Now that 2019 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 week, 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.
On any given night in any given sport, a clear favorite on paper, whether it be a team or an individual athlete, is never guaranteed to win. It’s been a narrative that has run throughout sports across the globe for over a hundred years. As athlete continue to progress in their training, abilities, and technical skill sets, the possibility for more parity across sports became more prevalent, especially as sports grew to become one of the world’s largest entertainment industries. This is especially true in the world of combat sports, where fans have watched the likes of greats like Mike Tyson, Georges St-Pierre, and Giorgio Petrosyan hit the canvas against opponents they were heavily favored to beat.
The kickboxing landscape was no different in 2019, with massive upsets in the top promotions around the world. Those upsets most often came in the form of unheralded prospects defeating former champions, as was the case in Zhu Shuai’s massive knockout of former two-division K-1 champ Koya Urabe at K-1 Krush Fight Night 103 and Zhu Xu’s decision nod over former K-1 super featherweight kingpin Taiga at Emei Legend 36. Then, there were the solid veteran wins over top-ranked opponents, such as featherweight Zakaria Zouggary’s destruction of Abdellah Ezbiri. However, there is only one upset that could truly top this list.
Longtime top-ranked kickboxer Yodsanklai Fairtex made headlines when he returned from a brief retirement in 2018 and signed with ONE Championship to compete in the organization’s newly created ONE Super Series, which features bouts under kickboxing and Muay Thai rules. The promotion was still laying out the plans of what it wanted the Super Series to become, but the addition of one of the most popular fighters over the past decade was assuredly going to help kick-start interest in the new product. The decorated fighter had nearly 200 wins in his illustrious career and was still at the top of the sport despite starting his career as a kid in 1993.
Following three dominant wins inside of the ONE cage, the legendary Thai fighter was scheduled to compete in the ONE Championship featherweight world grand prix, which featured many of the world’s top names, including the aforementioned Petrosyan. Everyone in the know had their mind set on a potential Petrosyan-versus-Yodsanklai tournament final due to their level of skill and past history as champions and dominant fighters. The two tournament favorites started their journey on opposite sides of the bracket with the idea that there was the potential for them to clash in the championship bout.
Yodsanklai was scheduled to face French Muay Thai stylist Samy Sana, who, despite not being the biggest name in the sport, had a great history of competition in France, Thailand and all around the world. The now 31-year-old Frenchman had competed against many top fighters in the sport, including his soon-to-be-opponent Yodsanklai, who defeated him under Muay Thai rules in 2013. A bout that looked to be just the beginning of Yodsanklai’s path to the tournament finals became one of the biggest upsets of the last few years.
Yodsanklai entered the contest on a 31-fight winning streak that included victories over GLORY lightweight champ Marat Grigorian and two-time K-1 MAX titleholder Andy Souwer. Sana was unfazed by the proposal of fighting his Thai counterpart, which led to not only one of the biggest upsets of the year, but also one of the best fights of the year in the opening round of the grand prix. After three back-and-forth rounds of action, Sana was awarded the decision victory and granted passage to the semifinals of the tournament. Sana’s surprising win over a legend who had not been defeated in nearly eight years is our choice as the 2019 “Upset of the Year.”
Other finalists: Zhu Shuai over Koya Urabe (K-1 Krush Fight Night 103), Zhu Xu over Taiga (Emei Legend 36), Kevin VanNostrand over Serhiy Adamchuk (GLORY 67), Zakaria Zouggary over Abdellah Ezbiri (GLORY 70)
Make sure you check out the rest of the Combat Press 2019 Kickboxing Award winners.