Inglewood-California can be synonymous with many things: movie stars, smog, traffic, In-N-Out Burger and Palm Trees to name a few, but on Saturday night, it was all about kickboxing as GLORY invaded the famous Forum for GLORY 17 and "Last Man Standing."
The Russian, Artem Levin, proved why he is the No. 1-ranked GLORY middleweight by winning three times in one night and dispatching of Alex Pereira, Filip Verlinden and Joe Schilling in the final to become the first-ever GLORY middleweight champion and win a $200,000 prize to go along with it.
In the first fight, Levin came out fast and furious and dictated the pace against the Brazilian, Pereira, at one point cutting his left eye, and frustrated him for the entire nine minutes to advance on to the semifinals with a unanimous decision. He would go the distance in the semifinal round as well, with another great performance over the savvy veteran Filip Verlinden, who had won a decision over Melvin Manhoef in the opening round.
The final would be a rematch of the GLORY 10 tournament final, that Levin lost in a bonus round to Joe Schilling last October. "The Lion" would overcome the crazed hometown crowd that Schilling had in his favor to land a knockdown with a spinning back fist and go on to his third unanimous decision of the evening to be the "Last Man Standing" and win the middleweight title.
"All of the fights were really tough, all of the opponents were tough," Levin told MMAmania.com afterward, after he hobbled in to the presser. "Physically, and mentally, because the final was a rematch."
As far as who was the toughest to face out of the three opponents, he replied, "I would have to say the first fight was more challenging because I didn't know how the night was going to go, so it was a lot of pressure in the first fight. I wanted the first fight to go well."
That wasn't the only headline of the evening in a night filled with story lines. Schilling deserves honorable mention for his 2-1 night in the historic venue that brought the crowd to its biggest ovations and cheers.
Schilling, who GLORY chairman Pierre Andurand called "fighter of the night," exacted revenge on an old adversary, Simon Marcus in the opening round, with a vicious right hand that knocked him out cold. "Stitch 'em up" got knocked down by a straight right in the second, but the California native did enough to force an extra round.
After losing his mouthpiece for the second time in the round, referee John McCarthy halted the action and deducted a point for stalling. When the action resumed, Schilling knocked it out for a third time with a devastating right hand that sent Marcus to the floor for his first-ever career loss in 40 pro fights and the crowd went absolutely insane. Schilling would avenge another loss in the semifinals as well, defeating Wayne Barrett by unanimous decision in a rematch from GLORY 12, before succumbing to Levin in the tournament final.
Middleweight wasn't the only division that had a title on the line at "Last Man Standing," as there were title fights in both the welterweight and heavyweight divisions.
"Bazooka Joe" Valtellini would triumph in a thrilling battle over Marc de Bonte to become the GLORY welterweight champion, with a unanimous 47-46 decision from all three judges. Valtellini scored a crushing knockdown early with a high kick that de Bonte managed to get up from. That seemed to wake the Belgian fighter up though, and Valtellini started to fade late. De Bonte would knock Valtellini down in the fourth round with a jumping knee that dropped the Canadian. Valtellini would hold on and was ecstatic to fulfill a childhood dream and win the title in front of his friends and family.
"It's amazing," said Valtellini, who said he felt he won the first three rounds over de Bonte. "I have 14 professional fights. I'm here to make a stand and I'm here to keep getting better."
The only disappointment of the evening was the heavyweight title fight between Daniel Ghita and Rico Verhoeven. For all the talk between the two, especially Ghita, it did not play out as many fans and media were expecting. Both fighters were overly cautious early, and Ghita was trying to play Verhoeven's game in the opening rounds; his corner could be heard shouting instructions for the Romanian to wait and counter strike.
Verhoeven is the younger fighter of the two and while neither fighter dropped the other, Ghita landed some thunderous body kicks, but Verhoeven would do enough of what he does best, which is winning technical battle, to win the GLORY heavyweight title by unanimous decision.
"I was feeling good. I was making the fight and pushing the pace," the new heavyweight champion said post fight.
As for the bad blood between the two, Verhoeven said they spoke afterward and "things are cool."
"I asked him, 'are we good?' and he said 'of course'" Verhoeven revealed. "It's just hyping the fight. We haven't seen each other for awhile. We are all athletes. We are all sportsmen and it is what it is."
Just don't expect them to start training together again any time soon.
"We are both on top, so anytime in our career we can fight each other, so it's not possible to train together. We can just say hi," he said.
GLORY head of talent operations, Cor Hemmers, wouldn't reveal any future plans for any of the new champions, saying he will let them rest up and enjoy their victories before the next match ups are made.
A tournament may be in line for Verhoeven next, since the No. 5-ranked Errol Zimmerman won the heavyweight "Contender" tournament at GLORY 16 in Denver.
The No. 1-ranked welterweight, Nieky Holzken is still out with an injury, but that will most likely be the first title defense for Valtellini. Holzken defeated "Bazooka Joe" in the finals of the GLORY 13 welterweight tournament back in December.
There were plenty of words leading up to the main event, but when it was over, both fighters shook hands and hugged one another.
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic landed the cleaner and more significant strikes over Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller throughout the course of their three-round contest at GLORY 17, to earn a unanimous decision victory; his first in GLORY. Miller stormed across the ring to try and intimidate the Croatian legend before the introductions were over, but when the action started, he wasn't able to get much going and never made good on his pre-fight promises of "retiring" the legend he referred to as "Cocoa Cop."
Filipovic connected with a couple of good body kicks and threw a few of his patented high kicks, but only one got through in the third round and it was a glancing blow. The majority of the battle was won by the veteran fighter, outboxing the undefeated 25-year-old pugilist and landing the more significant strikes than that of his opponent.
At the post-fight press conference, "Cro Cop" revealed he almost had to pull out of the main event against Miller.
"I was very close to canceling the fight because I got a very bad infection in my elbow," he said. "It was a tough fight and I think we showed a great performance."
The co-main event of the evening was actually shorter than GLORY ring announcer Tim Hughes brief interview with rock icon Gene Simmons that preceded it. Simmons was promoting the next Kiss concert that will be at The Forum in August; Ristie took all of 35 seconds to drop Hollenbeck with a vicious left hook to end the American's night in the opening round.
Ristie is back in the win column after losing the lightweight title fight at GLORY 14 in Zagreb, Croatia, to Davit Kiria, who was a replacement for Hollenbeck. The Dutch-Surinamese fighter likened the punch to that of a swat from a "pussycat" at the post-fight presser, and the room erupted in laughter. "Like a tiger," Ristie laughed, after realizing the humor of what he just said.
Earlier in the week, Ristie had whispered something to Hollenbeck at the GLORY 17 weigh ins. He revealed to MMAmania.com later in the evening that he informed his opponent that he was "going to have to pay" since he had dropped out of GLORY 14 and his replacement, Kiria was the one who beat him for the title.
Also on the card was the four-man featherweight "Contender" tournament that saw Gabriel Varga defeat Yodkhunpon Sitmonchai, and then Shane Oblonsky, to hoist the Ramon Dekkers trophy that is modeled after one of the late kickboxer's trophies, and given to each non-title tournament winner.
Varga looked impressive in his first fight of the night, a semifinal victory over Yodkhunpon Sitmonchai by unanimous decision. In the other side of the bracket, American fighter Shane Oblonsky knocked Marcus Vinicius down in the third round in a fight he controlled throughout to score a 29-26 unanimous decision.
In the tournament final, Varga won another hard-fought unanimous decision in a closely contested bout to become the featherweight "Contender" tournament champion. By winning the GLORY 17 tournament, Varga locked up a spot in the featherweight title tournament that will take place later this year.
That's a wrap.
For complete results and play-by-play from both GLORY shows click here.