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.
Comeback Fighter of the Year – Giorgio Petrosyan
It’s hardly much of a comeback if any other fighter would have lost just his second fight, but when former pound-for-pound king Giorgio Petrosyan lost to Andy Ristie in the semifinals of the GLORY lightweight championship tournament at GLORY 12: New York, it was the first time the Armenian-Italian kickboxer had lost in over six and a half years.
To give some perspective on the incredible 42-fight unbeaten streak of Petrosyan, let’s go over some of his accomplishments and his long list of toppled veteran foes.
Petrosyan started off his first year unbeaten by fighting to a five-round split draw with fellow pound-for-pound great Buakaw Banchamek (formerly Por Pramuk). Petrosyan defeated Naruepol Fairtex, Chris Ngimbi and Andy Souwer before entering his first K-1 MAX tournament. Petrosyan defeated current top-10 fighter Dzhabar Askerov and former K-1 MAX champions Albert Kraus and Souwer to win his first K-1 title, earning his place among the top fighters in the world. Petrosyan kept on winning. He defeated multiple-time kickboxing and Muay Thai champions Kem Sitsongpeenong, Vitaly Gurkov, Mike Zambidis, Kraus and Yoshihiro Sato on his way to another K-1 MAX title. From 2010 to 2012, Petrosyan beat former champions Sudsakorn Sor Klinmee, Cosmo Alexandre, Abraham Roqueñi, Hinata Watanabe and Artur Kyshenko before making his GLORY debut in 2012.
Five years elapsed. Petrosyan went 36 fights undefeated and was heading into a field of some of the best fighters in the world once again. He qualified for the eight-man, one-night tournament in his adopted home of Italy with a win over current Lion Fight welterweight champion Fabio Pinca at GLORY 1. Petrosyan defeated former WMC and WBC Muay Thai champion Ky Hollenbeck, former GLORY champion Davit Kiria and current GLORY champion Robin van Roosmalen on his way to victory in the GLORY Slam 70-kilogram tournament. Petrosyan was without a doubt the best kickboxer in the world, a man many referred to as “the Floyd Mayweather of kickboxing” with his excellent defense and counter striking skills.
Petrosyan entered the GLORY 12 lightweight championship tournament with the hopes of winning the $150,000 tournament prize. He was matched with upstart Dutch-Surinamese kickboxer Ristie in the opening round of the four-man, one-night tournament. Petrosyan revealed injuries to his hand in his bout prior to the contest, but that didn’t stop him from throwing it. The Dutch striker was aggressive in the first round. Ristie had to take Petrosyan off of his ever-so-stellar technical defensive game. Petrosyan did a good job avoiding the heavy shot, but Ristie was able to land throughout the first round with explosive attacks with his left hook and right hand. Petrosyan defended the strikes well and worked his way back into the fight with an excellent straight left and left middle kick from his traditional southpaw stance.
Petrosyan picked up his aggression in the second, intending to take Ristie off of his attacking game plan and push his own. The sharp striker landed his left body kick frequently, but his left straight was the strike keeping his opponent at bay. Ristie had to resort to landing his own counter shots, putting Petrosyan on notice late in the second with a strong right hand.
Ristie knew he had to push the pace at the start of the third round. Petrosyan had out-landed him almost two-to-one. Ristie was facing the man deemed unstoppable by many. Petrosyan, with his back to the ring ropes, was forced to clinch and toss his way out of Ristie’s aggressive clinch. Ristie cracked an unsuspecting Petrosyan with a right straight that opened the door for the talented knockout artist to set up his next strike. Petrosyan reset with his hands high and his right hand slightly out to possibly defend against a Ristie attack and set up his own clubbing response. Ristie read the maneuver and switched to the southpaw stance, opening the opportunity to land his left uppercut underneath and between Petrosyan’s arms. The punch landed clean.
The undefeated streak was stopped with one punch. GLORY commentators Mauro Ranallo and Duke Roufus could not believe what they had witnessed, pausing as Petrosyan could barely make it to his feet. The referee called a stop to the bout upon reaching 10 in his count.
Petrosyan was out of competition for 14 months before finally returning to the ring in January 2015. He made a successful return against Turkish kickboxer Erkan Varol at Thai Boxe Mania 2015. Petrosyan kept his jab in Varol’s face early and often. He used his jab to control distance and land his heavy left middle kicks. Petrosyan smashed his rear leg shin into Varol’s stomach and thighs over and over again. The damage froze Varol’s offense, making him a stationary target for Petrosyan’s aggressive and well-executed return to the ring. Petrosyan hurt Varol with a left head kick just before the second round came to a close. Petrosyan gave chase with a relentless barrage of kicks and punches, finally landing a right uppercut that forced the referee to call a standing 10 count. Petrosyan didn’t let up in the third round, finishing out his dominant performance with an absolutely crushing series of punishment to Varol’s body. Petrosyan threw knees, punches and heavy left kicks to brutalize the midsection of his overmatched foe. Petrosyan was back in the win column.
Petrosyan next stepped into the ring opposite top-15 70-kilogram fighter Enriko Kehl at an event co-promoted by Italian promoter Oktagon and Venum Victory World Series in April. The 23-year-old German Kehl was just months removed from defeating Buakaw Banchamek in the finals of the 2014 K-1 MAX Grand Prix when the fan-favorite, Buakaw, left the ring after he disagreed with the judges’ decision to send the fight into an extra round. Kehl won his next two fights before meeting Petrosyan in Milan, Italy.
Kehl and Petrosyan exchanged blows from the southpaw position. Kehl pushed early in the round, but Petrosyan met his aggression. Petrosyan landed his left kick and avoided most of the punches of his younger foe late in the first. Kehl kept pressing for the inside to land his heavy hooks, but Petrosyan dumped him multiple times to show him who was the superior Thai rules fighter too. Kehl made Petrosyan work for every shot he took, but the crisp, clean technician slipped in and out without eating much leather. They traded blows throughout the final three minutes, leading to a close, but clear victory for Petrosyan in a back-and-forth fight.
Petrosyan made the trip to China for his first-ever fight in the country opposite Hero Legends 70-kilogram champ Xu Yan. The action in the early going of the championship main event was all from Petrosyan. “The Doctor” was flicking his jab in between throwing his left straight and rear-leg knee from just outside punching range. Petrosyan pushed his Sanda opponent into the ropes, bullying him as he landed knee after knee to the midsection in the first round.
Petrosyan silenced the Chinese crowd with a brutal knee to the midsection that dropped Yan in his tracks during the second round. Petrosyan never let Yan get in a rhythm. Every time Yan figured out a way to land one counter strike, Petrosyan threw Yan off rhythm with a kick or immediate punch and reset of range. Yan was on the defensive throughout the entire fight, completely unable to deal with Petrosyan’s ability to close distance from just outside of Yan’s preferred range.
Petrosyan capped off his masterful performance with a near vomit-inducing knee strike to the abdomen. Yan looked as though he was about to eject his breakfast when Petrosyan timed a perfect fight-ending body shot knockout in the third round. Petrosyan added yet another world title to his overabundant collection of belts.
Petrosyan’s final fight of 2015 was also his return to the world’s top kickboxing promotion, GLORY. He faced Canadian kickboxer Josh Jauncey on the main card of GLORY 25 in November.
Petrosyan once again showed why he is among the very best kickboxers in the world, this time against a borderline top-20 fighter. Petrosyan had success with his left middle kick and left straight, like he has in most of his fights, but he found even more success mixing in his right hand either before or immediately after a left side attack. Petrosyan found a home for his short lead right hook on multiple occasions in the second and third rounds. Jauncey wasn’t completely outclassed, but he was always one step behind the well-schooled physician of the fight game. Petrosyan out-landed Jauncey by more than five strikes to one, including throwing more than three times as many kicks as his heavy-handed foe.
2015 was the year Petrosyan re-assured the kickboxing world that he never left, but was just merely regrouping for another long winning streak. He has already added to the streak by winning his first fight in 2016 over Chinese kickboxer Jiao Fukai at a Wu Lin Feng Championship event on Jan. 23. Petrosyan is already scheduled for two more fights in the next three months. He will attempt to defend his WAKO 70-kilogram world title against Belarusian Chingiz Allazov at Monte-Carlo Fighting Masters in March. His next bout after the title defense will be against 2015 Kunlun Fight 64-man tournament runner-up Enriko Gogokhia at the Oktagon co-promoted Bellator MMA and Kickboxing event in April.
Other finalists: Murthel Groenhart and Sangmanee Sor Tienpo
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