CHICAGO -- More than anything, the two things I will remember from this night were the liver kick and the left hook.
If you watched Glory 11 on Spike TV, you know the liver kick. Daniel Ghita—who made the most terrifying and intimidating presence upon arena entrance that I have seen since Fedor Emelianenko walked into this very same arena—unleashed a kick to Anderson Silva's body that made the most horrific sound I have ever heard in all my years of covering combat sports.
I should note that Silva was not, in fact, the Anderson Silva that you are used to seeing. This was "Braddock," though I suppose that did not matter when he crumpled to the mat. He was Brazilian and a heavyweight and probably in a whole bunch of pain, because Ghita's liver kick might have killed a horse.
The audience had already been denied their dream fight: a tournament final between Ghita and Gokhan Saki went off the rails when Rico Verhoeven beat Saki by majority decision earlier in the evening.
But despite not getting a fight between the two best heavyweights in the world, things worked out okay. Because what they got was a genuine star-making performance for Rico Verhoeven, who beat both Saki and Ghita in one night to become the Glory heavyweight champion.
Verhoeven looks like a much larger version of UFC welterweight Amir Sadollah. And when I say much larger, I mean MUCH larger. Verhoeven has the largest legs I've ever seen on a human being; Mirko Cro Cop's gigantic quads were always weirdly adored by hardcore fans of PRIDE. Verhoeven's legs are bigger. He's just about as intimidating as a man who looks like Amir Sadollah can be.
Verhoeven was given roughly zero chance to win this tournament. It was all about Ghita and Saki and the violent things they would do to each other to close out the night, and we all looked forward to it.
But Verhoeven, in a real Rocky moment, overcame the odds and beat the two best active heavyweights in the world. In one night. In two grueling fights that both went the distance, one of which was the best fight I've ever seen in person.
This was kickboxing's grand entrance onto the United States scene. And what an entrance it was. Spike TV, airing the promotion for the first time, could not have asked for a better event. Comparisons were made with the first fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, and I think they're apt. Glory 11 may not have the audience of that fateful first Ultimate Fighter Finale, but they had the fight.
They had the fight of the year, in my opinion. And they had one of the gutsiest performances I've ever seen.
As you might imagine, Spike officials are happy. I get the sense that the ratings, which hardcore fans live and die by (something I've never understood), don't really matter to them. What mattered was a good show and the creation of new stars.
There's no doubt that two stars emerged from Glory 11: new heavyweight champion Verhoeven and Tyrone Spong, the most terrifying man on earth.
Spong faced Nathan Corbett. The pair went to a strange No Contest back in 2009, and to say Spong was bent on retribution is an understatement. Despite claiming all week that it was just another fight for him, he fought like a man possessed.
There may be no more violent fighter in combat sports. Saki is often called the Mike Tyson of MMA, but that moniker may need to be removed and placed on Spong's shoulders. Spong dropped Corbett early in the second round with a left hook; Corbett made it past the standing eight count, but only just. Spong pursued him and launched into a leaping left hook that cracked Corbett in the jaw and floored him again. This time, Corbett could not respond to the referee, and the fight was called off.
Spong proceeded to shock me and just about everyone else in attendance by telling interviewer Ron Kruck that he plans to close out the year with a professional boxing bout. Would anyone really object to seeing Spong in a boxing ring at this point? I don't think so.
There's something genuinely scary about a man who can excel at three separate combat sports.
I came to Chicago in search of an answer to a very general question: can kickboxing find a market in the United States with Glory? The answer I've found, and it's an emphatic one, is yes. Glory 11 was one of the best live events I've ever attended; Verhoeven vs. Ghita was the best live fight I've ever seen. If this promotion continues to put out this kind of product, and if Spike gets behind it in the way they seemingly want to, there's no telling what could happen with Glory. It might be the next big thing. It might be a true live event competitor for the UFC brand.
That's all in the future, of course. Building these things takes time, and Glory is not in a rush. But from what I've seen in just a few short days in the Windy City, I can tell you one thing: Glory is putting out a fantastically exciting product, and though it will not be without its own growing pains, you'll be missing out on some of the best combat sports action on the planet if you ignore it.