In 2012, even the most hardened kickboxing fans would have struggled to name more than a handful of American fighters. Despite being a world superpower in boxing and MMA, the USA had never made its presence felt on the international kickboxing circuit.
It was widely thought that, for whatever reason, the USA simply didn’t have any high-level kickboxers. 2013 was the year that myth was shattered. GLORY World Series talent scouts had ventured across the US and found a new breed of fighters waiting for their time to shine.
American kickboxing turned out to be a bubbling pot of talent, which was waiting to explode. GLORY gave the likes of Joe Schilling, Wayne Barrett, Brian Collette and Ky Hollenbeck a chance to prove themselves, and they seized it with both hands.
The year’s highlight, in American terms, was undoubtedly Joe Schilling’s victory in the GLORY 10 LOS ANGELES Middleweight Championship Tournament.
Schilling (16-5, 10 KO’s) had established himself as a top name on the US circuit but there weren’t many who thought he could win a tournament which had world #1 Artem Levin (46-4-1, 33 KO’s) in the line-up. The doubters added fuel to Schilling’s fire – he loves proving people wrong almost as much as he loves proving himself right.
Russia’s Levin has dominated the weight class for a long time. Tricky, intelligent and unorthodox, he is a very difficult opponent for anyone. Schilling met him in the final and brought his A-Game, a career-best performance in which he matched Levin trick for trick and showed his own fighting heart and intelligence.
Prior to that fight, Levin had not been dropped since 2008. Schilling did it by setting Levin up perfectly, outfoxing the fox and tricking him into lowering his hands and eating a hard right. If that blow had resulted in a clean KO it would have been one of the biggest upsets in all of kickboxing history.
As it was, Schilling went on to win a decision in a classic encounter. The USA vs. Russia undertone added spice to it, and Schilling also went on record pre- and post-fight to say he had felt pressure to represent American kickboxing to the world.
The tournament prize money allowed Schilling to buy a house for his young family, rewarding them for their years of patient support as he clawed his way to the top. Schilling broke down in tears after the fight, a mixture of joy, relief and pride overwhelming him on what was a huge night for himself and American kickboxing.
Watching closely was Wayne Barrett (4-0, 3 KO’s). A native of New York, Barrett had fought and won in the night’s tournament reserve match, dispatching Robby Plotkin – also a New Yorker – by way of KO. In his post-fight interviews he said he wanted to fight Schilling as soon as possible. He got his wish at GLORY 12 NEW YORK in November.
The fight took place at Madison Square Garden, giving Barrett home field advantage. The East Coast vs. West Coast clash was hard-fought, with significant bragging rights on the line. Barrett put Schilling down, Schilling came back and put Barrett down. Barrett boxed, Schilling showboated. The fans loved it.
Despite a finish looking close on several occasions, sheer determination took both men to the final bell. Barrett won the decision; Schilling looked crushed. A lot of heat had been exchanged between the two both in and out of the ring; Schilling/Barrett has the potential to be one of the more significant rivalries in US kickboxing. They will surely meet again.
Schilling’s win in the Middleweight Championship Tournament painted a target on his back. Fellow US fighters wanted to take his shine. Barrett was the first to step up and towards the end of the year Dustin Jacoby also threw his hat in the ring.
Jacoby (4-3, 3 KO‘s), a UFC veteran and training partner of Chris Camozzi, blasted his way into GLORY by winning an eight-man tournament in Oklahoma at the start of the year. He stopped three opponents in succession to earn himself a contract.
His debut at GLORY 5 LONDON didn’t exactly go to plan though, as he met the experienced Dutch fighter Michael Duut (38-5, 17 KO’s). The wide gulf in experience quickly became apparent as Duut put Jacoby down three times in quick succession to end the fight under the three-knockdown rule.
Undeterred, Jacoby trained hard through the year. He enjoyed mixed results but his increasing skill was clear for all to see. As a wrestler turned MMA fighter, Jacoby actually had an 0-0 kickboxing record when he entered the Oklahoma tournament. That he has held his own in the GLORY ranks is testament to his toughness, heart and commitment.
Jacoby is now on his way to middleweight and has set his sights on a fight with Schilling, saying he wants to establish himself as the US #1 in his new weight class. ‘Top American Middleweight’ is a subplot set to produce some serious dogfights in 2014.
Jacoby also has some interesting ideas about American fighters and weight-cutting. US fighters are well used to the concept, it being a core part of MMA and wrestling, but it is hardly used in Europe and Japan. Jacoby thinks American fighters are increasingly going to use that to their advantage as the US presence in GLORY increases.
“I think in the next couple of years as GLORY expands and the American presence expands, the weight-cut will become an advantage for the US fighters,” he says.
“A lot of us have wrestling backgrounds or train at MMA gyms. Weight-cutting is much more prevalent here. The Europeans are going to have to figure that out and respond to it.
“Actually I trained over in Holland with guys who were at heavyweight and light-heavyweight and I thought that with a better diet and a little cutting, they could easily make one weight-class down.”
A good example of what Jacoby is talking about was the fight between Ky Hollenbeck and Warren Stevelmans at GLORY 12 NEW YORK.
Hollenbeck (46-3, 23 KO’s) is Muay Thai to the core but also has some jiu-jitsu and MMA experience. He knows how to cut weight. When he squared off with Stevelmans (64-20-1, 20 KO’s) he looked twice the size of him and proceeded to rag-doll the hapless South African around the ring.
In his preceding fight, Hollenbeck had scored another one of the year’s major upsets when he dominated the decorated veteran Albert Kraus (73-17-3, 43 KO’s) over three rounds. Hollenbeck imposed himself on the fight from start to finish and, by the end, the usually slick Kraus was left swinging at air in frustration.
Hollenbeck’s two fights in 2013 have showed him to be a high-end talent and one to keep an eye on. They also earned him a title shot – on Saturday, March 8 he will face Andy ‘The Machine’ Ristie (41-3-1, 21 KO’s) at GLORY 14 ZAGREB with the GLORY World Lightweight Championship title on the line.
Last year also saw solid performances from the likes of Brian ‘The Lion’ Collette (21-2, 18 KO‘s), Eddie ‘Showtime’ Walker (11-4-1, 9 KO’s) and Raymond ‘The Real Deal’ Daniels (24-1, 14 KO’s), fighters with very different styles but all of them proud Americans.
2013 was the year that American kickboxing arrived on the world stage. 2014 is the year that ‘Team USA’ begins its campaign to carry the Stars and Stripes to the top