Glory 11 Diary, Day 1: How the Kickboxers Invaded Chicago

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Glory 11 Diary, Day 1: How the Kickboxers Invaded Chicago
Photo courtesy Ryan Loco, http://twitter.com/ryanloco

CHICAGO — It is 6:05 p.m., and Daniel Sam's considerable frame is taking up the majority of the hallway that leads to my room at the Marriott.

When I say that Sam is a large man, what I really mean is that he is a giant. He is 6'7" and stepped on the scales Friday at 268.2 pounds. In my trusty yellow notebook, I have scribbled the word "GIANT!!" next to Sam's name, and I can only assume I wrote this because he is, in fact, a giant.

After the weigh-ins concluded, I was informed that Sam is known for his violent flying knees. I don't know how it's possible for a man of this size to pull off a flying knee.

Sam's 23-7 kickboxing record makes him a virtual rookie compared to many of the athletes competing on Saturday's Glory 11 event. Kickboxing does many things, but one of the things it does best is create gaudy records. Tyrone Spong, the marquee fighter for this and other Glory events, sports a career record of 74-6-1-1.

He is 28 years old. He has been fighting for 13 years. He is also one of the scariest men on the planet.

***

I came to Chicago in search of an answer to this question: Can kickboxing, which essentially strips away the grappling aspect of mixed martial arts to focus on the stand-up game, find a market in the United States?

Saturday is Glory's first televised event with new partner Spike TV. On the surface, it seems the perfect product for a generation of fight fans who absolutely deplore wrestling or grappling of any kind.

If you are a fan of watching dudes getting punched and kicked, often quite violently, kickboxing is for you. Glory is for you, or at least it hopes that's the case. Much like fellow Spike partner Bellator, Glory is centered around tournaments to crown champions. The only difference here—and I think it's quite key—is that Glory's tournaments are held over the course of a single night.

Yes, these are throwbacks to the MMA days of old. I have wondered more than once how one-night tournaments are still legal, especially in an age where brain trauma suffered by athletes has come under the brightest spotlight possible.

But legal they are, and Glory is capitalizing; Saturday's tournament features four of the best heavyweight kickboxers in the world.

Gokhan Saki, Anderson "Braddock" Silva, Rico Verhoeven and Daniel Ghita are all very large men who are capable of dishing out painful violence. The four men will fight tournament-style, with the eventual winner crowned heavyweight champion and given a $250,000 check.

*** 

"Everything you see is being built in front of your eyes," Jim Byrne tells me.

Byrne worked for the UFC for 12 years. He was with the UFC in the old days, just after the Fertitta brothers and Dana White bought the company, and he was with them up until just over two months ago, when he joined Glory.

Glory may be a new organization, but, as Byrne's hiring proves, it is not inexperienced. I've attended plenty of non-UFC mixed martial arts events. They are almost always disorganized and difficult to deal with.

That's not the case with Glory. Sure, there are the expected growing pains; four fighters neglected to show up for weigh-ins Friday, and many of them came in over the one-pound allowance in weight.

These are curious things, but they are not unfixable. Glory is on the hunt for someone to fill the Burt Watson role (fighter babysitter); once it does, issues like these will be a thing of the past.

***

I don't know what to expect at Glory 11 on Saturday night. I've seen my fair share of kickboxing events, but I've never attended one live.

Eric Jackman, who moonlights as the producer for Ariel Helwani's MMA Hour broadcast on Mondays (where he's known as "New York Ric") while also serving as part of Glory's PR team, told me that I'm in for thrills.

Jackman attended last week's Glory 10 in Los Angeles (his first kickboxing event, too) and said that even the preliminary fights were a completely different thing to watch in the flesh than on the screen.

If what Jackman says is true, does kickboxing have a future in the United States? It's always been a fringe sport, even during the UFC's rise to power over the past decade. But Glory has the production values, the front-office staff and the money to make it go.

It also has the fighters. Glory has signed nearly all of the best kickboxers on the planet, quickly becoming a powerhouse in the same fashion that Chelsea or Manchester City became football powerhouses in England: They threw money at the game, and the game came to them.

As far as marquee kickboxers go, only Alistair Overeem has eluded it due to his UFC contract; depending on his next fight with Frank Mir, that may not be an obstacle for much longer.

It has the names. It has the money. It has a great television partner. It has a nice venue and is expecting a decent crowd.

Now, all Glory needs is for the fighters to show up and deliver.

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