Now that 2018 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.
How quickly things can turn around in combat sports. This year’s winner of the Comeback Fighter of the Year award wouldn’t have even been in consideration at the halfway mark of the calendar.
Following GLORY 53 in May, heavyweight Jamal Ben Saddik was at a crossroads. The cancer survivor had come up short in his quest for GLORY gold at the end of 2017, when he suffered a fifth-round TKO loss to current titleholder Rico Verhoeven. He then took on veteran Jahfarr Wilnis in his first fight of 2018 and came out on the wrong end of the scorecards following a flat performance. For the first time in five years — the same amount of time since he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer — the massive Belgian-Moroccan fighter had suffered back-to-back losses.
That’s when the towering man known as “Goliath” changed his fortunes.
At GLORY 59 in Amsterdam, Ben Saddik needed less than a minute to demolish fellow top-10 fighter D’Angelo Marshall, earning three knockdowns in the process.
The strong performance in September against Marshall earned Ben Saddik the No. 2 seed in GLORY’s end-of-year, eight-man heavyweight tournament in Rotterdam.
Ben Saddik opened the tourney against Australia’s Junior Tafa. Tafa struggled with his equipment, frequently complaining of groin shots, but Ben Saddik was awarded a first-round knockout win, nonetheless. In the semifinals, Ben Saddik took on former title challenger Guto Inocente. Ben Saddik’s size was too much for the Brazilian to overcome, as he punched his ticket to the final opposite No. 1 seed Benjamin Adegbuyi.
The tournament final was the fight that all fight fans hoped would happen when the bracket was released. The Romanian Adegbuyi has challenged for the GLORY belt multiple times, and with the tournament winner earning a shot at Verhoeven, the fight between Ben Saddik and Adegbuyi would establish a true No. 1 contender. When the fight began, Ben Saddik went southpaw, surprising fans and his opponent just the same. He was aggressive, throwing heavy uppercuts through the guard of Adegbuyi. The technique proved to be the downfall of Adegbuyi, as Ben Saddik handed him his first knockout loss in three years and captured the tournament.
Ben Saddik’s stunning reversal of fortune in the second half of the year, including his impressive tournament win, not only earned him a title shot in 2019, but also the 2018 Comeback Fighter of the Year award.
Other finalist: Yodsanklai Fairtex
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2018 Kickboxing Award winners.