the news hit the air waves that Belgian fighter Marc de Bonte went missing on Nov. 5, the kickboxing world came together with strength and hope that something positive would come out of a dark and tragic situation.

The police found de Bonte’s vehicle next to the Wilhelminakanaal in Best, the Netherlands, the city where he was headed to meet with his girlfriend following a drink with his friend in Belgium. The search continued on for days as family, friends and loved ones worried the worst was yet to come. Reports came to light on Nov. 24 that a body had been found in Oirschot, not far from where de Bonte’s car was discovered. The police confirmed his identity a few days later, ending a more than three-week search for the young combat-sports star.

From all accounts, de Bonte was a kind man who gave his life to martial arts and the people in it. This unexpected tragedy took the life of a man too soon. De Bonte, 26, was heading into the prime of his life and returning to the sport he began training in when he was six. De Bonte took a leave of absence from kickboxing to pursue a professional boxing career in his home country. He was able to string together eight wins in 10 fights before making the decision he was destined to return to the kickboxing ring.

De Bonte placed in two IFMA Muay Thai world championships before getting an opportunity to fight in the world’s premier kickboxing promotion. He built his record fighting in Europe before signing to fight top-10 welterweight Murthel Groenhart on GLORY’s second show in 2012. Despite losing the bout, de Bonte put his name back into the mix with a monstrous knockout of L’houcine Ouzgni at GLORY 6.

De Bonte was scheduled to compete in the GLORY welterweight tournament next, but the bout was scrapped. He was then matched against Nieky Holzken for the welterweight title before an injury to Holzken kept him from competing. De Bonte would finally get his opportunity to win a world title when Karapet Karapetyan replaced Holzken in the pair’s second scheduled match-up at GLORY 16. De Bonte became the GLORY welterweight champion with a split decision victory over Karapetyan. The win was the biggest of the young Belgian’s career, and at the age of 22, he looked to become a staple in the welterweight division for years to come.

De Bonte lost the title in his next fight against Joseph Valtellini at GLORY 17, but the fight was another thrilling five-round affair in his budding career.

After two years away, De Bonte made a successful return to the kickboxing ring against Artur Gorlov in the quarterfinals of the 80-kilogram tournament at Kunlun Fight 51 in September. De Bonte dropped Gorlov with a beautiful boxing combination in the second round and capped off his return with a series of strikes that put Gorlov down against the ropes.

De Bonte’s fortunes were looking up following the win. He was in the media calling out his next opponents and getting his name back into the world of kickboxing. All of that came to a sudden and tragic end in early November, when the kickboxing world lost a true champion and lifelong martial artist. Remember the life of Marc with tributes from GLORY and Liver Kick.

R.I.P. Marc de Bonte (Feb. 27, 1990 – Nov. 5, 2016)

Other finalists: Bellator Kickboxing Debuts, Saenchai Makes GLORY Debut, Yao Capital Invests in GLORY, The Enfusion League, K-1 Returns to Europe, GLORY Adds Women’s Division, Robin van Roosmalen Becomes First Two-Division GLORY Champion, K-1 Adds Three Weight Divisions, Takeru Becomes First Two-Division K-1 World GP Champion

Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2016 Kickboxing Award winners.