There was considerable excitement among fight fans when Melvin Manhoef (47-11-0, 37 KO's) was announced as one of the fighters taking part in the GLORY: LAST MAN STANDING Middleweight Championship Tournament.
Manhoef has been a fan favorite since his earliest days in the sport. A ferocious turbine of a fighter, his power and explosiveness are legendary. He is the only fighter to have scored a clean punch KO win over the ridiculously tough Mark Hunt.
The tournament takes place Saturday June 21 in Los Angeles, California and is GLORY's first pay-per-view event. The eight middleweights taking part are the top strikers in the world at this weight.
The winner, who will need to secure three victories in one night, will be crowned champion of the GLORY middleweight division. Manhoef's journey towards that goal starts with a quarter-final match against Filip Verlinden (42-11-1, 16 KO's), as announced earlier this week.
"The thing I love most about kickboxing is knocking people the f--k out!" Manhoef says about this return to his roots following a lengthy sojourn in MMA (the most recent installment of which was a 46-second TKO of Evangelista ‘Cyborg' Santos in April).
"I started fighting at 20 years old, I have got 18 years in this business from heavyweight to light-heavyweight and middleweight. Some people call me a veteran but I am just a fighter. It is just something I like to do.
"I started with kickboxing then went to MMA and now I do both. But kickboxing is more interesting to me than MMA because it is punching, kicking, kneeing, action, impact, power all the time, constantly. So it is more exciting."
Duke Roufus, one of America's top striking coaches and a man who numbers UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis among his stable of fighters, describes Manhoef as "the reincarnation of Mike Tyson except as a middleweight... he knocks everyone out and he is really fun to watch."
Indeed knockouts are a subject close to Manhoef's heart. When asked to describe what his best weapon is during a fight, he looks nonplussed. He has so many knockouts on his record via so many different techniques, it is hard for him to nail one down.
"My best weapon in the ring... My left hook knocks everybody out. My right hook knocks everybody out. My uppercut knocks everybody out. My kicks are hard, I kick everybody out. My knees, I'll knee somebody out," he says.
"Everything about me is dangerous. I have the highest KO ratio of any fighter in this tournament, so you tell me what my best weapon is?"
Tournaments occupy a special place in martial arts but especially so in the world of kickboxing. For many years, the eight-man tournament was the only kind of competition available to the top fighters.
When GLORY replaced K-1 as the world's premier kickboxing league, it opened up more weight classes and introduced many more single matches (‘superfights') to the competition calendar.
But all roads still lead to the tournaments and if a kickboxer really wants to prove himself, winning one is the only way.
"In a tournament you feel just like a gladiator. You enter the arena and it is like the Coliseum. I don't know how to explain it, it's just a great feeling," Manhoef says.
"If you can beat three of these fighters in one night you are definitely the best in the world. I am going to give it my all. My life, my heart, my pain, my pleasure, everything is going into this.
"The youth are looking up to me. I have my own gym so I am a positive example to the people around me, give them positive energy to never quit. You have to keep on going and eventually you will get to your goal.
"In this tournament there are seven other opponents and all of them are dangerous. But if I am in good shape - and I will be - then I am problem for every opponent. My goal is to be champion. I want to be champion.
"I promised my little boy that I am going to bring the belt home, so I have to do it."
GLORY: LAST MAN STANDING takes place Saturday, June 21 and airs on pay-per-view, priced at $34.95 in the USA.
As well as the eight-man middleweight tournament the card features a heavyweight title fight between Daniel Ghita and Rico Verhoeven plus Marc De Bonte defends the welterweight championship against Canadian contender ‘Bazooka' Joe Valtellini.