Who Takes It? GLORY 20: Robin van Roosmalen vs. Andy Ristie

Fight fans will have their pick of events to enjoy this weekend — but there’s no doubt in my mind that one stands tall above the rest.

Sure, there’s a solid offering from the UFC tomorrow, with a pairing of two of the world’s top ten MMA featherweights serving as headliner. The event, to be televised by FOX Sports 1 at 1 pm ET, also includes the long awaited return of Julianna Peña. Not too shabby.

The Marquis of Queensbury counters with a pair of boxing events, which are also on tap tomorrow. Of the two, it’s safe to say most eyes are focused on Premier Boxing Champions event in Quebec, where former 154 lb titlist Sakio Bika moves up to light heavyweight to challenge lineal champion Adonis Stephenson. That show begins at 3 pm ET and is televised on CBS.

But tonight, there’s an offering from the world’s top kickboxing promotion, and as far as a range of top talent goes — it’s just no contest at all.

Tonight, GLORY World Series visits Dubai for GLORY 20, featuring a middleweight contender tournament on the undercard, and title bouts at featherweight and lightweight in the co-main events.

The event is televised stateside at 9 pm ET on SPIKE tonight — and if you only watch one fight night, this, friends, is the one.

Simply put, it’s an astounding level of talent: boasting two of the top three in the world at lightweight in the main event, and two of the top five featherweights in the co-main. The four man middleweight tourney on the undercard sees every participant ranked in the top ten.

The bout between Andy “The Machine” Ristie and Robin Van Roosmalen get center stage, though.

Roosmalen and Ristie are #1 and #3 in the world respectively per ratings.

So, who takes it? Read on…

The 33 year old Ristie was born in Suriname, like Errol Zimmerman who we profiled back in February, and raised in Holland. His record stands tall at 44-4-1, with 24 knockouts.

He has become one of GLORY’s stars, for his wide-open style — knocking out the heavily favored Giorgio Petrosyan, then Roosmalen, to become GLORY’s inaugural lightweight champion.

He appeared to be on the way to another knockout and a successful defense of his GLORY lightweight title last March against Davit Kira. But instead, he was the victim of perhaps the greatest comeback in combative sports history.

The bout begins at 14:48:

Ristie controls the early going with a style Duke Roufus likens to a mix of Prince Naseem Hamed and Manny Pacquiao: “an awkward style that people have a hard time timing.”

But it all goes sour in the final round, as Ristie finds himself knocked senseless by the Georgian.

Journalist John Joe O’Regan called it “the most amazing comeback I’ve ever seen. Like a Rocky movie, but you couldn’t script something like that.”

What happened? Ristie says he simply got distracted.

“That fight was an expensive lesson for me,” Ristie recalled in a GLORY 20 preview video. “Before that fight, I started with some (new) trainers. It was difficult because I left my old school, Lucien Carbin. Then I have to take some people. There were some troubles in the corner,between the two trainers. Both wanted to do the coaching. Both guys were screaming at me and I didn’t understand. That’s why I was not listening.”

Ristie has bounced back to score two knockout wins since, with his typical “whirling dervish” of a striking style — marching forward in that classic Muay Thai stance, hitting combinations from every angle from both a left and right hand lead.

But could he fade in late rounds?

“He has shown to have trouble in longer fights,” writer Jack Slack admits in a recent piece, highlighting Ristie among Four Strikers Every MMA fan Should Know. “But for quick finishes, there is no [one] better than Andy Ristie. If UFC flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson has shown anything new in his last two fights, it’s an understanding of the low kick into the retreating counter hook. This relationship is the future of MMA, and no-one shows its potential in high level striking engagements as well as Ristie.”

The opponent is GLORY’s titlist, the 25 year old Robin Van Roosmalen, also of Netherlands. He boasts a 33-6-0 record with 19 KO’s, and while Ristie is flashy, Van Roosmalen is more of a steady performer — launching an orthodox attack, anchored by hand combinations followed by leg kicks.

Mostly he stands out for having a high offensive output, which just never, ever, seems to slow down.

In another contrast to Ristie, Van Roosmalen is trained by the first man to ever show him how to punch and kick: his father.

Van Roosmalen defeated Ristie conqueror Kiria for the GLORY belt last year, in another of those solid all around performances.

The fight begins five minutes in:

But he lists a 2011 tournament win for kickboxing promotion “It’s Showtime” as his greatest performance.

Van Roosmalen was a replacement for Giorgio Petrosyan that night, in a field which included Andy Souwer and Artur Kyshenko of K-1 Max fame, and the promotion’s titleholder, Chris Ngimbi.

“I was in the dark, no one gave me a chance of winning that tournament,” the champion said. “I showed I was the best that night.”

Still, I’ve got him as the underdog tonight. The taller Ristie is just a little too quick, hits a little too hard, and I believe him when he says he learned his lesson from the Kiria bout.

In their previous meeting, Ristie kept riding the emotional wave after scoring the upset over Petrosiyan — bouncing in and out, landing front kicks from range and eventually hurting Van Roosmalen with his trademark unusual combinations. A wild fluryy of punches ending in a left uppercut ended that bout in the second.

I’m expecting more of the same tonight, although I think Van Roosmalen is continuing to improve — and will likely stretch the bout to the 4th.

But similar to that night at It’s Showtime, don’t be too shocked if Van Roosmalen proves me wrong.

“In conditioning terms Van Roosmalen has the advantage, his fitness is always perfect,” says Cor Hemmers, GLORY’s matchmaker and a legendary Dutch Muay Thai trainer in his own right. “He needs to take risks and try to tire Ristie out then surprise him. Ristie is very unorthodox and is tricky with his punches and knees from all angles, but that means he leaves openings which Van Roosmalen can maybe put a hook or uppercut through.”

“The longer the fight goes, the more the advantage passes to Van Roosmalen,” Hemmers says. “But in the early rounds Ristie will be extremely dangerous.”

I expect that dangerous “Machine” to stand tall tonight, using his reach and unorthodox style, to earn the gold.

As always, enjoy the fights!