Artem Vakhitov (GLORY Kickboxing/Facebook)

GLORY 35: Nice Preview and Predictions

On Saturday, Nov. 5, GLORY kickboxing returns to France for GLORY 35: Nice. The world’s top kickboxing promotion returns to Europe after a successful event in Broomfield, Colo., just two weeks ago.

In the night’s main event, GLORY light heavyweight champion Artem Vakhitov is set for a unification bout against interim light heavyweight champ Zack Mwekassa. The two titleholders will meet for the first time to unify the GLORY light heavyweight belts. Vakhitov won the title with a dominant performance over Brazil’s Saulo Cavalari at GLORY 28. An injury to the champion derailed the initial meeting between Vakhitov and Mwekassa at GLORY 31 in June. Mwekassa instead took home the interim title after knocking out top-10 light heavyweight Mourad Bouzidi in the first round in Amsterdam.

Also on the night’s main card, heavyweights vie for the next shot at the GLORY world title in a one-night, four-man heavyweight contender tournament. Enfusion and Kunlun Fight heavyweight champion Jahfarr Wilnis returns to GLORY to compete for a crack at the world’s top heavyweight, Rico Verhoeven. Wilnis will have vengeance on his mind when he meets FFC heavyweight kingpin Mladen Brestovac, the last man to knock him out. In the other leg of the tournament, Belgium’s Benjamin Adegbuyi goes up against top-10 heavyweight Hesdy Gerges.


Rounding out the main card, top-10 light heavyweights Zinedine Hameur-Lain and Pavel Zhuravlev face off for a potential shot at the winner of the evening’s main event.

In the SuperFight Series, hometown heavyweight favorite Nicholas Wamba meets GLORY newcomer Nordine Mahieddine, France’s Karim Benmansour takes on Dutch welterweight Eyevan Danenberg, and former GLORY featherweight champion Serhiy Adamchuk vies for positioning a weight division above against top-10 lightweight Josh Jauncey.

The GLORY Super Fight Series airs live at 2 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass. GLORY 35 airs live at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN 3. The main card replays on ESPN 2 at 11 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 6.

GLORY light heavyweight champion Artem Vakhitov returns to the ring after an injury sustained before GLORY 31 kept him from defending his title against Zack Mwekassa. “The Black Warrior” instead won the GLORY interim light heavyweight title with a first-round knockout of Mourad Bouzidi in the champion’s absence. Will Vakhitov return in top form, or can Mwekassa stick to his words and stop the champion within five rounds?

It’s been a long road for Mwekassa. The Congolese boxer was displaced from his home country at a young age due to civil war. He was taken into rebel custody and forced to join the ranks during the war. His journey took him to South Africa to be with his family, and that was the beginning of his fighting career. Mwekassa began training with late K-1 veteran Mike Bernardo. He found success in the boxing world before returning to kickboxing in 2014.

Mwekassa, 31, quickly made an impression after signing on the dotted line with GLORY. He tore through UFC veteran Pat Barry in his debut with a left uppercut in the first round. In his second bout with the promotion, Mwekassa needed a second round of work, but the outcome remained the same: he put Brian Collette away with a left hook in the second frame of the GLORY 18 light heavyweight contender tournament. Mwekassa’s momentum carried him into the finals opposite top light heavyweight contender Saulo Cavalari. The heavy-hitting Mwekassa couldn’t land one of his devastating power punches, though. Cavalari opened the third round with a destructive high kick to become the first man to best Mwekassa in the GLORY ring.

Mwekassa had a chance for redemption against Cavalari after blowing through Carlos Brooks in the first round at GLORY 22. Again, Mwekassa fell short in his bid for the GLORY light heavyweight title. Cavalari edged him at Bellator Dynamite 1 after five closely contested rounds. The win opened the door for Vakhitov’s chance to take on the skilled Brazilian for the GLORY strap.

Vakhitov also made a splash in his GLORY debut, when he turned off the lights of top light heavyweight Luis Tavares with a well-timed body shot just over a minute into his bout at GLORY 9. Vakhitov rattled off wins over Nenad Pagonis, Igor Jurković and Danyo Ilunga on his path to a shot at the title and a rematch with the only man to beat him in the past five years, Cavalari. Vakhitov put on a strong offensive and defensive performance against the champion at GLORY 28 in Paris. The 25-year-old Russian Muay Thai champion took home the coveted title after five impressive rounds of work.

After the victory, Vakhitov’s injury-riddled past continued when he was pulled from his scheduled title defense against Mwekassa at GLORY 31. Mwekassa earned another crack at the title after defeating Zinedine Hameur-Lain at GLORY 29. Vakhitov’s injury eliminated him from the bout, giving way to Mwekassa’s opportunity to fight top-10 kickboxer Mourad Bouzidi for the interim title. Mwekassa made quick work of the nearly 100-fight veteran with three knockdowns in the opening round.

Mwekassa favors his hand combinations and boxing technique. With a combined knockout ratio of 93.3 percent and a combined 28 knockouts between his boxing and kickboxing careers, the Congolese fighter does not lack power. He looks to destroy his opponents with hooks inside boxing range, constantly seeking the knockout blow with his left hand and underrated straight right. He is a rugged veteran who has also shown a knack for defensive prowess. He will need to be smart in his pursuit of victory against the more diverse and highly skilled Russian champion. Nevertheless, Mwekassa wants to get Vakhitov out of this fight quickly. Vakhitov thrives in fights where he can fight at his pace and dictate the volume of strikes. Expect Vakhitov to pepper the arms of the challenger with kicks in hopes of diminishing Mwekassa’s otherworldly power.

The safe pick is to side with the current champion in this unification bout, but Mwekassa has the tools to end this bout at any point.

The light heavyweight title picture will become more clear when top-10 fighters Zinedine Hameur-Lain and Pavel Zhuravlev meet in the co-headliner. Hameur-Lain won the GLORY 32 light heavyweight contender tournament with knockout victories over Warren Thompson and Ariel Machado. Now, Zhuravlev gets an opportunity to jump the line with a victory over the No.1 contender. Who earns the next shot at the light heavyweight title?

There was great buzz for Zhuravlev’s debut after signing with the promotion. He holds wins over some of the world’s top fighters in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. The 33-year-old Ukrainian entered the promotion with wins over Gökhan Saki, Saulo Cavalari, Mourad Bouzidi, Benjamin Adegbuyi and Ismael Londt.

Zhuravlev was the heavy favorite among the field heading into the GLORY 32 light heavyweight contender tournament. He made his debut against fellow GLORY debutante Ariel Machado in one leg of the one-night, four-man tournament. The Brazilian was a relative unknown at the highest level of kickboxing, whereas Zhuravlev has honed his craft against top competition for the past seven years. Zhuravlev’s experience edge didn’t matter on fight night. Machado did just enough to stay away from the Ukrainian’s power punches and score with his own well-timed counters and kicks over the course of three rounds. Machado completed the upset and moved on in place of the tournament favorite.

Machado’s move into the finals of the contender tournament is what catapulted Hameur-Lain up the light heavyweight rankings. The French-Algerian kickboxer rode the momentum of his 12-second knockout victory over Thompson in the semifinals into his bout with Machado. Hameur-Lain put together a terrific performance in his dismantling of the Brazilian newcomer in the second round. The win put Hameur-Lain back into the discussion at 95 kilograms after hitting a rough patch with losses to Zack Mwekassa and Frank Muñoz. The GLORY contender tournament winner can cement his title shot with a win over Zhuravlev.

This is easier said than done. Zhuravlev is a skillful boxer with a heavy right hand and left hook. The Ukrainian has had far more success in his career against the top competition in the sport. Zhuravlev has the ability to erase the difference in the rankings with one powerful punching combination. He will need a much stronger performance in this outing than his last. Against Machado, Zhuravlev didn’t put out the numbers he needed to keep up with the Brazilian’s output. That will be even harder against an aggressive pressure fighter like Hameur-Lain, who is constantly throwing heavy kicks and punches.

Hameur-Lain has a height and reach advantage heading into the bout, but the same could be said for most of Zhuravlev’s past opponents. Hameur-Lain looked sharp with his lead-leg high kick and right hook against Machado, but he wasn’t exactly fighting in a defensively sound manner. The Brazilian prospect was able to find a home for his right hand on a few occasions, but it didn’t matter in the end. The wear from Machado’s opening bout showed. Hameur-Lain, on the other hand, was essentially walking into the ring completely fresh. Hameur-Lain landed a right hook-left hook combination that stunned Machado. He capped off his victory with a beautifully timed left knee strike to the body. The fight perfectly showcased the Muay Thai stylist at his best and also displayed the flaws that could signal a weakness in his defenses.

Zhuravlev will likely return to the GLORY ring with a chip on his shoulder and an urgency to throw more. Hameur-Lain’s forward pressure may just bring the best out of Zhuravlev, and it could spell the end to Hameur-Lain’s run to the title. Zhuravlev will show the promise he displayed when the promotion signed him and earn the next shot at the GLORY light heavyweight title.

The GLORY heavyweight contender tournament features four of the division’s elite, including the Nos. 2, 4 and 8 heavyweights in the world. Benjamin Adegbuyi holds wins over his three fellow tournament participants, Jahfarr Wilnis, Mladen Brestovac and Hesdy Gerges. Will Adegbuyi earn his third crack at Rico Verhoeven, or will one of the other top heavyweights be the first man besides Verhoeven to best Adegbuyi in the past four years?

Despite Adegbuyi’s past success against the tournament field, he’s being thrown back into the mix against some of the top fighters in the division. The Belgian returns to the big stage after picking up wins over Colin George, Maxim Bolotov and, most recently, Steve Reezigt outside of the promotion. The 31-year-old dropped his most recent title challenge in the first round at GLORY 26. He met his fate in front of a raucous Amsterdam crowd after putting together one of the better resumes in the division. Prior wins over top-10 fighters Wilnis, Gerges and Ismael Londt give the skilled Belgian a leg up over his competition.

First, Adegbuyi must contend with Gerges, one of the most physically gifted heavyweights. The Dutch heavyweight has shared the ring with every top-flight contender for the past six years. Gerges holds victories over Badr Hari, Daniel Ghiţă, Pavel Zhuravlev and Andrey Gerasimchuk. The 32-year-old always brings it in his fights, and despite having lost three of his past four bouts, Gerges is ready to redeem himself on the highest stage. Gerges fell short against Adegbuyi in a title eliminator at GLORY 18. Now he has a chance at redemption, not only against Adegbuyi in the opening round, but in the finals against potential opponent Wilnis, who defeated Gerges in the finals of the 2015 Kunlun Fight heavyweight tournament.

Wilnis, 30, has put together a stellar resume of his own. The Surinamese-Dutch kickboxer made it look easy with three wins inside the GLORY ring after debuting in the promotion in 2012. Wilnis knocked out Brice Guidon and Oguz Ovguer after defeating Jamal Ben Saddik in his debut at GLORY 2. That momentum was stopped in its tracks when Wilnis dropped a bout outside the promotion to Tomáš Hron and then collapsed from a perfectly placed high kick from Mladen Brestovac in his return at GLORY 14. Wilnis regained momentum with victories over top-10 heavyweights Roman Kryklia and Gerges in Kunlun Fight before returning to the promotion for the GLORY 24 heavyweight contender tournament. Wilnis dropped a split decision in the finals against Adegbuyi. Wilnis took home the Enfusion world title with a victory over the previously unbeaten Ismael Lazaar before getting his second chance for a shot at the heavyweight title at GLORY 29. Again, Wilnis fell short in the final, and again his fate would come down to another split decision, this time against the aforementioned Londt.

The fourth tournament participant holds an impressive win over Wilnis. The 33-year-old Brestovac has competed at the highest level of the sport, including a run of 12 straight victories from 2013 until October 2015. During his impressive string of victories, Brestovac picked up wins over Nicholas Wamba, Frank Muñoz, Colin George and Kirk Krouba. The Croatian made his return to the GLORY ring in the GLORY 24 contender tournament in Denver. He came up short against Adegbuyi after eating an onslaught of leg kicks that halted the bout in the third round. Despite losing in the contender tournament, Brestovac was given a title shot against Verhoeven at GLORY 28. As expected, Verhoeven made it look easy against another top heavyweight. Brestovac has since returned to the win column with a second-round head-kick knockout of Steven “Panda” Banks at FFC 24.

The next heavyweight title shot is truly up for grabs when these four men clash. Adegbuyi meets Gerges in what should be an absolute war of attrition. Gerges is on the path for redemption, but Adegbuyi wants to erase his past title shortcomings. It makes for what should be an exciting semifinal bout. Whoever arises from the first semifinal won’t have it easy in the finals. Wilnis gets his own chance at redemption when he faces Brestovac. Can the Croatian land his signature high kick and defeat Wilnis again, or will the Enfusion and Kunlun Fight champion show his skill level and finally get his chance to fight the world’s consensus top heavyweight, Verhoeven?

The winner of this contender tournament will have certainly earned their shot at the title, but the real question is what happens to the winner if the aforementioned Hari is able to defeat the long-reigning champ in December. Will they be left in the same position as Londt, who won the heavyweight contender tournament at GLORY 29, but has still yet to fight for the title. Either way, the tournament fighters have an opportunity to cement their place among the best in the world with a victory over two of the world’s top heavyweights in one night.

Fight Card Predictions
Fight Prediction
LHW Championship: Artem Vakhitov (16-5, 6 KO) vs. Zack Mwekassa (15-3, 13 KO) Vakhitov by decision
Projected HW Tournament Final: Adegbuyi vs. Wilnis Wilnis by decision
LHW: Zinedine Hamuer-Lain (56-25-1, 35 KO) vs. Pavel Zhuravlev (69-11-1, 25 KO) Zhuravlev by knockout
HW Tournament Semifinal: Jahfarr Wilnis (30-7-1, 8 KO) vs. Mladen Brestovac (50-11-1, 34 KO) Wilnis by decision
HW Tournament Semifinal: Benjamin Adegbuyi (25-4, 16 KO) vs. Hesdy Gerges (49-17-1, 23 KO) Adegbuyi by decision
HW: Nicholas Wamba (46-7, 21 KO) vs. Nordine Mahieddine (18-6, 11 KO) Wamba by knockout
WW: Karim Benmansour (46-6-1, 23 KO) vs. Eyevan Danenberg (22-4, 12 KO) Benmansour by decision
Super BW: Ji-Waen Lee (17-3-1) vs. Amel Dehby (27-0) Dehby by decision
LW: Josh Jauncey (25-7, 14 KO) vs. Christian Baya Jauncey by decision
FW: Petpanomrung Kiatmoo9 (151-34-2, 25 KO) vs. Stanislav Renita (12-3, 3 KO) Renita by decision
FW: Cedric Castagna vs. Vang Moua Castagna by decision