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Yay or Nay: Is it time for kickboxing to move on from tournaments?

One-night tournaments used to be the basis of fight sports such as MMA and kickboxing but nowadays kickboxing is the only sport to have a premier organization which retains the format. Are tournaments outdated for the modern era or are they an integral and irremovable part of the sport’s culture?

Modern kickboxing as we know it developed from the Japanese karate scene. In karate a huge amount of emphasis is placed on spirit, toughness and the ability to endure pain and punishment. Tournaments were a popular way of proving this, as well as being an entertaining event in their own right.

The K-1 organization emerged from tournament karate. Its eight-man format was billed as a means of deciding who was the ‘best of the best' in stand-up fighting. To those of us who followed the K-1 scene, kickboxing and tournaments are synonymous.

In 2010 the golden age of K-1 came to an end and now GLORY is the world's premier striking league. GLORY has retained the tournament fighting format but is operating in a different world: where K-1 was Japan-based and Japan-focused, GLORY has very much been about the American market.

That has led to some interestingly different perspectives being offered from the fanbase. Japanese fans seem to intrinsically understand and relate to the tournament format whereas it seems, anecdotally at least, American fans have many more misgivings about it.

Is that because boxing is the dominant fight-sport in the US cultural landscape? Or is it because, stereotypically, Americans are all about winners and an eight-man tournament is guaranteed to give you seven losers?

Or is it because the American audience prefers clarity in its sports, a clear champion, and finds the tournament format allows luck and chance to factor in a little too much? Whatever the reason, the American fanbase hasn't embraced GLORY's tournament structure with the unconditional love that Japanese fans offered the format for so many years.

It isn't that they haven't enjoyed the events, rather that - judging by message boards and comments under articles - there seems to be a marked preference towards seeing contenders emerge via single fights, followed by title shots and championship defenses.

Personally I'm torn on the issues. I love a good tournament and have been rendered awestruck by some of the displays of toughness, power and courage I have seen in them over the years. On the other hand, few things piss me off as much as seeing a successful fighter forced to drop out of a semi-final or final due to injury and an alternate stepping in to win the thing.

GLORY has operated a mixed format since its inception, with cards hosting both tournaments and ‘superfights'. The organization operates six weight classes - K-1's Japanese focus meant it had only two: giant heavyweights and small lightweight (70kg/155lb) fighters - and we have seen champions crowned in all but one.

Contenders have emerged via winning superfights, but titles have also been awarded via straightforward title bouts. Gokhan Saki won the light-heavyweight title via a four-man tournament whereas Davit Kiria won the lightweight title via a five-round war with Andy ‘The Machine' Ristie in a single-match.

My personal opinion is that this format is a little unsatisfactory. A fighter can win a belt in a straight one-off title match, or can win it in a tournament. But the champion can also lose it in a tournament - is it fair for one fighter to win a belt in a one-off match and another to lose his in a tournament final because he had an absolute war in the semi- or quarter-final?

Tournaments are a separate form of competition in their own right and some fighters are more suited to them than others. The recent middleweight tournament at GLORY LAST MAN STANDING is a prime example.

The unorthodox, evasive Artem Levin danced his way to the final without a scratch while Joe Schilling had been through a murderous war with Simon Marcus and was wearing the cuts and bruises to prove it. He had nothing left in the tank for the final and Levin wasn't offered much of a threat.

GLORY used to offer two titles. A fighter could be a tournament champion and/or champion of his weight class. That was ditched on the basis that it could be confusing to fans. However under the present model, it's as if GLORY is still operating two different forms of competition under one roof, yet both lead to the same prize.

If the format is to be retained, perhaps it should be made a distinct competition in its own right. Having a champion and a tournament champion could indeed prove confusing, but having a tournament winner - who receives, say, a cup or trophy rather than a belt - might not be.

Alternatively, perhaps it is time for the tournament format to be scrapped altogether and for kickboxing to follow the boxing and MMA model, with champions defending their belts in title fights and fighters competing in single matches and looking to build their way towards title shots.

This would do much to inject clarity and remove the trace of unfairness which clouds championship tournaments. And at present GLORY's main mission is to build its brand and presence in the US market, which the tournament format doesn't necessarily help.

It is much easier to get to know fighters, and thus for fans to become emotionally invested, when you are following their individual campaigns rather than having eight fighters dumped on you at once when a tournament rolls around.

Single fights allow careful matchmaking and allow a little more elbow-room in the broadcast to provide color and background on the fighters. GLORY needs to build US stars in particular right now and the single-fight format favors that.

At the same time, to see tournaments disappear from kickboxing completely would be a shame. They are, culturally, a huge part of our sport's history.

Perhaps they could be retained as a ‘fun' item for pay-per-view (once the GLORY brand is big enough to make PPV a viable regular occurrence). I think the market could stand one tournament a year in each weight class, eight-man, with the winner receiving a nice big trophy and a check.

What say you readers? Do tournaments retain a place in the modern kickboxing era or are they an anachronism which should be consigned to the past? If the format is retained, should the championship belts be on the line in them or should they be reserved for title fights only?