Photo via Glory
Glory is back this weekend to take advantage of the lull in the MMA schedule and the card is powerful enough to raise the eyebrow of anyone with a little knowledge of the sport. Veterans like Simon Marcus and Saulo Cavaleri offer the prospect of decent, entertaining bouts, but the two highlights of the show are clearly the main event: a rematch between Nieky Holzken and Murthel Groenhart, and the 'featured prelim' on the Fight Pass portion of the card: a bout between Robin Van Roosmalen and Gabriel Varga.
We have sung Nieky Holzken's praises here so many times before but it needs saying again: Holzken is one of the most exciting kickboxers in the world and exactly the sort of fighter that most MMA fans would enjoy. He is the number one ranked welterweight in the world, hasn't lost a fight since an extra round decision in 2012, and has never lost a fight under the GLORY banner. A brilliant pressure fighter, Holzken's magic is in his ringcraft, his multitude of sneaky set ups for his left hook to the liver, and his patience. His last bout against Yoann Kongolo was an absolute treat as both men traded thoughtful, creative combinations before Holzken pulled ahead and proved himself the better man.
When you watch Holzken compete you're looking for the other guy to start breathing hard, and then you know you're about to see Holzken pick up the pace. The left hook to the body is instrumental in tiring every one of Holzken's opponents and he can hit it from all kinds of places. He'll hit it by doubling up off the left hook to the head:
Or off the right uppercut, standing the opponent upright to expose their liver:
Or even just on the pivot:
But Holzken is far from one sided, he also has a cracking right hand which has been used to stop plenty of his opponents. One of his trickiest techniques is to use a combination to hide a cross hand trap, bringing his left hand over the top of his opponent's head to strip down their left hand, and throwing his right hand through the hole in their guard.
Murthel Groenhart hasn't been nearly as consistent, picking up a 6-5 record in Glory, but it doesn't matter. The last time he and Holzken fought in December of 2015 he was robbed of a decision which he clearly deserved to win. Groenhart earned the shot by winning Glory's contender tournament, wherein he fought like something of a wild man at many points.
After a great deal of smack talk, Groenhart got in the ring with Holzken and showed him nothing like the same fighter who turned up for the contender tournament. Thoughtful, remarkably active, and always cautious of his ring position, Groenhart never let himself be pushed towards the ropes for too long. His constant movement was one key factor in his performance, another was his build. Holzken is a big welterweight and often has a good height and/or reach advantage on his opponents. Watching him knee Kongolo in the head while the latter stood completely upright in Holzken's last title defense should hammer home how much Holzken can enjoy that advantage. While he is an infighter for the most part, Holzken struggled to get there due to Groenhart's movement and his snapping jab.
Groenhart paired this jab with shifting left hooks to the body, which allowed him to close in on Holzken and angle off more extremely with a side step directly to either the left or right, usually combined with a nice body kick or low kick.
Any time Groenhart got close to the ropes he would step in with the body shot and angle off, then jab at Holzken as he turned to follow. Groenhart went to his usual bicycle style jumping knee from time to time, and actually surprised Holzken on occasion, by burying it in with a masterful performance based around movement and length.
Groenhart isn't above a bit of rough housing either. He waltzed around Holzken at one point and hit him square in the back of the head, something the referee punished with a stern look and nothing more, and Groenhart will often lead with the top of his head as he closes the distance to hit the body. Not disgusting tactics, but certainly extra-curricular.
Between the fourth and fifth round, Holzken's corner were trying to get the champion to listen to their advice but he was staring off into the distance. In the fifth round Holzken looked much better, he shellacked Groenhart with low kicks from the southpaw stance which he had used effectively and then abandoned in round one. But it wasn't the calm, patient, pressure cooker that dominated the Glory division who was in the ring then. Holzken was loading up on his shots and swinging wild, something you never normally see. The crowd was fairly partisan, erupting whenever Holzken got a good body hook off, but even they were unimpressed when Holzken got the decision.
Groenhart using Holzken's favorite set up.
Groenhart since stopped Karim Benmansour in emphatic fashion and bested Kongolo by decision and now is back for another crack at Holzken.
Glory has had some glaring judging issues in the past but they have been shown they'll make it up to you in a do-over. Just ask poor Sittichai and Robin van Roosmalen.
On the subject of Robin van Roosmalen, if you didn't actively seek it out, you might not know that he was fighting this weekend. At featherweight after a lengthy and successful run at lightweight, Roosmalen is jumping in at the top end of the division with Gabriel Varga. Varga is more of a traditional martial arts style kickboxer, with flashy flicking kicks and spinning strikes, where Van Roosmalen is all about infighting—throwing punching combinations into short low kicks. Both bouts would be well worth your time in any weekend of fights, but in an MMA dry spell they could be just what the doctor ordered.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.