For kickboxing fans, 2012 was a glorious year. Yes there were bumps along the way, and no it didn't produce any all time classic fights we'll talk about for years, but after the darkness of 2011, it was a reminder that international kickboxing is not dead. Not by a long shot. We were given the return of high level tournaments, the best in the world fighting legitimate top level opposition, and a multitude of tremendously fun shows. Oh, and the return of Mirko Cro Cop too. What's not to love?
Here, we take a look back at the top kickboxing stories of the year - both for good, and for bad. Check back later this week for a look ahead at the big stories to watch for in 2013. But before then, let's relive the highs and lows of the year that's now behind us.
1. Welcome Glory. From 2006-2012, Golden Glory gyms sporadically put on their own shows under the name Ultimate Glory (and later United Glory). The shows were fine, but nothing remarkable, with an emphasis clearly on promoting Golden Glory fighters. Then, in 2012, they stepped it up, big time, founding GLORY, a new organization with clear designs on filling the void left by an absent K-1. And, you know what? They did it. Glory staged 4 shows in 2012, and all were excellent, with many of the sport's best fighters in action. In one short year, they rose to the position of being the undeniable top dog in kickboxing, and that's a good thing. Of course, for long-time fans, there was one sad downside to their rise...
2. Goodbye It's Showtime. One big step in the rise of Glory was their buyout of long-standing European organization It's Showtime, who was absorbed into Glory over the summer. Technically, It's Showtime still exists, but they're essentially done. Founded in 1999, the company was Europe's #1 kickboxing company, and has played home to many of the sport's greats over the years. This is where Badr Hari KO'd Semmy Schilt, where Giorgio Petrosyan broke into the international scene, where Tyrone Spong made his name. And now, sadly, they're no more. It was a great run, and they'll be missed.
3. The Rocky Return of K-1. Despite Glory's successes, the big name for casual fans remains K-1, and after a dormant 2011, K-1 finally came back in 2012, though the return was far from smooth. They put on a great show in Spain, only to see the partnership with It's Showtime that produced that show disintegrate. They returned with a shockingly entertaining show in the US, then never returned to the country. It was a year of big promises from K-1, and little return, yet when they did run, they were consistently good shows. At the end of the year, we're back to where we were a year ago - unsure when K-1 will return, or even who is actually running the ship at this point. But it was good to have them back, warts and all.
4. Semmy Schilt and Giorgio Petrosyan: Still the Man. Glory staged two major tournaments in 2012, and those were clearly the sport's marquee events of the year, with each one crowning the division's undeniable #1. And wouldn't you know it - the winners were the two most dominant fighters in their respective divisions over recent years. At Heavyweight, Semmy Schilt claimed his 5th major tournament title. In the past 8 years, only twice has he not won the division's biggest annual tournament. Meanwhile Petrosyan took home title #3 - you have to go back to 2008 to find another champion in his division (Yes, K-1 crowned their own champ this year, congrats Murthel Groenhart, but the Glory tournament was the real deal). Interestingly, both men did it by defeating the #2 in the division, a hungry, violent next generation fighter set on toppling the icons. Had Daniel Ghita and Robin van Roosmalen won, the story would have been a changing of the guard. But Schilt and Petrosyan (and, to a lesser extent, S-Cup champion Andy Souwer) showed that the guard isn't ready to change just yet.
5. The Trials and Tribulations of Badr Hari. Sadly, one of the year's biggest stories took place outside of the ring. Badr Hari, the most talked about kickboxer of our time, had quite the year. He started the year by retiring from kickboxing in order to pursue a boxing career, only to promptly return when K-1 was back. And then things went sour. As has been well documented, Hari was involved in an assault at an Amsterdam nightclub, leaving the victim permanently injured. After a lengthy back and forth, Hari was finally arrested. Since then, further charges have come forward, while Hari has been released and subsequently re-arrested for violating parole. He now sits in jail, waiting to face nine different charges that could result in very serious jail time. Given the extent of his legal troubles, it's hard to envision him making a return to the sport any time soon, if ever again. If he doesn't it will be a sad, and yet in many ways fitting end to the career of the always volatile Hari.
Honorable mention goes to the 3-0 kickboxing record of Mirko Cro Cop in 2012, plus the rise of Superkombat. That company made good strides in 2012, yet their biggest moves seem likely to pay off more in 2013 - which we'll have more to say about next time out.
What can we expect from Superkombat, Glory, K-1, and the entire kickboxing world in 2013? Check back later this week for an in-depth look.
What say you BE readers - what were your kickboxing highlights of 2012?