The past couple of years have been tumultuous ones for the sport of kickboxing. Between financial woes and reported ties to organized crime, the sport hit a low point in 2011. But there seems to be a resurgence, not just in interest but also financially stable promotions.
One of those promotions is K-1, a brand under new ownership trying to shake the reputation of the previous owners. Two weeks ago they held an event in Los Angeles to reintroduce kickboxing to the American public.
Of the all the fighters on the card, one stood taller amongst the rest. An undefeated 24-year-old fighting out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, named Randy Blake shocked the kickboxing world with an extremely technical destruction of K-1 veteran Dewey Cooper.
Blake got his start as an alternate in the now-defunct World Combat League, a promotion owned by Chuck Norris that featured alternative rules and a completely unique fighting surface. From there, Blake built up his reputation fighting around Oklahoma in regional XFL and ISKA-sanctioned events.
For a young fighter, the bright lights and elaborate sets of K-1 could become a bit overwhelming. For Blake, it was as if it were just another kickboxing bout.
"Obviously it was different, it was a completely different atmosphere. Just being in LA, it was the first time I've been up there. There was a different crowd and different refs," Blake told Bleacher Report. "It was an adjustment I had to make. I did it and had a great time. I have a harder time dealing with the kids I teach, believe it or not."
After his impressive victory, his phone has been ringing off the hook with opportunities. He'll enter the broadcast booth this Friday at XFL 9 to call the bout between Anthony "Rumble" Johnson and Jake Rosholt.
"It's a great opportunity that I'm definitely looking forward to. I think I can do well with it since I'll be in my hometown. Most of the guys I know from fighting on the same cards and now I get a chance to commentate," said Blake. "We'll see where it goes from there."
Even with this opportunity, he's not taking his eyes off the prize.
He's part of the new-breed of American kickboxers. The sport became immensely popular in the '70s and '80s headed by fighters such as Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Bill "Superfoot" Wallace but saw a decline at the turn of the century due to the rise of MMA.
However, kickboxing is going through a bit of a renaissance world wide. With two promotions vying for the top spot and an influx of new talent, there has never been a better time to be a fan or a fighter. As a young fighter who has trained for years in kickboxing, Blake has positioned himself to lead the charge for the United States.
"It's a big chip on my shoulder to carry but I definitely think that I'm the guy to do it. A lot of people look at me like I'm the Michael Jordan or Kobe of kickboxing but I still have to get out there and do it. I believe in myself and I believe in my training."
It may be a bit early to call Blake the Kobe Bryant of kickboxing, but he definitely has the talent to make an impact in the K-1 Grand Prix which starts in Japan. He's currently tapped to face Mirko "CroCop" Filipović. A win would ensure his ticket to New York and the Final 8 in December.
It's a huge opportunity for a hungry young fighter that was a relative unknown just a couple weeks ago.
If he can continue to develop and learn new techniques, the sky is truly the limit for this young fighter. He has the charisma and skills to make an impact, now it's time for him to show that he truly is the "Great American Hope" when it comes to kickboxing.