Having grown up in the days when Japanese MMA was more than a page in the history books of our sport, I fondly remember such things as watching PRIDE FC live, feeling shocked when Sakuraba jumped ship to K-1 Heroes, and spending hours on the couch watching never-ending Dynamite! events on New Year's Eve.
The Japanese are a quirky bunch and fond of their gimmicks. ‘Cross-code' matches was one - an MMA fighter competing with a kickboxer under kickboxing rules, and vice versa.
I'm not Japanese, but my own palate isn't so jaded that it can't savor the spice of interesting twists, so I used to like those sort of matches a lot. As I've watched GLORY become kickboxing's premier league, I've imagined some of their top names taking on some of MMA's top names in the ring.
To put some flesh on the bones of my idle mental wanderings, I recruited top kickboxing reporter Dave Walsh of Liverkick. Between us we put together some predictions for some highly desirable cross-code matches...
Gokhan Saki (GLORY light heavyweight champion) vs. Jon Jones (UFC light heavyweight champion)
DW: This is actually pretty tough to call. I feel like they both play into each other's weaknesses, which makes this a great match-up. Saki has a hard time with guys who have a big reach advantage against him and can keep him at bay, while Jon Jones has a hard time with guys who cut to the inside and apply a lot of pressure. If you've seen either guy fight, you know why that's funny.
Technically, Daniel Ghita is taller than Jon Jones, and Saki was able to get inside and land some huge bombs that put him down, but Jon Jones does a much better job keeping fighters at a distance from him than Ghita does. I feel like this fight would end in a DQ in Saki's favor, though, after Jon Jones throws some cute elbows and doesn't heed the ref's warnings.
JJ: I would give anything to see this fight. This is my number one cross-code match right now. I would crawl across broken glass on my face just to watch this fight on an old black-and-white television through a telescope.
Jones' striking variety and fighting intelligence stand him head and shoulders above the UFC light heavyweight division. I think he would bring that to kickboxing as well; Saki would be faced with an unusual and unpredictable opponent unlike any he has faced so far.
Jones' career has been, among other things, a masterpiece of the well-placed stop-hit. As opponents surge forward, he lands something - be it a jab or a teep to the leg - which stops them in their tracks and breaks their combination.
It proves effective because opponents register the hit and, even though it isn't particularly powerful, they switch to a defensive mode immediately. Even an experienced striker like Quinton ‘Rampage' Jackson let it get inside his head and make him hesitant.
Experienced kickboxers are a different breed though, both because of their range of knowledge and also their psychopathic resistance to pain. Saki wouldn't be deterred by the stop-hit; he would move through that and deliver.
How would Jones deal with that? In MMA, he can switch to his Greco-Roman and Thai Clinch game but in kickboxing, the clinch is limited. A short-range firefight with Saki is a one-way ticket to the local hospital, so I could see Jones replicating some Artem Levin-style trickery and clinch-knees.
The other reason this fight fascinates me is I would love to see what Greg Jackson would come up with for an elite-level kickboxing fight.
The master game-planner would find it a new and refreshing challenge. You could be sure the mental cogs would be whirring for months in advance and there would be some cool sparring sessions at Jackson HQ where, don't forget, Alistair Overeem is now also to be found.
Chris Weidman (UFC middleweight champion) vs. Wayne Barrett (GLORY middleweight contender)
DW: Honestly, I feel like I know so little about Wayne Barrett still that I have no clue how he'd hold up against a guy like Weidman. I feel like Chris Weidman has a professional wrestling finisher now in the Ray Longo Knee Destruction (tm), and that he'd had to finish with that here or else who is Chris Weidman and what is he doing?
Both guys hold wins over guys that were clowning over them, so maybe they'd bond over that and choose not to fight.
JJ: The winner of this fight is the ‘King of New York' so there's a lot riding on it. Expect a heavy police presence at the press conference and weigh-ins as Barrett bowls in with a posse of Queens boys and Weidman rolls up with a mob of Italian-Americans from Long Island.
Both have near-impenetrable self-confidence. Weidman has also taken out MMA's best striker twice in succession and the world knows he is no stranger to the shin-check. He's not worried about this fight being under GLORY rules.
He goes into this one off the back of his win over Lyoto Machida, during which he rarely looked troubled by the karate master. Barrett is coming off a semi-final exit from the GLORY LAST MAN STANDING eight-man tournament, during which he KO'd Bogdan Stoica and lost a controversial decision to Joe Schilling.
Naturally, this fight takes place at Madison Square Garden and occupies the headline slot. The city holds its breath. Who wins? It's hard to say. But in the words of their fellow New York resident Carlito Brigante, "The streets is watchin'".
Michael Bisping (UFC middleweight contender) vs. Joe Schilling (GLORY middleweight contender)
DW: Can you imagine the interviews for this? Oh my god. Bisping is pretty good, technically, but can be lacking in power and tends to make boneheaded mistakes.
I'm not saying that Joe doesn't make boneheaded mistakes (see Joe's Riverdance pose against Barrett), but that he won't make them against Bisping and I think that he puts Bisping's lights out in spectacular fashion.
JJ: I don't even want this to be a fight. I want a five-round press conference instead. One head-to-head per day, from Monday through Friday, then on Saturday we all go out drinking.
Personality-wise, these would get on like a house on fire. They would also play off against each other superbly. They know how to have fun with the shit-talk, and at the same time use it as fuel.
Coming from the Northwest of England, as do I, Bisping grew up surrounded by a strong Muay Thai scene. He loves the striking game and would relish the chance to have a high-level kickboxing match with the big gloves on.
Schilling has moved from being the top US middleweight to being one of the world's top middleweights. We await a rubber match with world #1 Artem Levin, but in the meantime, this fight with a perennial UFC contender would be a great challenge.
Bonus angle: Bisping now lives in California, about an hour east of Los Angeles. If Barrett vs. Weidman is for the ‘King of New York' title then this is for the ‘King of Los Angeles' crown which I have just invented.
Both of them have solid Muay Thai skills. I also know both personally. I've stayed at Mike's house and trained at Joe's gym (and crashed into Joe's car...). I don't want any [more] abuse by SMS so I'm going to use my fancy footwork and dodge the issue of picking a winner until my space for this paragraph runs out... which is now. Phew.
Artem Levin (GLORY middleweight champion) vs. Anderson Silva (former UFC middleweight champion)
DW: I think that we all win if the lights go down and both men compete in a dance-off instead.
But no, seriously, Artem Levin's youth probably wins out in this. He fights a nasty, clinch-oriented style and Anderson wouldn't be able to do what he does best, which is keep distance, slip punches and land from crazy angles. It would be one long suffocation.
JJ: I like the idea of the dance-off. I think that for this fight we can instruct the judges to score the walk-ins and use that as a tie-breaker should the fight itself go to a draw.
Dave is correct in that youth is an issue here, with Levin having the advantage. His reflexes are sharper and his tendons have a springy softness which Anderson's now weep to remember.
People rave about that gif of his ‘matrix defense' against a Forrest Griffin flurry but if you watch it, he does exactly the same thing in that sequence as he did in the first fight with Weidman: plant both feet, lean right back and stick his chin in the air.
If Griffin had possessed enough kickboxing acumen to realize he needed to shift forwards while delivering his combination it could have been he, rather than Weidman, who shattered the Anderson legend by way of left hook.
(speaking of left hooks, look at Anderson's striking manual, published by Victory Belt. He teaches a left hook which has you dropping all your weight forwards onto your lead left foot. That is not a good left hook at all. Anderson actually has quite bad fundamentals, according to orthodox coaching points. Contrast his hook with the one taught by US boxing coach Kenny Weldon, for example. Or Freddie Roach's instructions. I digress.)
Dave thinks Levin's clinch wins the day. I think Levin's clinch is superior and more varied on account of him being an active Muay Thai stylist but we have seen the effectiveness of Anderson's.
A points win for Levin is by far the most likely outcome in this fight, and that is what my money would go on, but Anderson could land that shot he needs to end it.
Jose Aldo (UFC featherweight champion) vs. Yuta Kubo (GLORY Featherweight Championship Tournament Winner 2013):
JJ: I like Kubo's style and he has been at the top of the featherweight tree in kickboxing for a while now. He's a skilled kickboxer, a good mixture of trickiness and fighting spirit.
But like most Japanese fighters, he doesn't cut much weight, if any, so he walks around at the same weight he steps on the scales at. Aldo makes huge weight cuts to reach 145lbs; he would look two weight classes bigger than Kubo on fight night.
That weight and power advantage would be the key. I think Aldo would bully Kubo and run him over. It would look a little like Robin Van Roosmalen vs. Jienotsu at GLORY 4, apart from Jienotsu being a crap kickboxer and Kubo being a really good one.
Kubo has nice defense and would move around while scoring points but I think Aldo would cut the ring off and bulldoze him in the corner for a win inside the distance.
Final point: Yes, obviously if the fights are taking place under kickboxing rules then the advantage lies towards the kickboxers.
The mirror question -what happens under MMA rules? - hardly needs to be posed. I think all the MMA fighters win under MMA rules with the possible exception of Anderson, as Levin might be able to avoid being taken down. Anderson won't be shooting any slick shots from the outside and Levin has a really tight clinch game...