GLORY 25: The Best, Most Frustrating Show of the Year

GLORY made its debut on its newest platform today, and it many ways it was one to remember.

The event, GLORY 25 in Milan, Italy, featured a wildly entertaining welterweight contenders tournament, and two virtuoso performances in its co-main and main events besides.

So what went wrong? Why do memories of the show feel sour just a couple of hours later?

It was in May of this year when I offered my take on an earlier GLORY offering, the GLORY 21 show in San Diego: “everything right, and wrong, about the fight game’s best event.”

Sound familiar?

GLORY is probably the most consistently entertaining show out there in the fight game.

But, last night also showed why it can be the most frustrating.

In fact, for some, just watching the event ended up a bit of a struggle. I spotted at least one journalist in the fight biz going on Twitter to figure out how to watch.

Today, GLORY had its debut at its new home of ESPN. Well, actually ESPN 3. That’s not on your TV — you have to go to the ESPN website or app to access it. I did, and found collegiate soccer instead. But eventually I clicked the right link and got there.

Then, of course, the fights began. And as usual, they were awesome.

A welterweight contender’s tournament kicked off the broadcast.

In the first bout, Holland’s Murthel Groenhart and Nicola Gallo of Italy went on the attack with middle kicks to open, with, of course, no worry of being taken down. MMA is so strong in our consciousness, we forget what this kind of exchange looks like, and it’s actually pretty cool to see it in its “natural habitat.”

Groenhart got the better of it, and began stalking Gallo with some solid punching combinations. Eventually, “The Predator” hit a nasty flying knee to open a cut — earning an impressive second round stoppage win.

Yoann Kongolo of Switzerland, who boasts a remarkable record of 60-5 , fought Karim Ghajji of France in the other semifinal — who almost matches Kongolo’s mark at 94-11-1.

These two seemed mirror images of one another, right down to the way both like to switch stances — but Kongolo was just a bit more fluid; and particularly effective at mixing in low kicks with his punching combinations.

Unfortunately, Kongolo hit the deck on what looked a slip, but was ruled a knockdown. Kongolo was also seemingly slowed by a low blow, but no call from the ref.

(Here’s how GLORY kickboxing isn’t so awesome. With just three three minute rounds to ply your trade, one mistake by the referee, or in this case two, can weigh so heavily into the scoring.)

The action was solid, and very close — but Kongolo seemed to (understandably) try too hard for a knockout, knowing he’s down on the cards. One judge calls it a draw, but two give it to Ghaji, so we’ve got our final set.

The co-main saw Giorgio Petrosyan put on a clinic against the game Josh Jauncy. The Italian’s slick defensive style was on display from the opening bell, with a variety of punches and kicks coming from all angles — along with graceful lateral movement and adept checks and blocks.

The 22 year old rising star Jauncy showed remarkable grit to keep moving forward and catch Petrosyan (who he admits to idolizing) here and there. But he’s just a little out-matched, at least at this point in his career.

“Props to Jauncey for going the distance with one of the greatest to ever live!” Mauro Ranallo yelled on commentary — and I concur.

That brought on the welter tournament finals. Murthel Groenhart came out with guns blazing, hitting the same flying knee and hard-punching combinations on Karim Ghajji that he had earlier in the night. The difference is, Ghajji just kept coming. After three back-and-forth rounds, Groenhart was awarded a well-deserved decision victory — but he worked for it.

GLORY’s lightweight title was on the line in the headline bout: Dutch Muay Thai standout Robin van Roosemalen defending against Thailand’s Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong.

This was weird. Van Roosemalen was forced to fight at the slow technical pace that favors the Thai — eating middle kicks throughout the five rounds, and only occasionally scoring with his punches.

But, somehow, he got the decision anyway.

“Literally the worst decision that I’ve ever, ever seen,” Dave Walsh wrote for Liver Kick. “These judges should never be allowed to judge another fight ever again. They just robbed Sitthichai.”

It’s the best of shows. It’s the worst of shows. But it’s always worth watching. Here’s hoping the next one makes it onto ESPN 2 and a few more kinks get worked out.