Mourad Bouzidi, of Tunisian heritage but born and raised in the Netherlands, is often said to be one of the nicest guys in kickboxing. Nobody trash talks him or seems to have a bad word to say about him. The Japanese nicknamed him 'The Silent Power' in his K-1 days because of his soft-spoken nature outside of the ring and his sharply contrasting hard-fighting nature inside of it.
Not too long ago, Bouzidi (79-22-2, 34 KO's) seemed to have peaked and was occupying something of a gate-keeper status in the world of kickboxing. But the move to light-heavyweight has done wonders for him, as has training with Mousid Akamrane, less well-known than coaches like Mike Passenier and Thom Harinck, but widely respected in the industry for the quality of fighters he produces.
Bouzidi had been due to fight for the light-heavyweight title next week at GLORY 31 AMSTERDAM but then Russian champion Artem Vakhitov came down with an injury which will keep him sidelined until around October. Power-punching Zack Mwekassa (14-3, 12 KO's) was drafted in and the fight, which headlines the 'Superfight Series' card airing on UFC Fight Pass, will be for the interim title, with the winner facing Vakhitov on his return.
Mwekassa, the former heavyweight boxing champion of Africa, made his name in kickboxing by debuting on short notice at GLORY 16 DENVER and starching Pat 'HD' Barry in one of the most brutal knockouts the GLORY ring has hosted. Bloody Elbow writer Steph Haynes later interviewed him and determined that his crazy life story makes him "the most interesting man in combat sports".
"He's a boxer, we all know that. Zack Mwekassa is not really a kickboxer," says Bouzidi. "Obviously his hands are his best weapon. But even as a boxer, his danger [comes from him being] powerful, not because he is a really slick, clever boxer. He's powerful but not too slick, so I don't think there's anything there to be too worried about. His weaknesses are on the kicking side; that's something I am going to do, but I am also going to box with him. I don't see any problem there."
Bouzidi turned professional at eighteen, hence his extensive record. Now 31 years old and with a wife and family, he feels that he is entering final furlong of his career before winding down and moving on with life outside the ring. Despite his long campaigning a major title has thus far eluded him and so he badly wants a GLORY belt.
"For me, I really want the world title, I think that it would really mean something for me, for my career. So when Vakhitov dropped out I was disappointed of course. I was also worried that it might mean my title shot would slip away - for example, maybe they would run a Contender Tournament before he came back and have the tournament winner take a shot instead of me. Or Saki could return and get the immediate title shot he is owed," he says.
"So I was happy that the fight was made for the interim title. It's not the same as the full world title of course but if I win it, it means that Vakhitov has to face me when he returns, then I can fight him for the world title. That fight is first priority. And then if Saki returns, yes, I am willing to fight him. Me and Saki are friendly, we have known each other a long time and we go way back, but it's just business. If he came back and we ended up being matched then we would have to fight. But first I fight Mwekassa and then I want Vakhitov."
GLORY 31 AMSTERDAM takes place Saturday June 25 at the RAI Arena in Amsterdam, Netherlands and consists of two cards. Bouzidi and Mwekassa headline the 'Superfight Series' card airing on UFC Fight Pass, with Muay Thai legend Saenchai also featuring.
Then the follow-on numbered GLORY 31 card takes place, headlined by Robin van Roosmalen facing Sittichai Sitsongpeenong in what promises to be a heated rematch. Their GLORY 25 meeting ended in a controversial decision for defending champion Van Roosmalen and Sittichai has said he has no intention of letting this second fight go to the judges. The GLORY 31 numbered card airs in the US live on ESPN 3 and is tape-delayed on ESPN 2.