On Saturday night I walked into the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates to cover Glory 11, knowingly about Glory only what I read in about 2 hours of research that morning. I've been watching UFC fights and boxing for years, and I can even remember watching some K-1 fights a long time ago on ESPN2, but I hadn't heard of Glory and can't say I followed kick boxing.
After the usher pointed the way, I took a seat next to a young man named Prescott (who I would learn has studied Taekwondo for over a decade, teaches at Kim's Martial Arts in Addison, and is an aspiring 2016 Olympian) who taught me the basics and provided color commentary throughout the fight. After hearing the inside scoop from the intelligent youngster, I now felt like a surprisingly knowledgeable fight fan after only a few hours observing. Here were my 5 biggest takeaways from the cerebral TKD instructor:
1. A Kick to the liver is the most damaging blow in the sport. I have heard of shots to the liver mentioned in boxing, but didn't know how paralyzing they can be. Located beneath the right pectoral, a shot to the liver causes it's own unique blend of acute, debilitating pain even though your mind is still fine, your body just crumpled against your will anyway.
If you've ever seen a fighter knocked out from a body blow, it was a shot to the liver. Prescott also pointed out that while it's a normal reflexive instinct to protect or avoid shots to one's head, that is not to your liver, so fighters don't react quite as reflexively to avoid shots there.
If a fighter takes a stiff kick there, he's likely to hang his arm lower to protect that area and in doing so will lower his guard over his face and change the entire complexion of a fight.
2. Two notes about basic fight technique to keep in mind: 1) Leg kicks are a kickboxing staple so get used to them and learn to appreciate them, 2) A fighter is usually game-planning to win either on points or with a KO. Once you can ascertain which of the two it is, you can appreciate their strategy a bit more.
3. When it comes to sizing up a fighter the the most important factors to look for are: the fighter's body frame, technique, then muscle tone. In that order.
4. Being that it's kickboxing and not MMA, there is no grappling which makes for a much more entertaining fight. What drags down a UFC fight can be the endless grappling with no one seemingly having the upper-hand. I began thinking this made a lot of sense and then I realized that the only time I ever hear the always-raucous UFC crowd boo during a fight is when the fighters are grappling. Fans never boo two fighters standing up and kicking and punching each other.
5. Kickboxing isn't fighting; it's much more entertaining than fighting.
So with that in mind here is what I took away from the night of fighting.
1. The four flip-book-style sequential photographs in the photo gallery below are from the Glory Website and are pictures of welterweight Raymond Daniels and his majestic knockout of Brian Foster, which was the knockout of the night in my opinion. The photographer did a fantastic job capturing it.
2A: Before we get to 2 here is a brief explanation of gambling money line for Saturday's fights (taken from here) that in point 2 I mention after each fighter's named. The number is based on a $100 win bet and every underdog's # has + in front of it and the favorite will have a - sign.
For example, in Verhoeven (+220) vs. Saki (-300), we see that Saki is the favorite because he has the - sign in front of his number. That means in order to win $100 on betting him to win, you'd have to bet $300- or, you bet $300 to win $100. However if you bet $100 on Verhoeven, you'd get back $220. What this figure really does is quantify how big a favorite or an underdog a fighter is. Since I knew nothing about the fights going into them, finding this information gave me an idea of what to expect.
2. Rico Verhoeven (+220) vs. Gokhan Saki (-300) was a wildly entertaining fight. Before Verhoven even got to the ring, Prescott noted the tree-trunk size of his legs- which were easily the biggest I've seen in my life.
Verhoeven was (as seen in picture 5 in the photo gallery below) the bigger man in the fight and he fought like it. Several times Verhoeven was able to kick Saki's legs out from underneath him and drop him to the canvas, just like I've seen older brothers do countless times to their younger sibling. Verhoeven was able to ride such a visually dominant performance into a unanimous decision.
During the ride home from the Sears Center, my driver told me that earlier in the night he took Saki to the airport after his loss. Saki told him that Verhoeven's calves were bigger than his thighs and he was a lot to deal with.
It looked like it. Rico's a beast.
3. Daniel Ghita (-400) vs. Anderson Silva (+280) probably gave younger viewers nightmares. And by "younger viewers", I mean, "me".
During my studying session Saturday morning I learned that Ghita is the former bodyguard to the President of Romania and the biggest favorite of the day. After reading that I was excited to see if he could live up to what I envisioned him to be. After making short work of Silva with a first round KO (from a kick to the liver followed by straight right to the nose), I could verify he came as advertised.
Watching him fight is like watching the biggest guy at a party (or the Thing from the Fantastic Four) just snap, and lose it and start roughing up the smaller guys around him and you think, "Oh boy. This could get ugly".
And let's face it, you watch fights for those moments.
4. Joseph Valletini (+125) vs. Karim Ghajji (-165) These two welterweights were fit and spry and looked like two pumas getting after it. A great mixture of speed, athleticism and power, this fight ended with Valletini the winner by 3rd round TKO after too many power kicks to the body and head of Ghajji. After yet another power kick to Ghajji's dome the ref had seen enough and stepped in. I had never really seen a fight end quite like that before.
5. The Main Event: Tyrone Spong (-350) vs. Nathan Corbett (+250) showcased two skilled, measured, conditioned and ferocious combatants. Spong ended it in the second round with a left uppercut that wobbled Corbett's head and ended his night about 40 feet in front of me. In a flash, Spong ripped a shot from his hip and after it connected, his night of work was over. It was an impressive finish to an edge-of-your-seat-hold-your-breath fight.
I've come to realize that my favorite way for fight or a horse race to end is the exact same. With me thinking, "Wow! I can't wait to see them compete again!" and with Spong, I thought that.
6. Rico Verhoeven vs. Daniel Ghita filled out the tournament final.
I neglected to tell you that Verhoeven, Ghita, Saki and Silva were in a 4 man tournament to decide the heavyweight title winner. The two earlier fights were just the semi-finals and this was the finals.
After we had already seen a complete card of world-class fights, but we still had one more fight, Heavyweights fighting for the belt after both had already fought earlier that evening. You gotta love that.
I remember those two goliaths kept stumbling towards each other like zombies in a movie, always leaning forward no matter what hits them and advancing for more in a courageous display of heart for both fighters. Exhausted from their fights just over an hour ago, neither men showed any sign of backing down.
What did the owner of the Glory World Series, and guy who was sitting in front of me, Pierre Andurand think of the fight?
— Pierre Andurand (@PierreGLORY) October 13, 2013
For the record, I also thought that I can't wait to see Rico Verhoeven compete again. He won deservedly in a close decision that capped a tremendous night of fighting.
7. I realize this doesn't really fit in with the rest of this article but I wanted to mention how impressed I was during the post-fight interviews with the fighters- every last one of them- at how normal, calm and genuinely polite and friendly they all were to the media.
This fight card was on SpikeTV and so are several more Glory fights in the future. If the next few fights are 75% as entertaining as the fights I saw on Saturday night at Glory 11, this sport will be popular for a while and I'd recommend getting on board soon.