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GLORY 32 Virginia light heavyweight tournament and main event preview

GLORY 32 Virginia goes down this weekend and features a featherweight championship fight and a four-man light heavyweight contender tournament.

GLORY rolls into Norfolk, Virginia this weekend with an ESPN-airing card which features a four-man light heavyweight contender tournament and a featherweight title fight between two of the most technical kickboxers in the game. The tournament participants are all newcomers or recent arrivals to the GLORY roster, but one in particular is exciting interest among the hardcore fanbase: Pavel Zhuravlev is a beast and long overdue in the organization.

The tournament was really late in being announced. Former champion Saulo Cavalari didn't get his visa application in with time enough for it to be processed and that left Zhuravlev without an opponent. According to GLORY matchmakers, difficulties were "understandably" encountered in finding someone who wanted to step up and face the frighteningly powerful Zhuravlev on three weeks' notice. Both Danyo Ilunga and Michael Duut were named as having declined the match.

'Understandable' is an understatement. Zhuravlev (69-10, 25 KO's) is (was) one of the best free agents out there prior to a GLORY deal being worked out. Like many light heavyweight kickboxers, he had often been forced to fight at heavyweight, that being the money division, and that's where most of his losses came.

At his own weight, he has been a strong force and he is the clear tournament favorite here. His wins include victories over Gokhan Saki, Saulo Cavalari, Benjamin Adegbuyi (they are 1-1 against each other), Freddy Kemayao, Sahak Parparyan and Brian Douwes. He is on a 7-fight KO win streak and is 9-1 in his last ten fights.

Standing opposite him is Ariel Machado (42-6, 33 KO's) of Brazil. He is not widely known, but brings a decent pedigree to the ring. He comes from Curitiba, as so many other Brazilian fighters on the world stage have, and he also holds a win (amateur) over Cavalari. "Typically aggressive Brazilian style" is how GLORY matchmaker Cor Hemmers has described him. He is skilled but not as finessed as Zhuravlev and with nowhere near the amount of top-level experience. If jet lag does not present major issues for Zhuravlev then the advantage will rest with him.

The other bracket has California's Manny Mancha (5-2, 4 KO's) making his third GLORY outing. He faces Zinedine Hameur-Lain (54-13, 33 KO's) of France, by coincidence also appearing in the GLORY ring for the third time. Mancha's two opponents thus far have not been of any ranking significance and he has beaten both of them. Hameur-Lain won his debut against Dutch journeyman Fred Sikking and then lost a decision to Zack Mwekassa, who has since gone on to win the interim title while champion Artem Vakhitov is sidelined with injury.

In both his GLORY fights thus far Hameur-Lain has faced fighters who bring a lot of forward pressure and Mancha is in the same model. Against Sikking, Hameur-Lain was able to weather a storm then turn the tables when Sikking's gas tank began to fade. Against Mwekassa he fought almost entirely a rearguard action with occasional rallies. Mancha does have KO power but isn't the slick professional boxer that Mwekassa is so this fight will probably resemble the Sikking bout, with Hameur-Lain staying safe to begin with then opening up and scoring his way to a decision.

A Hameur-Lain/Zhuravlev final on paper favors Zhuravlev, but tournaments are a strange beast and various 'wild card' factors - injury, stamina, restedness - all play a part. Assuming it's a win for Zhuravlev, that puts him in line to face the winner of Vakhitov and Mwekassa, which takes place later this year. That is, unless Mwekassa decides to place his interim belt on the line and face Zhuravlev in the meantime.

In the headliner, Gabriel Varga (27-3, 8 KO's) comes down from Vancouver Island, Canada to rematch current champion Serhiy Adamchuk (33-5, 14 KO's), who took the belt from him at GLORY 25 Milan in November. That was an ugly fight with a lot of clinching; Adamchuk received numerous (around 15) warnings from the execrable referee Stefano Valenti for clinching and for coming in with his head, but was not docked a point. Had he been, the fight would have been a draw instead of a split-decision and Varga would have retained the belt.

Since then we've seen better things from Adamchuk; he's come into full bloom and shown what he can do when he opens up and takes more risks. The question is whether he was playing cautious in that first Varga fight because of nerves or whether he felt that was the gameplan needed to beat the taller, rangier Canadian. If it was the latter then we might see a redeployment of those same tactics, but this time hopefully the referee will not be as lenient.

If we get what we're hoping for, we'll see both of them put their full range of trickery to full use, and it should be a really interesting fight with a high level of skill on display. Varga and Adamchuk are both excellent technicians and fight intelligently, with lots of misdirection and changes of level and angles.

Counting against Varga is the long lay-off he's had - this is his first fight since Milan - and the struggles he has with obtaining good sparring in his remote location. Adamchuk benefits from steady competition rhythm and a wide stable of sparring partners at Mike's Gym. That said, not many of his sparring partners can replicate Varga and the same height and reach disadvantages remain in place.

GLORY 32 goes down this Friday, July 22 and Bloody Elbow will have live fight coverage, including results and discussion, right here.

HOW TO WATCH
Glory 32 Superfight Series at 7:30 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass
Glory 32 Virginia live on ESPN3 at 10:00 p.m. ET. Visit WatchESPN.com.
Glory 32 Virginia replay on ESPN2 Friday night at 11:00 p.m. ET this week)