On Saturday, April 16, a new rivalry will be born when the consensus No. 1 kickboxing promotion in the world, GLORY World Series, returns to Europe on the same night that U.S.-based mixed martial arts promotion Bellator debuts Bellator Kickboxing, the promotion’s first venture into the kickboxing world.
The world’s premier kickboxing product will also be making a debut of sorts when it holds the promotion’s first event in serene Copenhagen, Denmark, less than a day’s drive north from the budding rival’s inaugural event in Torino, Italy. GLORY 29: Copenhagen marks the ninth European country that the promotion has visited, and GLORY brought in one of the promotion’s biggest stars to headline its third event of 2016.
GLORY welterweight champion Nieky Holzken returns to the ring following a controversial decision win over top GLORY contender Murthel Groenhart. Groenhart didn’t take long to take the fight to Holzken in his home country at GLORY 26: Amsterdam in December. Groenhart used his effective aggression, combination punching and consistent kicking offense to take the first three rounds championship rounds. Holzken stayed calm under fire, using his expert defensive work to remain in the fight and work his way back in the final rounds of the fight. Many fans were left with the impression that a new champion was to be crowned, but it was not to be. Holzken convinced two of the three judges that he had indeed defended his title.
After returning to the ring for his 10th professional boxing bout in February, Holzken will now put his title on the line against welterweight contender Yoann Kongolo. The fighter out of Mike’s Gym brings an experienced record into this match-up of cross-country gym rivals.
GLORY announced the signing of top heavyweight kickboxer Ismael Londt at the beginning of the year. It’s one of the best free-agent acquisitions for the promotion since picking up top pound-for-pound fight Sittichai Sitsongpeenong midway through 2015.
Londt will be thrown into a stacked field of four to fight for a shot at the promotion’s heavyweight king, Rico Verhoeven. The one-night GLORY heavyweight contender tournament features current Enfusion and Kunlun Fight heavyweight champion Jahfarr Wilnis, top-10 heavyweight Anderson “Braddock” Silva and Russian heavyweight prospect Kirill Kornilov. The absolutely talent-packed field with kick off with Wilnis taking on Kornilov. In the other tournament semifinal, Londt will go toe-to-toe with the heavy-hitting Silva.
In the featured bout on the main card, Denmark’s own Niclas Larsen will tangle with 100-plus fight veteran Mohammed El Mir in a fight for national glory.
GLORY returns to UFC Fight Pass with five fights on the GLORY 29: Super Fight Series fight card. The diverse card will have promotional help from the world’s largest MMA promotion to defeat the debut of Bellator Kickboxing on Spike TV, the channel that once aired GLORY kickboxing before the two parties split at the end of 2015.
The main event of the Super Fight Series card is a battle of light heavyweights jockeying for position in the division’s wide-open rankings. A new light heavyweight champion was crowned when Russian phenom Artem Vakhitov took the title away from former champ Saulo Cavalari, the last man to stop the card’s headliner, Zack Mwekassa. The rising talent Vakhitov will put his reputation, as well as his top-10 ranking, on the line when he faces off with Algerian-French kickboxer Zinedine Hameur-Lain. These talented heavy hitters have a combined 45 knockout victories.
In other action on the undercard, the fans are in for a barnburner when Maximo Suarez meets Harut Grigorian in a clash of veteran lightweights. Brazil’s Jonatan Oliveira returns to the GLORY ring against Swedish Muay Thai champion Meran Zangana. In a heavyweight clash between two men making their promotional debuts, Turkish fighter Cihad Kepenek meets WKN European heavyweight champion Tomas Mozny. Hometown fighter Rhassan Muhareb makes his promotional debut against Swedish kickboxer Abdou Karim Chorr.
The Super Fight Series card airs live at 1:30 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass. The GLORY 29 main card airs live on ESPN 3 at 4 p.m. ET.
WW Championship: Nieky Holzken (88-11) vs. Yoann Kongolo (61-6)
Holzken can only be described as one of the best kickboxers in the sport today. It wasn’t a short road for the world’s top welterweight. In fact, it wasn’t until Holzken floored former GLORY champion Joseph Valtellini at GLORY 13 that he was recognized as the best 77-kilogram fighter in the world.
Holzken has spent much of his nearly 100-fight career fighting many of the world’s most talented fighters. The 32-year-old champion is currently riding a nine-fight winning streak, including eight under the GLORY banner. He has racked up a who’s who list of opponents over the past six years, only falling to Artur Kyshenko and former It’s Showtime 73-kilogram champ L’houcine Ouzgni while collecting a long list of notable wins. Holzken looked unstoppable until he met Groenhart at GLORY 26. Groenhart pushed the champion early and completely took him out of his element. Holzken recovered to earn the decision victory, but any honest viewer of the title bout would have awarded the fight in the other direction. The fight looks even stranger after Groenhart dropped a decision to Cedric Doumbe in his most recent outing at GLORY 28. Holzken successfully returned to the boxing ring in February and went 10 rounds to capture his first boxing title. Holzken showcased the hard work he displayed while spending time training with the undefeated Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and his team during the beginning of the year.
Kongolo is an experienced Swiss fighter training out of Mike’s Gym in the Netherlands. The 28-year-old came up under a karate background, earning medals at the World Koshiki Karatedo Championships in multiple years before switching to the kickboxing ring. He fought his way through the best competition Switzerland had under both kickboxing and Muay Thai rules, eventually winning national titles in both sports. Kongolo continued to fight on the central European kickboxing scene before getting an opportunity to challenge for the World Kickboxing Network European title. He beat Slovakian fighter Miran Fabjan to win the WKN European super middleweight championship. The win was Kongolo’s last major title, but that doesn’t mean the experienced kickboxer hasn’t had his fair share of tough bouts. He defeated top-10 welterweight Doumbe not once, but twice, including a decision victory in his GLORY debut at GLORY 22. Kongolo missed out on his first opportunity to gain a world title shot, falling by split decision against experienced Frenchman Karim Ghaji in the semifinals of the GLORY welterweight contender tournament at GLORY 25. He rebounded with another top-10 win against Karapet Karapetyan at GLORY 26.
Holzken will be heavily favored heading into the bout, and rightfully so, but the masses shouldn’t sleep on the skillful Kongolo. He recently spoke about the weaknesses he noticed in the champion’s game at GLORY 26. The confident challenger will attempt to use a similar game plan to the one Groenhart seemingly laid out for the division in his championship bout with Holzken.
Kongolo is an intelligent fighter who can control the distance with his angles and footwork. He prefers to fight from distance, but the skilled defender is always within reach of landing his counter punches. Kongolo often switches stances and strike placement to land the most effective damage on his opponent. He has the output to push Holzken and make him get into the fight sooner than he would maybe like, but this could be the downfall of the skilled challenger. Holzken does his best work when he can counter his opponent and set up his diverse array of hand combinations. The highly skilled boxer is comfortable to exchange on the feet, but the style of Kongolo makes this a much tougher fight to navigate for the champion.
Kongolo will create space and the opportunity to land scoring strikes, but the real question is whether or not he can capitalize on his speed and expert timing over the course of five rounds, a feat Holzken will assuredly be working to shut down. In a night where the narrative is ripe for upsets, Holzken shuts down Kongolo and reaffirms his place atop the welterweight rankings.
HW Tournament Semifinal: Anderson “Braddock” Silva (39-13-1) vs. Ismael Londt (36-6-1)
Silva is often mixed up with the MMA legend of the same name. While they are not the same fighter, both have spent time around the top of their respective divisions. “Braddock,” who is just 29 years old, has spent nearly 11 years fighting professionally in the sport of kickboxing. The veteran has fought some of the top heavyweights — Danyo Illunga, Hesdy Gerges, Brian Douwes and Michael Duut, to name a few — for the past six years, but the Brazilian has also tasted defeat when faced with the upper echelon of the division, especially since joining GLORY. Silva finished second to Cătălin Moroşanu during the 2012 Superkombat World Grand Prix and was bounced out of the final K-1 heavyweight grand prix field.
Silva joined the GLORY ranks as one of the top heavyweights in the world. The promotion would treat him as such, matching him up with top fighters Remy Bonjasky, Gokhan Saki, Daniel Ghita and many more to test the heavyweight’s skills. Silva came out of the flames with wins over Bonjasky and top-10 light heavyweight Igor Jurković, but a recent stretch of losses dropped him to the bottom of the heavyweight rankings. Silva returned to the win column with a strong performance over the athletic American Maurice Greene at GLORY 27.
Londt was signed by GLORY in an exciting announcement at the beginning of 2016. The promotion has been looking for the challenger to give champion Verhoeven a run for his money, and GLORY may have found that guy in Londt. The heavy-hitting Superkombat heavyweight champion has made a name for himself as one of the top heavyweights in the world outside of GLORY. The 30-year-old Surinamese-Dutch kickboxer most recently went to war with the sport’s bad boy, Badr Hari. Londt put Hari down with a heavy shot in the fight, but Hari returned the favor twice to move back into the top-10 rankings. The brutal fight was just a glimpse of what Londt can provide GLORY heading into the future, and he is getting the opportunity right now to earn his shot at the current heavyweight king. Londt holds victories over top kickboxers Hesdy Gerges, Mladen Brestovac, Pavel Zhuravlev and Mourad Bouzidi.
Londt and Silva will bring the fans out of their seats in a wild affair. The two heavyweights may be slightly cautious in order to retain some energy going into the final, but once this fight gets going, there may not be time to be cautious.
Londt holds devastating power in his right hand, but he has also been on the receiving end of devastating strikes. The prime example is his brutal knockout loss to Sergei Lascenko when Londt had his foe dead to rights against the ropes. Lascenko threw one shot that opened Londt up for a second and third that completely shut off the lights.
Londt was once again put down in his most recent outing, but don’t expect that to affect him heading into this clash with “Braddock.” Silva looked sharp in his return bout, but he will be facing a much better opponent this time around. Leg kicks alone won’t win Silva the fight.
Londt makes a successful debut and sends Silva outside of the heavyweight top 10.
HW Tournament Semifinal: Jahfarr Wilnis (25-6-1) vs. Kirill Kornilov (7-1)
Wilnis is making his return to the GLORY ring after another stellar win outside of the promotion. The Kunlun Fight heavyweight champion earned another world title after he outlasted and out-struck Enfusion heavyweight champion Ismael Lazaar. The 30-year-old Surinamese-Dutch kickboxer became the first man to defeat Lazaar after he had his hand raised at the end of the five-round championship bout in February. The victory put Wilnis back on track after back-to-back losses to Benjamin Adegbuyi and Roman Kryklia. Wilnis fell short to the talented prospect Kryklia at Kunlun Fight 36 at the beginning of the year, giving the Ukrainian youngster the revenge he had been seeking since dropping an extension-round decision to Wilnis in 2015.
Wilnis has racked up strong wins in between his time with GLORY, but the skillful older brother of fellow GLORY veteran Jason Wilnis has yet to reap the benefits inside of the GLORY ring. Wilnis racked up three wins inside the GLORY ring, including a top-10 win before getting floored with a left high kick at the hands of recent title challenger Mladen Brestovac. The devastating stoppage halted his promotional winning streak, forcing him to go outside of the promotion to rebuild his record. Wilnis picked up another top-10 win over Hesdy Gerges in the finals of the Kunlun Fight heavyweight tournament before returning to GLORY for the heavyweight contender tournament at GLORY 24. The high altitude and tough semifinal bout led to Wilnis dropping his chance at becoming GLORY world champion. He gets another opportunity to become the consensus No. 1 heavyweight in the world, but his path won’t be easy.
Kornilov is a skilled Russian prospect who has made his name fighting inside the Tatneft Cup promotion based in Kazan, Russia. Kornilov earned victories over Alexandru Burduga and Marcello Adriaansz to help him rack up an impressive start to his young career. The St. Petersburg native most recently fought Andre Langen at the first Tatneft Cup event of 2016, earning a victory in a controversial decision. Kornilov landed two unfortunate blows to the groin of his German opponent, forcing the referee to call a stop to the bout, but it was Kornilov’s hand that was raised following the stoppage. Kornilov has faced just one official setback, a decision loss at the hands of Belorussian fighter Valentin Slavikovskiy.
Kornilov is an athletic fighter who carries a certain confidence with his hands down, waiting to uncork his powerful right hand. The young Russian moves well inside the ring, both with his quick feet and solid head movement. Wilnis can match Kornilov’s athleticism, but the size may play a role in who can get off with their heavy right hand first.
Kornilov has put many of his opponents on the canvas, but it will be much harder to achieve against his first high-level opponent. Wilnis gets past the power of the Russian and earns his place in the final.
Projected HW Tournament Final: Wilnis vs. Londt
Two of the world’s top heavyweights should collide for a shot at Verhoeven’s heavyweight crown. The fresher man will be favored in this deciding final.
Londt will have the upper hand if this fight gets started quickly, and it has the makings to end just as quickly. Wilnis will need to stay confident, move well and pick his shots against a man who could put him down with one right hand.
Wilnis will get the easier first-round opponent, giving him just enough gas to take a decision from Londt and finally earn a shot at the GLORY heavyweight title.
GLORY 29 Predictions
LW: Niclas Larsen (40-7-1) vs. Mohammed El Mir (113-21)
Larsen by decision
LHW: Zack Mwekassa (13-3) vs. Zinedine Hameur-Lain (54-12)
Mwekassa by knockout
HW: Cihad Kepenek (11-3) vs. Tomas Mozny (14-4-1)
Mozny by knockout
WW: Jonatan Oliveira (20-4) vs. Meran Zangana (42-12)
Oliveira by knockout
LW: Rhassan Muhareb (68-21) vs. Abdou Karim Chorr
Muhareb by knockout
WW: Maximo Suarez (38-3) vs. Harut Grigorian (41-9)
Suarez by decision
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