Rico Verhoeven (James Law/GLORY)Eight Fighters Enter, One Leaves: An Ode to the Combat-Sport Tournament Rob Young June 6, 2014 Spotlight There is something about the allure of the tournament that makes for great combat-sport moments. Of course, there were the original one-night tournaments in the early Ultimate Fighting Championship events, the legendary Pride Grand Prix tournaments and the K-1 World Grand Prix. The greatest thing about them has always been their unpredictability. Often, promoters seemingly attempt to manipulate the brackets to reach an intended final showdown between two huge stars, the most infamous of which would be the Pride 2003 Grand Prix where Pride superstar Wanderlei Silva and UFC poster boy Chuck Liddell were pitted against fighters they were both expected to emerge victorious over in order to meet in an explosive finale. Silva did his part by taking a decision over Japan’s favorite son, Olympic judo gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida, but Liddell was upset by rising star Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and was sent home, along with his close friend and guest Pride commentator Dana White, without a Grand Prix championship or the desired match-up versus Silva to show for it. Another great thing the tournament format allows for is the making of a new star emerging from relative obscurity. In the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix, a “Super Samoan” by the name of Mark Hunt took the kickboxing world by complete surprise, running through a murderer’s row of Jerome Le Banner, Stefan Leko and Francisco Filho to win the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix championship, which vaulted him into overnight superstardom in Japan. Another star born from the combat-sports tournament was Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, considered a heavy underdog in the Pride 2005 Middleweight (205-pound) Grand Prix. Rua made short work of his division’s crème de la crème, dispatching the aforementioned Rampage, as well as Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and, in the final match, Ricardo Arona to go from Chute Boxe bit player to the No. 1 light heavyweight fighter in the world almost overnight. The format also has its downsides, of course, especially in the one-night format still seen in kickboxing. A fighter can have the fight of their life in the semifinal round, only to be too exhausted and/or injured to put forth a substantial effort in the final round. This was the case in the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix, where Peter Aerts and Semmy Schilt put on an epic war that ended up being one of the most memorable kickboxing matches on its own. Aerts emerged as the victor, but was clearly drained after defeating the giant Schilt, and this was only the semifinal match. He had a relatively fresh Overeem (no longer 205 pounds at this point in his career, to say the least) waiting for him who had taken out Tyrone Spong and an injured Gokhan Saki earlier that night to earn his spot in the final match. Just as the aforementioned Saki was softened up for him by Daniel Ghita, Overeem had an easy match in the final versus “The Dutch Lumberjack” Aerts. The way to tell if someone actually watched that Grand Prix or is just mindlessly spouting Wikipedia results is quite easy. The results will show that Overeem was the best fighter that night, winning what ended up being the last legit K-1 World Grand Prix. Reem was the one wearing the leafy crown thing and doing the subsequent publicity tour with such Japanese dignitaries as Razor Ramon Hard Gay. But if you watched it, then you know that the true hero of the night was none other than the sleeveless flannel shirt-clad Aerts, looking better than he had in ages in pulling off what few other fighters could at that time by vanquishing the defending champ. It was one of those wars where neither man was the same after. Mark Twain once said that “truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities,” and the compelling narratives that emerge organically from the combat-sports tournament prove him right time and time again. Unfortunately, the UFC no longer does tournaments, Bellator’s tournaments take too long and don’t feature many highly ranked fighters, Pride is long gone and K-1 still exists in name only. GLORY Kickboxing has picked up the mantle, however, and put on some great one-night tournaments in 2013, such as a thrilling middleweight tournament just outside of Los Angeles that saw California’s own Joe Schilling go from local sensation to breakout star, a heavyweight tournament that saw Rico Verhoeven establish himself as a new breed of kickboxing heavyweight when he upset favorite Ghita in the final, and the welterweight tournament where Andy Ristie shocked the world by not only blasting former pound-for-pound king Giorgio Petrosyan in the first round but going on to knock out favorite Robin van Roosmalen in the final to win the tournament. On June 21, GLORY will be putting on its first cable and satellite pay-per-view show at the Forum in Los Angeles, featuring an eight-man middleweight tournament to crown the promotion’s inaugural middleweight champion. Former tournament winner and local Schilling and longtime fan-favorite Melvin Manhoef will be among the fighters vying for a shot at the title. If the past tournaments have taught us anything, there’s no telling how this will play out, and I, for one, can’t wait to find out.