It's been a while since Artem Levin has graced the GLORY ring. The last time he was in action was June of last year at Last Man Standing, where he put on a remarkable performance at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
On that particular summer evening, "The Lion" feasted on Alex Pereira, Filip Verlinden and Joe Schilling to win the inaugural GLORY middleweight title and $200,000 in prize money. The final of the eight-man tournament versus Schilling was a rematch from the GLORY 10 final where Levin lost by decision after an extra round. When a rubber match between the two is finally made, it will likely go down as one of the biggest fights in GLORY's history.
Recently, the reigning middleweight king was in Hampton, Virginia, for GLORY 19. On fight day, he was sitting quietly on a couch by the bar inside the Embassy Suites Hampton Roads Hotel. If you didn't know him, you wouldn't pick him out of a crowd and say he looks like a fighter. With his calm demeanor, leather jacket, and designer shoes, Levindefinitely appears to be more important than your average Joe, just not the calculated killer he is inside the GLORY ring.
"I feel good," he told MMAmania.com after being asked how life has been since winning the title. I feel that everybody can see who is the best. I showed it. I am best in the world."
Levin, 28, was more chatty than expected. His Russian accent is heavy, but his English is quite good nowadays, even though he apologizes for it. He mentions that he's "feeling strong" and looking forward to getting back into the GLORY ring.
The captain of the Russian National Muay Thai Team recently moved to San Diego, California. "It's perfect," he said. Good weather, sand, beach." He starts to chuckle and adds, "After Siberia, this is very good."
"Sometimes I live here. Sometimes I live in Russia," Levin continued. "What better for my career? If I have fight in Europe, my camp is in Russia. If I have fight in United States, my coach and sparring partners from Russia from my gym, will come here. First of all, this is all for my career."
Monday's announcement made it official that Levin would be defending his title at GLORY 21 on May 8, 2015 against the GLORY 20 middleweight tournament winner. Levin had already discussed that as a possibility and broke down the four potential opponents, three of which he has faced already in his career.
The GLORY champion mentioned Simon Marcus first, who he lost to at Lion Fight 9 in March 2013. Marcus has lost his last two fights in a row, both by knockout. And Levin thinks that is cause for concern.
"I think this is difficult for him," Levin said. "I think he must rest. This is terrible and not good for his career and no good for his mind and for his psychology. But this is his decision."
Next he weighed in on Marcus GLORY 20 semifinal opponent, the No. 5-ranked Wayne Barrett:
"Wayne Barrett is strong guy, good punches, knockout punches," he said. "But, Jason Wilnis showed me and showed people what need weapons against Wayne Barrett (Wilnis defeated Barrett at GLORY 18). It was a very good fight. I like this fight. I respect Wayne Barrett. I think he has interesting style. Similar like me but different."
At GLORY 10, Levin defeated Wilnis by decision in the semifinal round of that night's tournament. He called the Dutch fighter a "strong guy" and said he "will fight until the last second."
Wilnis is taking on Alex Pereira in the semifinal round of the GLORY 20 tournament. Levin defeated the No. 4-ranked Brazilian in the quarterfinals of GLORY Last Man Standing and he thinks Pereira is the one who will win it.
"In my opinion he is the favorite," Levin said. "I fought against Wilnis, Marcus and Pereira. I know everybody."
Levin frustrated the Brazilian over the course of three rounds in a dominating performance at Last Man Standing. Many said it was an easy victory, but the champ disagrees.
"For example many times Joe (Schilling) will say 'my fights are more tough.' I not agree because he had tough fight against Simon Marcus, but not against Wayne Barrett," Levin explains. "If I not have tough fight, this is my style. I didn't give a chance for my opponents to have a tough fight against me. It may look easy, but I felt his punches. Big guy, long reach."
Should Levin successfully defend his belt at GLORY 21 the talk of a trilogy fight with Schilling will heat up once again. Schilling just defeated Robert Thomas at GLORY 19 and is set to fight at Bellator 136 against Rafael Carvalho on April 10, 2015.
"Everybody wants this fight between me and Joe Schilling," said Levin. "I want this fight. Joe wants this fight. Combat world wants this fight. But, I want this fight in Russia. Joe wants it in United States. But, If I am the best, I must fight everywhere. For me, it doesn't matter where, when or with who. I want to give big competition for Russia. In Russia there are many people who like Combat sports and GLORY. I think if GLORY comes to Russia no have problem. Will have full arena."
Levin revealed that he has had discussions with GLORY brass about about his desire to fight in his native country. "I say in interviews and to GLORY. I hope in future. We will see."
Schilling and Levin are fierce rivals but they share a unique relationship; one that is filled with a huge amount of respect and admiration. At Schilling's Bellator debut where he knocked out Melvin Manhoef, Levin was there in support of him and ran up to the cage after the win and high-fived him. Not something you usually see between a champion and No. 1 contender.
"First of all, we respect each other," said Levin, who was brought in by Schilling to help train Nick Diaz for his UFC 183 fight against Anderson Silva. "I respect him. I understand him. He is difficult person. He is interesting character. But, I understand him and we are professional. I respect him for his heart.
"We are not close friends but we respect each other. I can say that I respect him and he is my friend and if he need my help I help him. This is outside the ring. Inside the ring it is war and our fight... it will be war. I'm ready for this. Joe is ready for this. We are professional fighters and we understand this."
Before the interview wrapped, Levin was asked about his walkout song, "Feeling So Good Today," by Beau Williams. The track is featured in the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Kickboxer. The GLORY champion is a huge fan and began to train in Muay Thai after watching his movies as a child.
"My dream is to see Van Damme," he said. "Very many people start training Muay Thai after his movies, seeing kickboxer or Bloodsport. I like when I meet some hero from my childhood. For example, today I met Mike Tyson."
Tyson, of course, was a guest of the promotion for GLORY 19. The former heavyweight champion is also a childhood hero of Levin, who admitted to geeking out like many others who met him, except he kept it hidden inside.
"I said 'hello' and keep my poker face but my heart beat so fast because when I was a baby, for me, he was a hero and I had many pictures in my room," Levin said. "It was poker face like it doesn't matter for me, but It wasn't true," he laughed.
Now 6-1 in GLORY competition and 50-4-1 overall, Levin will start his training camp, watch how the GLORY 20 middleweight tournament plays out, and set his sights on his first-ever middleweight title defense at GLORY 21 on May 8, 2015 in San Diego.
"I wait for who will be my opponent," he said. "I promise people around the world you will see a strong Artem Levin."