Saturday saw the first major US Glory kickboxing event in the US. MMA fans watch with interest as MMA promotions maneuver against the UFC. But the historical record of competing with the UFC is grim - in the end, every company get bought or gets dead.
WFA - bought
Pride - bought
WEC - bought
ProElite XC - dead
IFL - dead
Affliction - dead
Strikeforce - bought
Bellator MMA, backed by the leviathan Viacom, is the latest promotion to go head to head with the UFC, in a fight that is just beginning.
However, Glory aspires to give the UFC a run, not going directly head to head, but by offering fight fans nothing but the strikes and KOs.
Mike Chiapetta has the story.
Its debut show in Manhattan, in the shadow of Madison Square Garden, was no accident. For one, it is the media capital of the U.S. For another, it is a state that the UFC has been unable to conquer, or even dent.
No such problems for GLORY. Kickboxing is not addressed in the state statutes that ban mixed martial arts. A few phone calls, and it was a done deal.
"We looked at different cities. New York is a stage where MMA is not allowed, so there was a good opportunity to start here," said GLORY sports chairman Pierre Andurand, with a sly smile on his face.
He is a billionaire who believes kickboxing can more than carve out a chunk of the combat sports market. Maybe even challenge the UFC in due time. After all, it has all of the best parts of MMA and boxing - striking and knockouts - and few of the drawbacks -- no ground stalemates, few clinches, almost zero dead time. In this belief, he's invested a major chunk of cash.
The journey won't be easy. Kickboxing has lain nearly dormant in the U.S. for years. The sport had its heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s. There was a weekly show on ESPN. Networks occasionally showcased the sports in primetime on the weekends. But rule changes took away some of the most dynamic elements of the sport, and interest waned.
As the '80s wore on, the Mike Tyson era began, and the UFC would follow in the next decade, and soon, kickboxing was an afterthought.
But Andurand sees the U.S. as the key market. In fact, he says he expects the U.S. to become GLORY's home, and that three of the remaining four 2013 shows will be in the U.S. He has designs of graduating to mega-events. Madison Square Garden is even an eventual target.
To spearhead the U.S. charge, GLORY hired Andrew Whitaker, a former World Wrestling Entertainment executive who was instrumental in that company's global expansion. Whitaker took the reigns as CEO in January. Within a year of existence, GLORY had television distribution in 160 countries.
"I think GLORY has the possibility to become real big here in the states," said headliner Tyrone Spong. "In MMA, UFC is the biggest organization, but still, when a fight goes to the ground, not all the fans appreciate it. You got to be a real hardcore wrestling fan or a hardcore jiu-jitsu fan, and most of the people are just random fight fans. They want to see blood. That's what they want. People are brutal. They just want to see two people hitting and kicking each other, and kickboxing comes real close to that."
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