Nieky Holzken (James Law/GLORY)

GLORY 34: Denver Preview and Predictions

On Friday, Oct. 21, GLORY kickboxing returns to the Mile High City for GLORY 34: Denver. The event will take place from the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, Colo.

In the night’s main event, GLORY welterweight champion Nieky Holzken meets rival Murthel Groenhart for a third time. The pair first clashed in 2010 with Holzken earning a narrow decision win after an extension round. They rematched at GLORY 26: Amsterdam late last year, and the Dutchman Holzken again escaped with a win on the scorecards. Since then, Holzken has defended his belt against Yoann Kongolo. Groenhart, meanwhile, has been very active, both in and out of the GLORY ring. The 30-year-old earned a third crack at Holzken after besting Karim Benmansour and the aforementioned Kongolo at GLORY 31 to capture the welterweight contender tournament.

Also on the night’s main card, former middleweight champion Simon Marcus returns to rematch former title challenger Dustin Jacoby. That bout will be joined by a one-night, four-man middleweight contender tournament. In one half of the ladder, New Zealand’s Israel Adesanya takes on Canada’s Robert Thomas. In the other half of the bracket, promotional newcomer Yousri Belgaroui takes on Brazilian Ariel Machado.


Finally, in the SuperFight Series headliner, featherweight champion Gabriel Varga looks to defend his belt against former lightweight titleholder Robin van Roosmalen.

The GLORY 34 SuperFight Series kicks off Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass. The GLORY 34 main card streams live at midnight ET on ESPN 3.

Murthel Groenhart earned another chance to unseat GLORY welterweight champion Nieky Holzken with his contender tournament victory at GLORY 31. Will Groenhart be the first man to defeat Holzken in over four years, or will the champion defend his title for the third time?

The much anticipated third bout between the GLORY welterweight champ and the top challenger is a battle of two of the best kickboxers in the world. These men have already fought tooth and nail for nine rounds, and they’re likely to make it 14 total rounds of fighting by the time the final bell sounds on their five-round championship affair.

Groenhart contends he was the winner in both of his prior meetings with Holzken. He arguably did enough to pull out the victory against Holzken at GLORY 26 in front of the champion’s hometown faithful in Amsterdam. Groenhart was able to push Holzken back in much of the first four rounds. Holzken started the fight off slow, like he does in most of his match-ups, which led to the champion having to dig deep in the latter rounds to steal the victory away from the aggressive challenger. The first three rounds could have been scored for Groenhart due to his volume of strikes landed. The argument could be made Groenhart won the bout four rounds to one, but even if he’s only given three of the five frames, we should have had a new champion to close out 2015.

Instead, Holzken retained. The champ was awarded the decision and has since made one more title defense with a victory against top-10 Swiss kickboxer Yoann Kongolo at GLORY 29. During the time since his last bout with Groenhart, Holzken continued his winning ways in his professional boxing career, claiming his first title and moving his undefeated mark to an impressive 11 wins in 11 fights. However, Holzken struggled in the first two rounds in his title defense against Kongolo. The challenger used the same aggressive game plan as Groenhart effectively in the first couple rounds, but Holzken executed like a champion when it mattered most. Holzken proved to be one of the best kickboxers in the world when he picked up his 10th straight victory.

Groenhart hit roadblocks against top-five welterweights Cedric Doumbe at GLORY 28 and Artur Kyshenko at Kunlun Fight 43. Both of the high-level match-ups were closely contested. His battle against the No.2-ranked fighter in the division, Kyshenko, went to an extra round. Despite the setbacks, Groenhart picked up tournament victories in WFL, GLORY and Kunlun Fight. He defeated Marco Pique and knocked out Sem Braan to win the one-night WFL 76-kilogram tournament. He returned to GLORY with another impressive welterweight contender tournament win at GLORY 31 that included victories over Karim Benmansour and the aforementioned Kongolo. The Dutch-Surinamese kickboxer most recently picked up a knockout victory over Jonatan Oliveira in the opening round of the Kunlun Fight 80-kilogram world tournament.

Groenhart not only has the chance to become the GLORY welterweight champion, but if he can fend off two fighters in the Kunlun Fight tournament, he will get a second chance to unseat that promotion’s current champion, the aforementioned Kyshenko, to join Sittichai as the only man to hold GLORY and Kunlun Fight championship belts. Holzken will have something to say about that, though.

This fight will play out similarly to their previous two meetings. Groenhart needs to get after Holzken early and often. If Groenhart doesn’t push a pace that gives him a big lead on the judges’ scorecards heading into the championship rounds, then Holzken is likely to lock up the victory over the course of five rounds with his superior boxing combinations and defensive ability. Groenhart must utilize his kicks and punches from distance, but also score inside every time Holzken comes forward.

Holzken has a big advantage heading into the fight with two prior victories over Groenhart, but don’t be shocked if the Mike’s Gym product upsets the champion on foreign soil. Holzken’s ability to remain defensively sound while countering Groenhart will be the most important factor for the champion. This fight will be a closely contested, tight-knit affair that ends with the champion’s third title defense.

The GLORY featherweight title is up for grabs when defending champion Gabriel Varga meets former GLORY lightweight champ Robin van Roosmalen in the GLORY 34 Super Fight Series main event. Will van Roosmalen become the first two-division champion in GLORY history, or does Varga cement his place as one of the best featherweights in the world?

The idea of van Roosmalen fighting for the featherweight belt began to surface following his cut to 145 pounds for his mixed martial arts debut at FFC 22. However, the fight being talked about wasn’t van Roosmalen and Varga.

Serhiy Adamchuk surprised many when he upset top-10 lightweight Marat Grigorian on 48 hours’ notice and continued to shock when he unseated the aforementioned Varga at GLORY 25. Adamchuk won the title the same night van Roosmalen defended his GLORY lightweight title against Sittichai in Milan, Italy. Despite the judging controversies in both championship bouts, the idea of van Roosmalen dropping to featherweight started to creep to the surface. Once he successfully debuted under MMA rules and, more importantly, made his first cut to 145 pounds, it signaled a potential future champion-vs.-champion match-up for the promotion. However, van Roosmalen lost his title to the world’s top-ranked kickboxer, Sittichai Sitsongpeenong, at GLORY 31, and Adamchuk couldn’t defend his belt against Varga at GLORY 32.

The losses from both fighters signaled what is a great opportunity for van Roosmalen and a historic moment in the promotion’s history. He officially makes his move to the featherweight division against a two-time GLORY champion. In a way, the Adamchuk fight offered the fans enticing possibilities with the potential style clash with van Roosmalen, but the Varga bout may just be the sexier fight. Varga offers non-stop action and a style that could create exciting exchanges for the Denver audience.

Varga is a slick striker with good all-around offensive and defensive abilities. He is happy to push the pace or capitalize on his opponent’s every mistake. Varga will be in the fight for the full five rounds, which makes this fight so intriguing because of van Roosmalen’s aggressive, high-output style. The match-up features van Roosmalen’s Dutch kickboxing style against a more traditional Muay Thai style from the Canadian champion. Varga will look to score at every range. He will attack with leg kicks and brilliantly timed counter left hooks at range, and he will utilize his knees and right hand to fight inside the clinch. Van Roosmalen can put together an explosive pace that is hard to handle, but Varga will be with him, in his face, during every exchange. Van Roosmalen presses forward with a mean streak — every punch, every kick and every knee is landed with the intention of punishing his opponent.

Van Roosmalen is the toughest test of Varga’s career. Varga has faced and beaten top fighters such as Mosab Amrani, Abdellah Ezbiri and, most recently, Adamchuk, but he has never faced anyone as dangerous as the former GLORY lightweight king. Van Roosmalen is making the drop to the featherweight division in hopes of finding fresh match-ups. He’s found a difficult challenge in the two-time champion Varga, but van Roosmalen will get back in the win column with a close decision victory to become the first-ever two-division GLORY champ.

The next middleweight title challenger will be decided when four top fighters battle it out in the one-night middleweight contender tournament. Who is the favorite to win the tournament?

There is a clear favorite in this tournament. He is one of the least talked-about fighters in GLORY because he has only had one bout inside the promotion, but he may be the best middleweight in the world. His name is Israel Adesanya. He is supremely skilled and aptly named “The Style Bender.” As his nickname suggests, his combination of fluid movement, defensive prowess and offensive skill make him unique among middleweight contenders. Adesanya makes the average fighter look silly with his dynamic movement and a diverse offensive onslaught unlike most of kickboxers in the world.

Adesanya has quickly risen up the middleweight rankings despite being outside the promotion that once held the most talent in the division. He put on strong performances against top middleweights Simon Marcus and Alex Pereira despite falling victim to controversial decisions in those bouts. Adesanya has since built his profile in the eastern hemisphere while fighting for Chinese sanctioning body World League of Fighting. This year alone, he has defeated top middleweights Filip Verlinden, Bogdan Stoica and fellow tournament participant Yousri Belgaroui under the Glory of Heroes banner.

Adesanya was potentially scheduled to rematch top-10 middleweight Pereira before the Brazilian was pulled from the tournament due to injury. With Pereira out, top-10 light heavyweight Ariel Machado moves down a weight division to take on promotional newcomer Belgaroui. Machado showcased his defensive and counter striking abilities in a closely contested battle with former top-5 light heavyweight Pavel Zhuravlev at GLORY 32. Now, Belgaroui can make his own name off of Machado in a similar manner to the Brazilian’s arrival in the contender tournament finals. What doesn’t bode well for Belgaroui’s potential fairy-tale story, is that he has lost twice in the past three months, and once to the man he will most likely meet in the finals.

Is it likely we see Canadian Robert Thomas topple Adesanya? Probably not. We did see a major upset when Giga Chikadze defeated top-10 featherweight and former GLORY champion Serhiy Adamchuk at GLORY 33, but the odds of the clear tournament favorite failing to deliver seem insurmountable. Adesanya is one of the best fighters in the world, so get used to hearing his name after he earns the next shot at middleweight champion Jason Wilnis.

The middleweight division was shaken up when Jason Wilnis knocked out GLORY middleweight champion Simon Marcus at GLORY 33. Marcus returns on short notice in a rematch with a fighter he beat less than five months ago. Will Marcus get back into the win column after losing his title, or can Dustin Jacoby capitalize on his opponent’s recent shortcomings and pull off a big upset victory?

It wouldn’t be too surprising if Jacoby was able to find Marcus’s chin. The former champion has shown deficiencies in his defense that cost him in fights against Fang Bian and, most recently, his title defeat against the aforementioned Wilnis. Marcus is the superior technician and it showed in his first fight with Jacoby, but that doesn’t mean Jacoby won’t be given opportunities to end the contest.

Marcus relied heavily on his head movement in the five-round title affair at GLORY 30, and Jacoby wasn’t able to find the chin on a consistent basis. This rematch will be contested over three rounds, which will leave Jacoby at a disadvantage with only nine minutes to find the home-run punch. Marcus is notorious for using his clinch to slow the fight down and cover after an offensive attack. Depending on the referee, this fight could heavily shift in the direction of Marcus if frequent clinching is allowed.

Marcus is the more diverse striker. He has a larger set of tools and more options to score in every range, giving him a strong advantage whether the fighters work inside or at range. The first fight may be a good indicator of his game plan for the second meeting. He found success on the outside with his long-range attacks and kicks from distance. Marcus knocked Jacoby down twice in the fight, once with a right hand on the temple in the first round and again with a kick to the midsection late in the fight. Without the called knockdowns, the fight was a little closer than expected on paper.

Jacoby needs to be aggressive if he expects to leave victorious on Friday night. He will have the advantage of fighting close to home, where the elevation is on his side, but he is already fighting uphill against the former champion. Jacoby needs to find his timing quickly in order to predict when Marcus is coming in and out of range. A perfectly placed counter may be Jacoby’s best path to victory. In the first fight, he was left hitting air far too often when the opportunity presented itself. Jacoby needs to find his angle of attack and keep Marcus guessing.

There is no denying that Marcus holds almost all of the advantages heading into the fight. The real question is whether or not Marcus can recover from a devastating knockout just over a month ago to perform like a champion. Jacoby is a strong fighter who has continued to improve since switching to kickboxing full-time, but he’s the fighter who will need to have a perfect performance to get the victory on Friday. It’s hard not to side with the former champion in this rematch. Marcus will get by in a closer-than-expected fight.

Fight Card Predictions
Fight Prediction
WW Championship: Nieky Holzken (89-11, 46 KO) vs. Murthel Groenhart (60-20-3, 34 KO) Holzken by decision
Projected MW Tournament Final: Adesanya vs. Belgaroui Adesanya by decision
MW: Simon Marcus (44-3, 24 KO) vs. Dustin Jacoby (9-7, 7 KO) Marcus by decision
Middleweight Tournament Semifinal: Israel Adesanya (48-3-2, 24 KO) vs. Robert Thomas (8-4, 5 KO) Adesanya by second-round knockout
Middleweight Tournament Semifinal: Yousri Belgaroui (19-2, 9 KO) vs. Ariel Machado (43-7, 33 KO) Belgaroui by decision
FW Championship: Gabriel Varga (27-3, 8 KO) vs. Robin van Roosmalen (35-6, 19 KO) Van Roosmalen by decision
LHW: Saulo Cavalari (59-4, 49 KO) vs. Brian Douwes (41-19-2, 23 KO) Cavalari by third-round knockout
WW: Thongchai Sitsongpeenong (134-32) vs. Casey Greene (5-6, 2 KO) Thongchai by decision
WW: Richard Abraham (10-3, 4 KO) vs. Mike Matheth Abraham by decision
FW: Juston Houghton (1-1) vs. Jonathan Wyderko Houghton by decision