The Doubletree Hilton in downtown Zagreb, Croatia, played host to Thursday's press conference to promote GLORY 14, featuring Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic vs. Remy Bonjasky and to say the main lobby was busy would be a major understatement.
In the midst of fighters being escorted in and members of the operations and PR team shuffling about, stood GLORY CEO, Andrew Whitaker.
Whitaker is not an easy man to pin down by any means, but time was permitting, so he sat down at a small table near the lobby bar and shared a few minutes of his time to discuss Saturday's main event, the strength of the one-night tournaments, and the continued growth of GLORY in the U.S. and abroad.
The announcement of Filipovic signing to fight under the GLORY banner was met with great excitement among fans. Already a world renowned and popular fighter, Filipovic would join all the other top stars GLORY has in its stable. Whitaker explained how setting up the fight in "Cro Cop's" hometown against fellow kickboxing legend Bonjaksy made sense.
"We have a very good cooperation in Croatia, and certainly Mirko 'Cro Cop' is a legend not just in combat sports around the world, but in his home country," he said. "That intensifies things even further. He's facing -- which of course many people know -- Remy Bonjasky, after 12 years. That was the last time they met one another. It was a natural main event match-up to have for GLORY 14."
Having a fighter fight in a main event in the confines of his hometown is a unique event, especially in a country like Croatia, but don't look for a pattern to develop after this event, it just happened to come together that way for GLORY 14.
"I don't think we would generalize like that," Whitaker said about the possibility of other fighters being in a main event in their native country. "If you've seen our other events, it's a mix. It's not one sort of size fits all. The market conditions were right here for GLORY 14 here in Zagreb to put together such a match-up. But if you look at our other events the match-ups are just top talent, top stars for GLORY. It's not necessarily a formula. It was a natural inclusion for delivering an event in Eastern Europe."
Whitaker has already viewed Arena Zagreb, calling it a "state of the art venue." The shape and features of the arena are a lot different than the typical attributes others usually display, and the GLORY CEO says it should really translate well for the television viewers.
"Without question," he said on the uniqueness of Arena Zagreb. "It's an elongated footprint. A strong facility, a good facility, and we expect to see it looking very good on television on Saturday."
The staple for every GLORY card has been the one-night tournament. GLORY 14 will feature a middleweight "Contender" tournament. The winner out of Dustin Jacoby, Alex Pereira, Sahak Parparyan, Dusin Jacoby and Jason Wilnis will earn a spot in the middleweight title tournament later this year.
The first three events on Spike TV showcased tremendous one-night tournament performances including Ricco Verhoeven winning in Chicago, Nieky Holzken winning in Tokyo and Andy Ristie -- who faces Davit Kiria at GLORY 14 -- winning in New York. Whitaker called the latter's performance in New York "tremendous," and said it "speaks to the excitement and the possibilities within the four-man tournament and what kind of attraction it can deliver."
"We've had a lot of success in a fairly short period of time both home and abroad with our television broadcast partners delivering the tournament in one night," Whitaker continued. "The four-man tournament in one night, beginning, middle and end. It's a strong, strong, format. We are very happy with the results they have achieved so far. We certainly expect going forward to have a lot more success delivering just the same."
Whitaker wears a very happy and confident expression when speaking of the strides GLORY is making. He is definitely pleased with how the promotion is doing and the direction they are heading, but he isn't content or complacent.
"There's a lot more to do as of course as I think we've talked about before," Whitaker stated. "But I think we've seen in the last 12 months a rapid acceleration in the caliber of television production for GLORY, number one. We've seen really a six-fold increase in the amount of television content we are producing out of each TV shoot. These are all fundamentally important things to delivering the brand on a country-to-country basis."
"The correct staircase of ratings both in the countdown to GLORY pre-fight programming and then subsequently to that, the live two-hour broadcast of the GLORY numbered series has been exactly what we wanted to see. Certainly our partners both in America and internationally have been very, very happy with the evolution of the property. We've seen the same staircasing of the other businesses also: sponsorship, the delivery of media rights, value for the property. We will have this also, the delivery of a pay-per-view offering as well. So there is a lot more to do, really we've only just begun."
As for when a possible pay-per-view venture would be, Whitaker had to remain tight-lipped on the details, saying, "Well I can't really comment on the specifics at this particular juncture, but we have confirmation that we will be doing pay-per-view in the near term, and we look forward to delivering something extra, super, spectacular for the fans of GLORY all around the world."
Heading into its fourth show on Spike TV and seeing a curve in growth on a ratings basis, Whitaker says it's a "good indicator that there is a market for something else different from boxing and something else other than MMA." Using the U.S. as a barometer as far as live shows and programming are concerned will be the "litmus test of where the GLORY brand is going," he explained.
"We've seen the data now that the growing audience is taking to the property now and that is a very encouraging and very flattering," he said very modestly. "We are delighted to see the process."