GLORY 54: Birmingham took place last weekend at the Genting Arena in Birmingham, England. Now that the exciting event is in the books, we break down what’s ahead for the winners and losers.
Rico Verhoeven: The heavyweight “King of Kickboxing” once again proved just how skilled he is with a one-sided, five-round schooling of top challenger Mladen Brestovac. Verhoeven has now dispatched of 16 straight opponents inside the GLORY ring, a list that includes a who’s who of top-ranked heavyweight kickboxers. We know where Verhoeven is headed next following his in-ring announcement that he is slated to headline GLORY 59 on Sept. 29 in the 50,000-seat Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. What we don’t know is who is capable of beating him.
The No. 2-ranked Benjamin Adegbuyi has dropped two bouts to the champion, but he has a potential chance for a third opportunity with an impressive victory over Jamal Ben Saddik at GLORY 58 on Sept. 15. However, the time frame wouldn’t make sense for an immediate title challenge against Verhoeven.
That leaves the most obvious choice: Badr Hari, one of the world’s most popular kickboxers, who returned to the win column against Hesdy Gerges at GLORY 51 earlier this year. If GLORY wants to maximize its presence and potentially sell out the arena, this is the fight to make.
Harut Grigorian: The welterweight champion proved his first-round knockout victory over Murthel Groenhart to win the belt wasn’t a fluke with a strong performance against one of the fastest rising talents in the division, Alim Nabiyev. Despite Nabiyev’s victories over former champions Nieky Holzken and Cedric Doumbe, the 23-year-old couldn’t compete with Grigorian’s pressure and powerful striking game. Post-fight, Grigorian even commented that the fight “was actually pretty easy.” Grigorian wasn’t quick to call anyone out, but he alluded to the fighters behind them needing to bring their A-game.
Grigorian seems like a prime candidate to defend his title at GLORY 59. In terms of contenders, former champ Doumbe looked impressive in his first-round knockout of Thongchai Sitsongpeenong at GLORY 53, but the victory might not be enough to surpass Eyevan Danenberg’s recent run, which features four straight wins and a one-night tournament victory at GLORY 51. Danenberg has carved out a home fighting in one of the meccas of kickboxing — the Netherlands — with all five of his wins under the GLORY banner coming in the country.
Marat Grigorian: At this point, there is only one match-up that makes sense for Grigorian: a fourth fight with the GLORY lightweight champ Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong. The two men have fought three times previously, with the current titleholder getting the best of Grigorian in each bout. However, Grigorian gave Sitthichai a run for his money in every fight, and there is no better time for Grigorian than now, following his success in the 2017 Kunlun Fight 70-kilogram tournament. Grigorian defeated Jomthong Chuwattana, Mohamed Mezouari, Dzianis Zuev and Superbon Banchamek to capture the Kunlun belt. The Armenian-Belgian kickboxer has won 14 fights over the course of the last three years. His only losses in that span came against Sitthichai. It makes too much sense to have Grigorian challenge Sitthichai for his lightweight belt for the second time at GLORY 57 in Shenzhen, China. Both fighters are among the top foreigners to consistently compete in China.
Chenglong Zhang: Zhang scored the 46th win of his career and continued his run up the featherweight rankings in GLORY with a strong victory over experienced veteran Adrian Maxim, who has built a name for himself in Zhang’s home country of China. Next, Zhang will be headed for GLORY 57 on Aug. 25, in Shenzhen, China. He took a clear decision victory over Maxim despite not getting the knockdown call at the final bell in the third round.
The win over Maxim is the most significant victory for the Chinese fighter since he signed with GLORY in 2017. However, Petchpanomrung Kiatmookao has already been announced to challenge for the belt and former champion Serhiy Adamchuk defeated Azize Hlali and Victor Pinto to put himself at the top of the list of contenders. This leaves Anvar Boynazarov, who consistently competes in China and is higher up in the GLORY rankings, as the logical next opponent for Zhang. The fight presents an interesting challenge for both men that could intrigue the Chinese kickboxing audience.
Josh Jauncey: Jauncey turned his fortunes around in a rematch against Chris Baya, who previously defeated him with a well-timed knockdown to score the decision victory at GLORY 43. During his post-fight interview, Jauncey voiced his desires to avenge his previous losses to Anatoly Moiseev, Elvis Gashi and the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter, Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong. Jauncey would be a welcome addition to GLORY 55 on July 20 in New York. Following back-to-back victories against opponents ranked in GLORY’s lightweight top 10, Jauncey should garner a fight against another ranked opponent, such as Itay Gershon or the aforementioned Gashi.
Danyo Ilunga: Ilunga put an end to his five-fight promotional skid with a huge victory over former top-10 light heavyweight Michael Duut in a rematch of their 2016 “Fight of the Year” candidate. Ilunga continued his winning ways with a decision victory over England’s Fraser Weightman, who made his GLORY debut at the event. The light heavyweight division needs more new blood now that most of the fighters have fought each other, some multiple times over. Ilunga is highly ranked and still holds a record above the .500 mark in the promotion, but his long losing skid puts his name far outside of the title picture.
One of the people who defeated Ilunga was current GLORY light heavyweight champ Artem Vakhitov, who has laid waste to the rest of the division. While interim titleholder Pavel Zhuravlev lies in wait for his opportunity to fight Vakhitov next, Ilunga doesn’t have too many options. There is a title eliminator of sorts against France’s Zinedine Hameur-Lain, who is on a three-fight winning streak and has surprisingly never fought Ilunga.
Elvis Gashi: Gashi continued his promotional winning streak when he topped the United Kingdom’s William Goldie-Galloway by unanimous decision. Gashi, who was born in Kosovo, now calls New York his home. It is a no-brainer to have him compete at GLORY 55 in his adopted home. Gashi, whose record sits at a perfect 21-0, is currently ranked in the GLORY top 10. Of the potential match-ups for Gashi, Israel’s Itay Gershon makes the most sense. Gershon is also undefeated in GLORY and has competed both times in the state of New York. Another option is a rematch against Josh Jauncey, who was knocked out by Gashi in the second round at GLORY 43 in a surprising upset.
Adam Hadfield: The United Kingdom’s own Hadfield edged out former GLORY contender-tourney winner Richard Abraham over three closely contested rounds. Hadfield took to the mic post-fight and called for the next step above of his ranked opponent, who was sitting at No. 13 in the GLORY rankings prior to the bout. If the promotion doesn’t hold another event in the United Kingdom in the coming months, Hadfield could land on one of the upcoming events in New York or Chicago against an American opponent like Omari Boyd or Omar Moreno, who are both undefeated in GLORY.
Mladen Brestovac: Croatia’s Brestovac couldn’t unseat the king in his second fight with Verhoeven. The champion did a great job of avoiding Brestovac’s best weapon, the left high kick. Brestovac doesn’t drop too far down the ladder, but another opportunity at Verhoeven anytime soon is very unlikely.
The promotion has a few options for Brestovac going forward. He could draw a fight against another recent loser like D’Angelo Marshall, Ismael Londt or Cătălin Moroșanu. If Brestovac is looking to get back into action in the next two months, a battle against the Romanian slugger Moroșanu at GLORY 58 would very likely appeal to the fans in Chicago.
Alim Nabiyev: Nabiyev has played the underdog role since entering the GLORY ring in 2017. He welcomed this role when he fooled the oddsmakers by taking down former champions Nieky Holzken and Cedric Doumbe. The young Azerbaijani prospect is likely to bounce back in his next outing, which should come at GLORY 59 against a top-ranked opponent.
For a show in Amsterdam, a match-up against former GLORY champ Murthel Groenhart would make a ton of sense. Both men are coming off a loss in their last outing. GLORY won’t put Nabiyev in against a rising star like Eyevan Danenberg or Mohammed Jaraya, so, if the Groenhart match-up doesn’t come to fruition, a fight against France’s Antoine Pinto could be next in line for Nabiyev.
Adrian Maxim: Maxim fell short for the second time during his GLORY stint when he failed to impress the judges against Chenglong Zhang. The Romanian fighter hasn’t fought up to his level in his GLORY losses and could potentially make an appearance at GLORY 57 in China.
The GLORY featherweight division is one of the deepest in the promotion. It features plenty of capable Chinese fighters to challenge Maxim. Chenchen Li impressed in his GLORY debut with a “Knockout of the Year” contender against Terrance Hill at GLORY 43. Given Li’s do-or-die fighting style, a match-up against Maxim is sure to be exciting. Another option for Maxim could be Azize Hlali, who is in a similar position to Maxim after losing his first two fights under the GLORY banner.
Christian Baya: Baya couldn’t repeat history when he faced Josh Jauncey for the second time. Baya started off his GLORY run with four straight victories, including big wins over Jauncey, Massaro Glunder, Anatoly Moiseev and Samo Petje. This streak was enough to earn Baya a title shot against Sitthichai, but the opportunity was too much and too soon for the fighter from Angola.
Baya has now lost back-to-back fights, but he won’t fall too far down the lightweight rankings. Baya is likely to be featured in Europe, and a fight against top-10 ranked GLORY lightweight Stoyan Koprivlenski or a rematch against Glunder could build the winner back toward the top of the division.
Richard Abraham: Hadfield was able to pull ahead of Abraham on the judges’ scorecards with his pressure and work to the body. He seemed to slow Abraham in the third round. Abraham’s ranking likely won’t drop much, as he’s won six of his nine fights in the promotion and has a far better record than the fighters ranked below him.
The promotion could head in a few different directions with Abraham. GLORY has done a good job of developing its scouting team, and the recent fight cards in the United States reflect that. Abraham could welcome a debuting fighter into the promotion at GLORY 58 in Chicago, which is Abraham’s hometown and his most likely landing spot. If the promotion wants to keep Abraham active against top-ranked fighters, a rematch against Antoine Pinto could get one or the other back into the win column.