Back in my Head Kick Legend days, I always used to do Best of the Year awards for kickboxing. Then, for the past two years, the kickboxing scene was so dried up that it seemed kind of pointless. Now, in 2013, kickboxing is back, and so, I am proud to present, the first annual Bloody Elbow Kickboxing Year End Awards. I hope you enjoy!
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR:
This was a three way race between Andy Ristie, Tyrone Spong, and Rico Verhoeven. All three dominated their weight classes, went undefeated on the year and scored huge wins along the way.
Spong is 5-0 on the year (plus 1-0 in MMA in 2013 as an extra bonus). He opened the year by knocking out Remy Bonjasky, won the Glory 9 tournament with ease (though his final fight with Danyo Ilunga was a bad early stoppage), then ended the year by avenging a sort-of-loss to Nathan Corbett. He has not lost since running into the brick wall of Overeem back in 2010, and shows no signs of fading any time soon.
Ristie is also 5-0 this year. He started 2013 with a terribly ugly win over Alessandro Campagna, then came back in a big way by knocking out Albert Kraus. But of course, for Andy Ristie, 2013 is all about one night - Glory 12, the night he knocked out both Giorgio Petrosyan and Robin van Roosmalen. It was an incredible performance - call it the win of the year.
But when I really think about 2013, it's Rico Verhoeven who I think about the most. After a decent, but not spectacular run in recent years, Verhoeven put it all together in a huge way in 2013. Look at his list of wins - Errol Zimmerman, Gokhan Saki, Daniel Ghita, and Peter Aerts. That is a serious resume - one that anyone would be proud to have as his entire career's best wins. Verhoeven deefated them all in one year - two in one night even. When the dust settled on the historic first Glory event on Spike, it was Verhoeven who stood tall as champion, and when the last major show of the year ended in Tokyo, again, it was Verhoeven standing victorious. This was the year this this prospect became a champion.
And for that, Rico Verhoeven is your fighter of the year.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR:
Honestly, I came very, very close to giving this to Rico Verhoeven vs. Daniel Ghita from Glory 10 on Spike. It was a great story, a thrilling fight, an incredible performance, and it capped off such a major night for kickboxing fans. But in the waning moments of 2013's kickboxing year, something topped it.
Nieky Holzken vs. Joseph Valtellini was what I want out of every kickboxing fight ever. It was two technical masters just throwing bombs at each other. They were going to town like Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, but at the same time, neither man ever let his technique falter. What starts as an even fight slowly tilts in favor of Holzken, setting the stage for the super dramatic third round.
Round 3: Holzken lands his beautiful liver punch and Valtellini takes it. He's hurt, but he doesn't fall, and not long after, he's back in it. Then the ending. One of the all time great kickboxing endings. Valtellini, hurt and knowing he's down on the score cards, looks up at the clock, sees time ticking away, and visibly decides he has one last chance and he's going for it. He gives it his all, goes all-in for the knockout... and Holzken uses perfect technique to counter him and knock him out. If ever the phrase "going out on your shield" was appropriate, this is it.
What a fight - one that apprpriately capped off a great year.
Honorable mention goes to Daniel Ghita vs. Gokhan Saki from Glory 6 - a major Heavyweight clash between two of the very best in the world that delivered on that promise.
KO OF THE YEAR:
What else can it be? Andy Ristie, shocking the world, knocking out the invincible Giorgio Petrosyan. Some other KOs may have been more visually impressive, some may have been more violent, but none can come close to touching this one for what it meant to the sport.
Near-miss for KO of the year goes to Mirko Cro Cop. Cro Cop won the K-1 Grand Prix early this year - a watered down K-1 GP, but the GP none the less. In the finals, he landed his trademark head kick on Ismael Londt, hurting the younger fighter. Had Cro Cop won the GP, in 2013, via head kick? Well that would be tough to top, even for Ristie. But alas, it didn't stop the fight, and so we can only dream of what could have been
That's it for 2013. The year kickboxing returned from the grave and, frankly, the year of Glory - they're not the only company out there right now, but at the end of the day, they were the only one who consistently put on world class fights in 2013.
Join us all this year as we begin looking for our best of kickboxing 2014.
Watch fight video of the winners and runners-up, all available for free online:
For more kickboxing coverage, follow me at @FCoffeen.