A new year is upon us, and that means time to look back on the year that was. Here we take a look at the five biggest kickboxing stories of 2015. Let’s get to it:
1. Glory Remains on Top – It’s been nearly 4 years since the first Glory event, and in that time, the company has picked up K-1’s mantle as the world’s top kickboxing organization, a title they continued to hold throughout 2015. Kickboxing has always been somewhat fractured, so they don’t have the same stranglehold on the sport that you see with MMA and the UFC – plenty of top fighters are not in Glory (Featherweight division, I’m looking at you). But there’s no denying that on an international level, no other company comes close to Glory. The company staged 8 events this year (9 if you want to count Dynamite); a big step up from the 5 events in 2014. They tried some new markets, and ended the year with a spectacular return to Amsterdam for one of the best shows in the company’s history. They remain the standard for international kickboxing, but…
2. Glory and Spike Part Ways – Easily the biggest single story for US kickboxing fans this year was the end of the Glory/Spike relationship. After two years and 14 events, Glory moved on from Spike after Glory 24. The move was certainly not a huge shock – the relationship between the two had outwardly become more strained throughout 2015, with Spike airing Glory 22 at a terrible daytime Friday slot, a series of low ratings, and Spike’s insistence on removing the Glory brand from Dynamite almost entirely. With that done, both companies are in a bit of a limbo right now. Glory has been airing on the ESPN networks and hopes to remain there, though nothing is finalized (and, it must be noted, their deal with CBS Sports Network for the Superfight Series remains). Meanwhile, there was at one point strong talk of Spike keeping kickboxing programming, either with a separate brand, or as part of Bellator, though that talk has quieted down as of late. Whatever happens, this is clearly a major crossroads point for Glory, and by extension, for kickboxing in the US entirely. 2016 will be a crucial year.
3. K-1 Never Die! – While Glory may be king right now, 2015 saw the emergence of an unlikely prince in the kickboxing world. Yes, K-1 rose from the ashes to become one of the best companies in the game once again. The venerable company has been limping along on life support ever since Alistair Overeem won the K-1 Grand Prix in 2010. Years since have mostly been marked by a small handful of unremarkable events. But 2015 saw new management focusing firmly on one market – Japan. With a talented and exciting roster including the likes of Takeru, Minoru Kimura, Kaew Fairtex, the Urabe brothers, and many more, K-1 became a must watch company for the first time in 5 years. They’re not an international player just yet, but for hardcore kickboxing fans and those in Japan, they were a big part of 2015, which was refreshing to see.
4. Introducing Sittichai: 2015 Fighter of the Year – For the past few years, Muay Thai fighter Sittichai Sitsongpeenong has been establishing himself as a name fighter on the international scene. Following in the footsteps of countryman Buakaw, Sittichai chose to focus more on Western kickboxing instead of traditional Muay Thai, competing primarily internationally starting in 2013. But 2015 was the year that he broke through. Consider these statistics: Sittichai fought a truly astonishing 12 times in 2015, going 10-2. He made his Glory debut, becoming the first man to ever stop the notoriously tough former Glory Lightweight champion Davit Kiria. He beat Andy Souwer. He beat Murthel Groenhart. He beat K-1 MAX champion Marat Grigorian. And by all rational means, he beat Glory Lightweight champion Robin van Roosmalen – though terrible judging means he walks away from the year without the Glory gold around his waist. Sittichai is an amazing talent, and this was the year he showed it to the world. What’s even more exciting is considering what 2016 could have in store for him. Sittichai vs. Petrosyan anyone?
5. Rico Verhoeven Stands Tall – At the start of the year, it looked like it could be a bad one for Glory Heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven. Just 3 days in to 2015, Verhoeven lost in a huge upset to the unheralded Andrey Gerasimchuk in Japan. He bounced back with good wins over Errol Zimmerman and Benjamin Adegbuyi in Glory (and picked up a very solid win in his MMA debut in October), but it was at Glory 26 in December that Verhoeven truly made his mark on the year. At that event, Glory staged a triumphant return to the European mecca of kickboxing, Amsterdam. And the Dutch fighter was all too happy to defend his belt there in front of a legion of fans. The result was one of the best KO’s of 2015, as Verhoeven completely dominated the tough Adegbuyi, knocking him out in one round. Since his Glory 11 wins over Gokhan Saki and Daniel Ghita, Verhoeven has been the world’s #1 Heavyweight, but it’s often been #1 with a caveat – “yes BUT it’s only because the Heavyweight landscape is so weak.” At Glory 26, he erased those doubts, proving that not only is he the best in the world today, but he is a worthy heir to that prestigious throne. A prince no more, Verhoeven is now truly kickboxing’s Heavyweight king, and for those who have watched him struggle to claim that crown throughout the years, 2016 was a truly satisfying moment.
That’s it folks, 2015 is a wrap. We now look ahead to 2016 – check back next week for a preview of the biggest stories to watch for in the coming year.
Until then, sound off in the comments – what were your highlights of the year?
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