The power and the Glory: Guangzhou just the start for expanding kick-boxing series, say organisers

New franchise hailed with Guangzhou extravaganza attracting its fair share of attention even though it featured a mismatch bout between Verhoeven and Silva

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 12:39pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 12:44pm

The jeers that rang out at the cruel mismatch between Glory heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven and kick-boxing debutant Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva continue to echo in the combat sports world – but was this part of the franchise’s plan all along?

Pairing “The King of Kick-boxing” with an ex-MMA fighter coming off five straight losses got people talking weeks before Glory 46 in Guangzhou, China.

All that attention, be it positive or negative, generated an interest from both sets of fans; kick-boxing had a reputation to uphold, while MMA dreamed of a humiliating upset.

What a time to inaugurate Glory’s first show in China, and as co-founder Scott Rudmann explains, the floodgates have only just opened.

“This was the first of many events in China,” he told the Post. “Our commitment to this country is massive; we are planning a full calendar in China next year.

“It’s wonderful here because they know what kick-boxing is. Chinese people invented kung fu – it’s in their DNA. In the US, we have to educate our fans about stand-up combat, but we don’t need to do that in China.”

Despite the predictable outcome – Verhoeven dominating Silva in every department before securing a second round TKO – the Glory 46 Superfight Series was broadcast on television in 175 countries around the world.

It was also available on UFC Fight Pass – a streaming service with access to much of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s live events and back catalogue – and live-streamed on the top five sports platforms in China, including Tencent and Sina Sports.

So how did a five-year-old kick-boxing company bag such a nifty deal in China?

“When we do business in China, we leave it to Glory China,” Rudmann said. “Glory China is separate from Glory Sports International. It has majority Chinese-owned stakeholders, so it’s a Chinese company, run by Chinese people, for a Chinese league.

“We are the ones with the know-how to put events on, but this is the right way to do business here.”

Glory was founded by Rudmann and current chairman Pierre Andurand in 2012.

Within five years, the duo established the world’s number one kick-boxing league at the expense of the previously successful platform K-1.

“We’re clearly the dominant brand in the US and Europe, but there really isn’t one in Asia,” said Rudmann. “K-1 used to dominate Japan, but it’s a shadow of its former self.

“Their local Japan business is in the hands of one guy, and the international business – which they don’t even have any more – is in the hands of another. It’s a disaster at the moment.”

K-1’s unfortunate demise – or some would say inability to keep up with the “money fight” era – played right into the hands of Glory, and Rudmann and Co pounced on Asia.

“We did some shows in Japan last year and we’ll be back again, but China … China is a very interesting market,” Rudmann said.

“There’s plenty of competition, but most of their promotions have quite a reputation for match-fixing. That is based on fact.

“Unlike us, none of them really have a roster of top athletes from around the world competing in a systematic and professional manner. When our athletes step into the ring, they know they will be watched by millions around the world – no other kick-boxing platform comes close.”

While Glory may have the Chinese kick-boxing scene in the palm of its hand, there is another new sheriff in town: the UFC.

Ever since the UFC empire was sold for an unprecedented US$4 billion (HK$31 billion) earlier this year, the new owners have been trying desperately to make some of that money back.

The enormous Chinese market inevitably became of interest, and, sure enough, the UFC will make its China debut in the form of UFC Shanghai on November 25.

Will these movements affect Glory’s own market entry in any way? Not according to Rudmann.

“MMA in China is almost illegal,” he explained. “It cannot be broadcasted. I’m actually surprised that they are allowing the UFC to hold the Shanghai event, but it’s amazing [for them].

“All the best fighters want to fight the best. If you’re an MMA star, you want to be in the UFC; you don’t want to be in Bellator or One, you want to be in the UFC.

“If you’re a kickboxer, you want to be in Glory.”

Glory can now smugly sit back and watch UFC Shanghai with the knowledge that it hosted a China event before they did.

Granted, Verhoeven versus Silva was more a gimmick than a competitive kick-boxing bout, but it did the job.

The combat sports community was sufficiently stirred up and will have to keep tabs on Glory – whether they like it or not.

In terms of persuading big name fighters to travel East in future, Rudmann is fairly confident.

“[Verhoeven and Silva] had to be convinced a little bit, but it wasn’t to do with China so much,” he said.

“Their biggest concern was working around the different time zone. So Verhoeven went to Koh Samui a week before the event, and Silva arrived in China very early.”

“For normal people, it’s OK to feel jet-lagged for a few days. We suffer a little bit, but we don’t have to step into a ring and make a competitive fight at the top level against a guy who is trying to kill you.”