Jack Slack's Glory Breakdown: Is Artem Levin the Best Fighter on Earth?

Fightland Blog

By Jack Slack

Photo courtesy of Glory

In my humble opinion, Artem Levin is one of the finest fighters the world has seen to date. Regardless of weight class and era, Levin's particular set of skills would make him a fearsome opponent at any time, for anyone.

A back-step into a southpaw stance, and a nice southpaw left straight.

Glory 17 and the Last Man Standing pay-per-view which followed it lived up to expectations and delivered on some of the finest fights of the year. Levin battered three opponents in one night to win the middleweight tournament, Ricco Verhoeven was crowned heavyweight champion, and Joseph Valtellini won the welterweight crown.

If the event did anything, it served to show us how much the K-1 events, and their focus on heavyweights, limited our view of the kickboxing world. Every man in the middleweight tournament would have been too big to fight in K-1 Max, but stupidly undersized at heavyweight. In fact, the heavyweight action at Glory 17 and Last Man Standing looked sluggish next to the pace set by the welterweights, middleweights and featherweights on the cards.

Glory 17

If you didn't catch this event on Spike, the fights to watch are Gabriel Varga's. I first saw Varga at the Glory 8 featherweight tournament in Tokyo, where he had an incredible first fight, before dropping a decision in the second round to the eventual tournament winner, Yuta Kubo. I left the arena buzzing from the tournament, but it was Varga's performance which stuck with me.

Gabriel Varga's variety on the feet is something to behold. Feinting his way in with raised knees, and landing beautiful boxing combinations on the inside—Varga will throw spinning backfists, jumping knees, and high kicks in every bout he takes part in. The remark I made after Varga won the four man featherweight tournament at Glory 17 was that there are so few fighters who have great ideas, and have the cardio to keep trying them out until the final bell.

Varga hitting that lovely low kick to counter hook which Demetrious Johnson was using the other day.

Andy Ristie rebounded from his loss to Davit Karia in just 30 seconds. Ristie smashed Ky Hollenbeck in vintage Ristie fashion. What Ristie does so well is to land punches as he is recovering from kicks. It looks awkward, and it is awkward. That's why it catches so many opponents out. It is a classic Lucian Carbin method, and therefore classic Andy Ristie.

What is particularly impressive is that Ristie wasn't just recovering the leg, he was recovering from a wildly missed kick and in an incredibly disadvantageous position.

The main event of the Glory 17 card was Mirko 'Cro Cop' Filipovic versus Jarrell Miller. I will say it right now—Cro Cop is not main event material any more. All Filipovic does nowadays is throw a left straight, fall into an ugly clinch, then attempt to hold and hit. Glory rules are pretty wishy washy about holding and hitting, but referees seem to let Cro Cop get away with it for as long as he wants—perhaps because they, like the rest of us, are just willing Cro Cop to get through the round without suffering another brutal KO.

Last Man Standing Middleweight Tournament

The highlight of the night was the middleweight tournament. Eight men entered, two of them fought three times in one night, and Artem Levin was crowned the tournament champion.

In the first round, Melvin Manhoef returned to kickboxing against Filip Verlinden. Manhoef, who hasn't won a kickboxing bout in the last five years, and hasn't fought since 2013, did far more respectably than expected. As Verlinden circled out along the ropes, Manhoef would throw a beautiful left hook into the solar plexus, from his position on the side of Verlinden.

Verlinden found the mark with a left high knee, without grip, and wobbled the Dutchman. Surprisingly underused by taller fighters in kickboxing, the grip-free switch knee was a favourite of Glaube Feitosa—who would use it to come up through the blind angle underneath his shorter opponents' guards.

A wild exchange ensued and Manhoef was sent to the canvas as he leaned into a high kick. Underlining the significance of the newly appreciated weight class, however, Manhoef got up like nothing had happened. In his heavyweight kickboxing performances in K-1, Manhoef had been called chinny. The truth is that a middleweight body isn't built for heavyweight punishment—but he took Verlinden's boot to the face with a smile and kept coming forward.

The problem for the rest of the fight was what we all expected to begin with. Manhoef couldn't cut off the ring on Verlinden, and when he could, Manhoef couldn't connect anything good before he let Verlinden escape again. Verlinden's back was covered with rope burns for the rest of the night, but Manhoef's flurries proved too wild to do anything meaningful, and he ate kicks and jabs while chasing for the most part.

Verlinden won the decision but I hope that does not discourage Manhoef. At 38 years old, coming off of a lay-off from kickboxing, and without a meaningful win in 5 years, Manhoef made an elite kickboxer struggle to scrape a decision. If he recommits himself to the game, Manhoef could be a force even at his advanced age.

Joe Schilling's Redemption

Simon Marcus, undefeated throughout his career and with two wins over the former middleweight tournament champion, came into this bout with a big question mark over his head. How would he do without the clinch, where he is so strong?

The answer was well, but not well enough to beat Joe Schilling. Schilling was floored with a right straight but went right back to work with his usual awkwardness from the outside, flicking up straight kicks and round kicks. A good kicker can turn into a good puncher in and instant, though, if he can get his opponent onto one leg.

Marcus' cracking right hand.

To check a kick, or to teep, a fighter must raise a leg. With one leg off the floor, you can't spring away or retreat. You are a sitting target for whatever comes. If it isn't a kick into the check, but a punch, you eat it and can't do much about it.

It was the same in Renan Barao versus Urijah Faber. The rear straight as the opponent raises his leg to check a kick was a favourite of Andy Hug, and Buakaw and Ernesto Hoost used to throw left hooks to the body as the opponent checked.

Schilling connected a cracking right which rocked Marcus. When Marcus was on wobbly legs in the bout, he repeatedly spat out his mouthpiece. This is an old method to buy time as the cornerman must put his fighter's mouthpiece back in, and most will insist on washing it off first. Big John McCarthy rightly took a point off of Marcus in the sudden victory round for doing this.

Schilling catches Marcus on one leg.

Having been docked a point, and in the sudden victory round, Marcus was forced to come forward. He went at Schilling like a man possessed—but was caught with a hard right hook as he came in. The punch seemed more of circumstance than of design, but Marcus' own recklessness gave force to the blow.

There is no right answer for what Marcus should have done. He was a point down, and had seconds to turn the fight around. He went out on his shield admirably in the fight of the night and could certainly be a force in the division's future. I can only hope for some more leniency to be applied to Glory's clinch rules to see Simon Marcus at his best.

Schilling continued his incredible night of redemption as he edged Wayne Barret in the second round of the tournament. Barrett had taken a decision in their first bout, and while the rematch lacked the back and forth knockdowns of the first, Schilling gave a great account of himself.

Wayne Barret, for his part, used his awkward, lengthy punches to take out Bogdan Stoica. Stoica attempted a jumping knee while Barrett was on balance and free to move, and Barrett landed an incredibly timed counter punches, leaving Stoica out cold. It was reminiscent of Fedor's starching of Andrei Arlovksi.

Many fighters will fool themselves that because they feel powerful during a jumping knee, they are untouchable. Really, it is just like being on one leg—you have no way to evade and no way to change direction. Most opponents will cover up, but if something does come back at you, you can be in trouble.

Artem Levin Wins the Tournament

I wrote in my introduction that Levin is one of the finest fighters I have ever seen. I felt that way before this event, but his performance at Last Man Standing was truly remarkable.

In the first round, Levin took on Alex Pereira. Pereira is a thunderous puncher and feared for this reason. But Levin eliminated almost every attempt at offence Pereira made. They truly looked a class apart from each other.

When asked how he would deal with combination strikers, Choki Motobu once said that combinations are impossible against real karate. This viewpoint is important because the best fighters  in any discipline work to deny the possibility of follow up strikes at every opportunity.

Levin would slip a punch, step in with his own (normally a hard left hook to the body), then move in to close for Pereira to retaliate, and land a hard knee to the body. Levin did this dozens of times throughout the fight and Pereira utterly failed to retaliate.

In the second round, Levin met Verlinden, the only man in the tournament who surpassed him in height and length. Levin looked uncomfortable in the opening round, but found his stride in the second and third—working Verlinden over in the exact same way. Boxing combinations and counters, into hard knee strikes.

Levin excels at checking his opponent's lead hand, then throwing a lead hook behind their guard, before using their guard as a handle to pull himself into kneeing distance.

In the tournament final, Levin met Joe Schilling in a rematch. Levin had out worked Schilling in their first meeting, but lost because of two knockdowns which Schilling was able to score. In this bout, though, Levin took the lead from the beginning.

Working his short right low kick, and his usual bodywork, Levin dropped Schilling with a spinning backfist off of a back stepping hook. From there on out it was all Levin.

I hope that Last Man Standing was a success in buyrate—because it was certainly a success in terms of the quality of the product. It used to be that you could get together with friends to buy a boxing card every couple of months, but with public interest in boxing slowly declining—Glory could fill that role amply.

Pick up Jack Slack's new ebook, Fighting Karate at his blog Fights Gone ByJack can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.


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