JJ: So lot's going on; let's get stuck in. First of all, former world #1 Giorgio Petrosyan returns to GLORY for the first time since being KO'd by Andy Ristie at GLORY 12 NEW YORK. He faces the rising Canadian talent Josh Jauncey, 22 years old and trained from the age of 11. Is this the return of a king or the passing of a torch?
Dave Walsh: I feel like everyone is underrating Josh Jauncey here. Dude asked for this fight and his management and team have been curating his career pretty carefully and building him up slowly. I love Petrosyan and think that he's one of the best ever, but he hasn't looked the same in his last three fights. Has that been ring rust, testing stuff out or what? I don't know. People in Italy are telling me that he's looking pretty worse for wear outside of the ring as well.
The winner of this will have to fight Sitthichai, like, there's just no doubt in my mind about that. Both men have a built in narrative, as well. If Jauncey beats Petrosyan he wasn't ready before, but is he ready now? Petrosyan, if he wins, has a built in story of reclaiming his throne. Just beautiful, the kind of stuff that GLORY needs. Please, Cor [Hemmers, GLORY matchmaker], I'm begging ya, no contender tournament for this.
I think that I'll just take Jauncey in an upset just because. I am still thinking Petrosyan wins in Petrosyan fashion, but kickboxing can be crazy.
Michael Stets: This fight really does have the "is this the passing of the torch?" narrative. The Armenian-Italian legend holds quite a bit of experience and savvy over the young Canadian, but I love Jauncey's confidence and moxy on top of his skill set.
That being said, I think it could be a similar fight like when Jauncey fought Sittichai, a strong showing in a decision loss. Jauncey will fight great, but Petrosyan fights a classic fight despite showing signs his skills are diminishing. I'll say Petrosyan by a split decision. His ring smarts along with the crowd behind him and he gets it done. Jauncey's stock only rises.
JJ: Petrosyan was the #1 in the world at this weight for so long that it feels weird to even write about him in any other terms. But Ristie blasted holes in his aura with that knockout and since then he hasn't looked quite the same. He rides a 3-0 win streak into this one but only Enriko Kehl was notable; Petrosyan's most recent fight, in China, was far from vintage. Also this week in Milan he looks rough as a junkyard dog; I don't know if that means anything. Usually he looks well-groomed and slick but this week he looks like someone who is living hard.
Jauncey goes into this one with tons of confidence and nothing to lose. On the flipside, he has a fraction of the experience of Petrosyan's previous opponents and is coming off a loss to Sittichai. Jauncey says Sittichai's trickiness and weird timing was an issue for him and Petrosyan has similar skills, so the first minutes of the fight will be interesting. Jauncey needs to rattle Petrosyan early, show him no respect. He needs to fight the man not the myth. If ever Petrosyan is going to be beaten, it seems now is the time, but it remains a very tall order.
Fraser Coffeen: Both headline fights are ridiculously great, but this is the one I am more pumped for. The return of Petrosyan just can not be emphasized enough - this is the man that ruled the division for ages and is finally coming back after suffering a big loss. MMA fans, think Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz. But hopefully without the soul-crushing aftermath.
It's easy to pick Petrosyan, for obvious reasons, but Jauncey is one of those "future of kickboxing" type fighters who I have high hopes for. question is - does that future begin today? As much as I want to pick him, I am with Stets - spirited, game performance with some flashes of greatness, but in the end, Petrosyan gonna Petrosyan. Please, please, lease let that set up an immediate title shot.
JJ: In the Welterweight Contender Tournament we have Karim Ghajii vs. Yoann Kongolo and Murthel Groenhart vs. Nicola Gallo, with the winners facing each other in the tournament final to determine which of them will challenge Nieky Holzken at GLORY 26 AMSTERDAM next month. Who are we picking?
Dave Walsh: I think that Ghajji surprises a lot of people and takes this. Murthel is so inconsistent and he has ALWAYS been inconsistent. A big part of that is never committing to a weight class, the rest has just been I don't know what. I'm super bummed that Sugden is injured, but I wouldn't expect Sugden to beat Ghajji, either.
Michael Stets: I am bummed that Sugden is injured and couldn't compete in this "contender" tournament. I don't think you can count out Murthel Groenhart despite his inconsistency and recent losses.
However I think the winner of the tourney will be whoever comes out of the Kongolo vs. Ghajji bracket. I think their styles make for a fun fight also. I'll take Ghajji due to the Frenchman having fought the best in the division albeit in losing efforts and say he rises to the occasion. Groenhart has certainly fought the best in the business too and I think he will win decisively over Gallo, but I'll side with Ghajji in the final.
JJ: The tournament line-up looks slightly odd in that Ghajii is 0-3 in GLORY and Groenhart has some mixed results in his recent fights. Kongolo had a good showing at GLORY 22 FRANCE, earning his spot in this tournament. His semi-final opponent Nicola Gallo enters the tournament under the "local wild card" rule and I think he is going to take a beating for a round or two then fold over.
Groenhart to me looks like he has had some problems pulling the trigger lately, like he has been hesitant or can't quite get his rhythm. When he is on form he is very dangerous indeed but it really depends which version of him turns up. Ghajii has three losses in GLORY but two of them were to the current and former champion and were close fights, so we can't read too much into that.
Kongolo actually started training at Mike's Gym a couple of months ago and Groenhart is pissed off about it, so if the two of them meet in the final it will be interesting for all sorts of reasons. That's the pairing I expect to see, though I think Groenhart will have a harder semi-final than Kongolo and will carry some damage into the final.
Fraser Coffeen: Eh, this one's OK, but a notable step down from the rest of the card (and the top two Superfights). Groenhart looked really good during his LW run a few years back, but he's just 3-4 since that K-1 MAX GP win.
I've never liked him as much at Welterweight, and don't understand the move there. Still, I favor him against this field, which overall doesn't super impress me. After the string of early Glory tournament upsets, things have been pretty routine lately, so I see a Groenhart win overall here. Wouldn't be shocked to see someone else come out.
One thing is for certain though - Holzken mows down any of these four with ease. Keeping my fingers crossed for the eventual Bazooka Joe return to truly challenge ‘The Natural'.
JJ: On the Superfight Series card (airs in the US on CBS Sports) we've got a light-heavyweight clash between Danyo Ilunga, former #1 in this division, and Artem Vakhitov, a real rising star in this weight class. There are title picture implications hanging over this one surely?
Dave Walsh: This is an awesome fight and I really can't wait for it. Danyo Ilunga has never lived up to his potential, I don't think, and Vakhitov has shown signs of brilliance. I think that Vakhitov maybe wins this and if he doesn't get a title shot I am going to immediately question GLORY's booking process. These guys are two of the best that they've got in that division.
Michael Stets: I love this match-up and was excited to see it when it was announced. It's a good test for both fighters who are both coming off losses. I picked Illunga to win the G18 tourney and was pretty surprised not that he lost, but that he didn't perform to his ability. Illunga has gone 1-2 since that fight outside of GLORY and needs to get back in the win column.
As far as Vahkitov, he loss a tough split decision to Cavalari in a fight that could have gone either way at G18, and he is one of the best young fighters in GLORY. I honestly don't know who to pick in this one, but I'm expecting a fight that we will be talking about a lot. I agree with Dave that the Russian should get a title shot should he win, but I think the same goes for Illunga should he prevail.
Fraser Coffeen: I've been super impressed by Vakhitov for a long time, and feel like he hasn't really been given the respect he deserves. His only losses come against serious, top name opposition like Levin, Marcus, and Cavalari. Of course, Ilunga fits in with that group pretty well, so for Vakhitov to win this, he's going to have to outperform his previous showings.
But I think he will - he's still young at 24 years old and improving, while Ilunga has looked rather off for the past year plus. I look for Vakhitov to take this and set up the Cavalari rematch (barring a miracle return of Gokhan Saki, the winner here should get the next title shot, no doubt).
JJ: Ilunga this week has been talking about he is "very angry, really very angry" about his current place in the division. In fact Ilunga has seemed a little shell-shocked ever since his former fiefdom of 209lbs suddenly became home to the likes of Tyrone Spong, Gokhan Saki, Saulo Cavalari and others. He was top dog in a thin division for a while then woke up one day and found it stocked with killers.
Vakhitov has been very impressive in his GLORY run and has been very consistent. His only loss is to current champion Saulo Cavalari at GLORY 20 and there are plenty of people who feel he should have gotten the judges nod in that one. For me, his focus and consistency are the key to this one. Ilunga was all over the place in his loss to Cavalari at GLORY 18 and unless he comes a lot sharper than that in Milan, this is Vakhitov's fight.
JJ: The headline fight has Robin van Roosmalen making his second defense of the World Lightweight Championship. He beat Andy Ristie at GLORY 20 DUBAI, defending his belt and avenging that GLORY 12 knockout loss in the process. Now he has another hard fight on his hands in the form of Sittichai Sitsongpeenong, who impressed a lot of people in France.
Dave Walsh: My god. What's insane to me is the amount of people picking Robin for this. I love Robin's fight style and was loudly proclaiming him the new king of the division when he won the Fast & Furious It's Showtime tournament (barring a fight with Petrosyan), but his style is perfect for Sittichai to rip into. Plus, what's going on with his father? I hear he isn't in Milan right now to be in Robin's corner. I dunno, I just don't see a way for Robin to win this.
Michael Stets: Love this fight as well, and I feel strongly we will have a new lightweight champion when it is over. van Roosmalen is as good as they come and we've seen him battle and deliver great performances many times, especially vs. Ristie and Kiria, but Sittichai is a machine. The dude just smoked the former champion Davit Kiria inside two rounds at GLORY 22 and made it look easy, before letting Josh Jauncey - one of the division's youngest and best fighters - know that it's not his time yet. I honestly think he finishes Van Roosmalen worse than Ristie did at GLORY 12 two years ago.
Fraser Coffeen: I love Robin van Roosmalen, and seeing his ascent to the throne of 70kg has been one of the kickboxing highlights of the past year. He's worked so hard to get there, and it's been great seeing that pay off. That said, I have to join the chorus here and predict that he gets wrecked. Sittichai is just at a different level, and I fear that this might be a Rich Franklin vs. Anderson Silva style title change. And yes, that's two Silva comparisons this article for those keeping score.
JJ: I am going to go against the herd here and pick Robin to win this one, based on his win over Andy Ristie at GLORY 20 DUBAI. Nobody picked him to win that rematch, they said he moved in straight lines too much and didn't move his head, which meant Ristie would be able to find his jaw again easily and score another finish.
Instead Van Roosmalen ran rings around Ristie, using footwork, angles and head movement to outfox him and get inside where he needed to be. That to me demonstrated fight intelligence and effective game planning, which makes me think he is going to be well prepared for Sitthichai's threat. Bear in mind too that he had a very close fight with Petrosyan, another tricky southpaw, at GLORY 3 ROME and was unlucky not to get the decision. People say that Robin is stylistically similar to Kiria and thus will be ended the same way but I don't think that is going to happen. Robin is going to pressure him, put him on the back foot and keep the title.
And a note: the Superfight Series section of this card features Gabriel Varga of Canada defending the World Featherweight Championship against Serhiy Adamchuk of Ukraine. It's probably going to turn out to be a Fight of the Year contender and I expect Varga to retain his title with another superb performance which mixes grit and technicality. Varga has great technique and can fight a clean fight at distance but when an opponent wants to stand in with him and make a streetfight of it he is more than happy to oblige. In person he is a modest but articulate young man of excellent manners. In the ring he often shows a hidden dark side, one which revels in a war, as the very good Mosab Amrani found out in Dubai. Varga was not the least bit intimidated by Amrani, who is one of kickboxing's savages. That spoke volumes to me. Adamchuk is a clever fighter himself and was able to outsmart Marat Grigorian in his debut, but I think Varga will be too intelligent for him in this one. I love watching Varga fight and this one might turn out to be a classic.