Who Takes It? GLORY 21: Artem Levin vs. Simon Marcus

Last week’s edition of “Who Takes It?” profiled what was the biggest event in the fight-sports world in recent years: the welterweight boxing bout, five years in the making, between aging superstars Floyd Mayweather, Jr and Manny Pacquiao.

They finally did battle, in the fight capital of the world, watched by celebrity after celebrity, and a soon to be record PPV audience; along with a live gate which included aftermarket tickets at the MGM Grand Garden Arena priced up to the $100,000 range.

Despite all the controversies surrounding it, including issues of domestic violence on the part of Mayweather — as events go, it will be remembered among the generation’s greatest.

But, as fights go? Well, maybe it wasn’t the greatest. As predicted here, Mayweather’s superior footwork proved key, along with his ability to keep Pacquiao at bay with frequent clinches. The action of the bout was muted, to say the least. (But I enjoyed it, for the record, as an exhibition of Mayweather’s defensive skills.)

So, “Money” improved to a remarkable 48-0, the “Pac-Man” reported an injured shoulder, and the next wave of lawsuits and controversies were quickly born.

Let’s move on. Please.

This week offers a stark contrast, as we profile a less glamorous affair, and one where — get this — an absence of clinching may prove key.

Kickboxers Artem “Lion” Levin and Simon “Bad Bwoy” Marcus, two of the top five in the world at their weight, will meet tomorrow in the main event of GLORY 21 in San Diego, with Levin’s GLORY middleweight championship on the line — and I think this will make up for any lack of fireworks last weekend.

Instead of a $99 price tag to watch at home, it’s available free Stateside in the US on SPIKE TV at 11 pm ET/PT, or 10 pm Central; and in another contrast with last weekend’s show, both fighters are 28 years old and seem at the prime of their careers.

GLORY lists their champion Levin as having a 54-6-1 record. The native of Siberia is known (predictably) for toughness, and athleticism combined with a flashy kickboxing style. He has adapted well from full Muay Thai rules, which incorporates elbows, to the GLORY rules which bans the tactic and the long stretches in the clinch which are a staple of the Thai “Science of Eight Limbs.”

A recent highlight video from GLORY included an interview where Levin is described by commentator Bill Goldberg as having “incessantly watched films of Roy Jones & Muhammad Ali in his teenage years” — and you can see it in his style. At his best, he bounces at odd angles with hands low, launching spinning attacks and punishing punches to head and body.

“GLORY rules, this is made for me,” Levin boasts. “(Marcus’) main weapon is his clinch. I respect Muay Thai. This is my favorite sport; I respect this culture. For my skill (however), this is much better.”

Levin showcased all his skills in his last GLORY appearance, at the ill-fated GLORY 17 even in Los Angeles. That night, he beat three opponents in one night, including rising star Joe Schilling in the finals, to capture the inaugural middleweight title.

Simon Marcus, a native of Toronto, Canada of Jamaican origins, is listed at 42-2-1 by GLORY. He also comes from a Muay Thai background, where he has won numerous titles — including one in 2013 for the US promotion Lion Fight, against Levin himself.

That night, Marcus recovered from being dominated in the clinch early on, to take control of the bout. He snapped Levin’s head back a few times with a front kick and acquitted himself well in punching exchanges. But it was in the clinch where victory was sealed for the “Bad Bwoy” — who landed hard knees and elbows, and even snapped his opponent to the mat several times.

In recent years, he has seemed increasing comfortable with GLORY rules, moving more like a boxer with hard hand combinations, and fewer clinches. In his own bout with Schilling at the GLORY 17 tournament, Marcus landed a hard right hand between his opponent’s gloves for an early knockdown. But Schilling would come back, and score an upset with a fourth round knockout.

In another promo from GLORY, Marcus tells Goldberg describes the process of transitioning and notes that his key to victory is a matter of being “100% focused on my game. As long as I’m on point, I’m going to be the victor.”

He may be right. Maybe tomorrow will mark another corner turned by Marcus, who seems a bit younger in ring years than Levin, who is listed by some sites as having 92 total fights.

But I’m not betting on it. Levin has an advantage in size and also appeared a bit more athletic on all fronts in their previous bout. That night, a Marcus victory was carved out by his mastery of leverage in the clinch, which likely won’t come into play under GLORY’s rules.

There’s just not enough separating these two to see a knockout, so look for this to go the distance. But Levin’s arsenal of spinning attacks and punching to the head and body, along with a jab he strangely abandoned in their first encounter, to carry the day.

As always, enjoy the fights!