It’s not every day that you’re asked to step into the ring with the top-ranked fighter in the world, but that’s exactly the situation that American kickboxer Ky Hollenbeck has found himself in for Glory’s third event on Nov. 3 in Rome, Italy.
With numerous other striking organizations falling by the wayside in recent years, Glory has risen to the pinnacle of the sport. To infuse excitement back into the sport, Glory has elected to use the one-night, eight-man tournament that was made famous by K-1. The promotion has gathered eight of the top 70-kg (154-pound) kickboxers for the event, including current world No. 1, Giorgio Petrosyan—Hollenbeck’s opening round opponent.
“I definitely didn’t get an easy draw,” Hollenbeck told The MMA Corner with a bit of a laugh. “It’s good though, I got into the sport to test myself and I get to do that here.
“It’s a tough draw, but I’m not disappointed about it. I wasn’t looking for an easy route to the finals. If I do end up winning, I want to earn it.”
To do that, Hollenbeck will have to solve the sport’s most dominant fighter over the past decade. The Armenian-Italian has gone 72-1-2 in his career, collecting two K-1 MAX titles in the process. But even with all of the accolades of his opponent, Hollenbeck has found a way to relax.
“Everyone counts you out when you’re fighting someone like Petrosyan because they expect him to win,” he declared. “If anything, the pressure is a little bit relieved. I have that underdog status, where there’s nothing to lose. There’s no point in being stressed out about it. I get to go out there and prove everybody wrong.
“If you start to think about what you’ll do if you lose, you’ve already lost. It’s a win-win fight for me. Everyone counts you out from the beginning when you’re fighting the No. 1 guy in the world. If you lose, it was supposed to happen. If you win, it’s a huge upset. As long as I fight a good fight, I’m going to be happy with the outcome. I will leave the ring knowing that I gave it everything I had and I will have no regrets.”
Defeating Petrosyan is no small order for any fighter, but Hollenbeck is confident that his style is unlike anything his top-ranked foe has seen to date.
“I have a very unorthodox, untraditional style,” Hollenbeck explained. “Petrosyan is that calculated, textbook-like fighter. He knows exactly what to do if you throw something he knows how to counter.
“[But] the textbook is just for traditional kickboxing or Muay Thai. If I throw unorthodox attacks that most people wouldn’t throw, it has the potential to take him out of his game and bring him into mine. I’m always moving forward and I think that’s going to help me in this fight. I have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing to keep him uncomfortable.”
Unfortunately for Hollenbeck, even if he finds a way to score a win over Petrosyan, he’ll have to win two more fights to claim the tournament. Making that task even more daunting is that the field also includes the likes of Albert Kraus and Robin van Roosmalen.
” I don’t think anyone has an easy route to the final,” said the American. “The eight of us are supposed to be the very best of this weight class. Shemsi [Beqiri] is another tricky fighter and he’s in my side of the bracket. I trained with him and he is no slouch. There’s no easy fight in this tournament. It didn’t matter if I drew Petrosyan first or someone else, there’s going to be tough fights throughout.”
One interesting twist about Hollenbeck’s skill set is that in addition to his kickboxing career, he has competed in MMA. Although he has focused solely on striking for the past three years, Hollenbeck still trains jiu-jitsu with Ralph Gracie in San Francisco. While it isn’t likely to help his techniques in the ring on Saturday, it may help his gas tank over the course of three potential fights in one night.
“Cross training is always beneficial and the grappling helps me with my body awareness and balance,” said Hollenbeck. “My conditioning is usually pretty solid. I’m used to going five, three-minute rounds and with the breaks in between [fights], I should be able to go at full speed the whole time.
“If I try to pace myself in the first round against Petrosyan, and then lose, there was no point to it. I’m going to try go 100 percent through all three fights. I’ve been focused on being the aggressor and pushing the pace.”
With Glory providing him with an opportunity to earn a quarter-million dollars, it’s no wonder why Hollenbeck has kept his attention on the ring and not the cage. Yet, he won’t rule out a return to MMA if the situation were right.
“I need to find out if I can make more money doing [MMA],” he explained. “There’s no retirement plan in fighting. You have to make a bunch of money so that there’s enough to survive on when you’re done. If I can make that kind money doing kickboxing, great. But in the US, that doesn’t seem likely. MMA is likely a route I need to start thinking about if I’m going to continue doing this as a career.”
At just 25 years old, it’s clear that Hollenbeck has his priorities straight. While many fighters would plan to spend the potential prize money on lavish material items, Hollenbeck would rather have stability.
“[I'm] a lot more practical than most people would expect,” he joked. “I want to buy a house; that’s my main goal. I want a roof over my head.”
On Nov. 3, he’ll have the chance to make that goal a reality. As the lone American in the field, Hollenbeck plans on representing his country well, but he doesn’t believe the country’s kickboxing hopes are his alone.
“I’m an ambassador for kickboxing in the US,” he said. “I don’t feel that the weight of the US is resting on my shoulders. I have enough things to worry about without that added pressure. I plan on showing everyone my skills and performing to the best of my abilities.”
Top Photo: Ky Hollenbeck (Ben Pointer/Glory)