Striking in MMA can be a very tricky proposition if you’re not prepared. The early days of the UFC are riddled with accomplished martial artists from all kinds of striking backgrounds – karate, boxing, taekwondo, etc. – all getting taken down, dominated and controlled by wrestlers and jiu-jitsu specialists, so much so that for a while grappling was considered to be the most effective form of combat. As with the most things, the truth was in the shades of grey. The striking specialists in MMA learned to be effective and defeat the grapplers once they learned the basics of wrestling and jiu-jitsu, not for offensive purposes but for defensive ones. If they could keep the fight on their feet they could lock the grappler into their world, a world of lightning fast kicks and combinations.
Since the early days, MMA has evolved into its own, complete form of combat, while other martial arts have more or less carried on as they were – but that isn’t a knock on their value as spectator sports. Boxing is still thrilling to watch for its own reasons, just like many grappling fans enjoy no-gi submission grappling events like Metamoris, a promotion that puts on jiu-jitsu fights. One combat sport in particular has picked up more of a following recently, and that’s kickboxing.
Kickboxing was always popular in Japan and other markets back when K-1 was the de facto king of the kickboxing promotions – but since the debut of GLORY in 2012, kickboxing is beginning to pick up steam in the United States. It’s an exciting sport that highlights striking technique and skills, and deserves recognition in its own right. Still, as an armchair sports fan, it’s always fun to speculate on which kickboxers could make it in MMA. There’s a huge precedent, since MMA stars like Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic, Mark Hunt, and Alistair Overeem (among many others) have successfully transitioned from kickboxing into MMA in the past. Let’s take a look at 10 of the best kickoboxers in the world today who should maybe consider giving MMA a go.
10. Wayne Barrett
Wayne Barett is an American kickboxer from Georgia who has attracted a considerable degree of attention in a very short period of time. With a professional record of 4-0, he is still very much a newcomer to the sport of professional kickboxing. He made his debut with GLORY – after just 1 professional fight – at GLORY 9, and has thus far gone undefeated even in the face of high quality competition. Although a striking specialist, Barett has sparred with MMA fighters such as Brian Stann and Douglas Lima at Renzo Gracie’s MMA academy in NYC, so if he chose to make the switch to MMA he’d have more than enough help.
9. Joseph Valtellini
‘Bazooka Joe’, the Italian-Canadian kickboxer from Scarborough, Ontario, made quite the splash in 2013. After going undefeated as an amateur and debuting as a professional in 2010, Valtellini amassed a 7-1 record before signing on to GLORY. His first fight for the promotion was at Glory 6: Istanbul, which was the first of a 3-fight winning streak. His success booked him a ticket to the GLORY Welterweight Championship tournament, where he made it the finals and came inches away from walking away with the victory, until Nieky Holzken exploded with the knockout punch with only seconds left in the fight to become GLORY welterweight champion. Valtellini, only 28, displayed impressive and intelligent striking, and with a good grappling coach could make an impact in MMA.
8. Nieky Holzken
The GLORY welterweight champion is 30-year-old Dutch kickboxer Nieky Holzken (left), who has accumulated a professional kickboxing record of 77-11. A veteran of the sport with 88 fights, Holzken would most likely not make the transition into MMA after being so deep and successful into his kickboxing career. Still, it’s fun to speculate! His 2013 fight with Valtellini (which was 2013’s Fight of the Year) demonstrated that he has tremendous knockout power that can be unleashed at any moment. Once he learned to defend takedowns and keep his fights on his feet, Holzken’s aggressive striking style could become hugely effective in MMA.
7. Robin van Roosmalen
Dutch middleweight Robin van Roosmalen has made a huge splash in the sport of kickboxing, and all before his 25th birthday. Now 24, Roosmalen has accumulated a 43-14-3 record in a very short period of time. He has big wins over Davit Kiria and Marat Grigorian, and his recent losses came to extremely high-level opponents in Andy Ristie and Giorgio Petrosayan. Roosmalen’s biggest advantage in regards to a potential MMA career is that he is still so young. Should he choose to pursue it (and he has the aptitude for it) he’d almost certainly have enough time to develop a strong skill set and become a threat before the age of 30.
6. Daniel Ghita
The heavyweight kickboxer from Romania is one of the most feared fighters in all of the heavyweight division. ‘The Savage Samurai’ has a professional record of 50-10, and outside of kickboxing was a special agent assigned to protecting the Romanian president. In short, the 33-year-old is a scary, powerful guy. Ghita made it to the finals of the GLORY Heavyweight World Championship in 2013 before losing to Rico Verhoeven (the two have a rematch scheduled for June at GLORY 17). Ghita, now 33, is perhaps realistically a bit too old to transition into a completely new sport. Still, it would be incredibly fun for the fans to see the exciting Romanian striker in an MMA ring.
5. Andy Ristie
This Surinamese kickboxer has a professional record of 44-4-1, and is widely known for his breakthrough performances in GLORY during 2013. In his first 5 fights with GLORY he accumulated 5 victories against notable opponents such as Robin van Roosmalen and Giorgio Petrosayan. He booked himself a ticket to the GLORY Lightweight championship match against Davit Kiria, but after a dominant performance ended up losing in the final round. At 32 years of age, Ristie’s window of opportunity for an MMA career is slim, but if he can apply the same work ethic and winning behavior that he has in kickboxing towards MMA, there is very little ‘The Machine’ cannot do.
4. Davit Kiria
The GLORY Lightweight Champion’s 2014 has been a Cinderella story thus far. After being down 4 rounds to none against Andy Ristie for the lightweight championship at Glory 14, Kiria exploded in the 5th round to knock Ristie down 3 times and secure the championship in a huge come from behind victory. The Georgian kickboxer has a professional record of 23-8, which isn’t exactly stellar, but has shown that he has the heart of a champion and is one fighter that you should never count out. At 26 years old he’s also relatively young, and his mental toughness and unorthodox karate background could be his biggest assets in a potential transition to MMA.
3. Giorgio Petrosyan
The man widely regarded as the possible best pound-for-pound kickboxer in the world comes in at #3 on the list, but why is that? Giorgio Petrosyan has a professional record of 76-2-2, an unprecedented and dominant professional record. Despite his recent loss to Andy Ristie, Petrosyan is still possibly the best striker on the planet. His ability to maintain control of distance and land shots without taking damage is potentially second to none in kickboxing, boxing, and MMA. The reason he isn’t #1 is that Petrosyan has accumulated way too much success to ever give MMA a serious thought. After 80+ fights, his body and movement has adapted to the rules of kickboxing. Like Floyd Mayweather Jr., despite being dominant at what they do, transitioning into MMA would be a mistake for their careers, but that isn’t going to stop us from dreaming about Petrosyan vs. Donald Cerrone in an octagon.
2. Gokhan Saki
Saki, the first-ever Turkish fighter to hold a K-1 championship, made his GLORY debut at the company’s very first event in mid-2012. Since then he’s been a mainstay with the company and has amassed a GLORY record of 7-2 (total professional record of 81-16). Saki is the first Glory Light Heavyweight champion, which he secured by defeating Tyrone Spong at Glory 15: Istanbul. At 30 years of age, Saki has all the necessary tools to make a career out of MMA should he choose. He’s demonstrated his striking is a force to be reckoned with in kickboxing, and there’s no reason that his particular style of stand up wouldn’t transfer over to MMA.
1. Rico Verhoeven
Rico Verhoeven’s ring name (‘The Prince of Kickboxing’) is entirely warranted. At only 25-years-old, Verhoeven has found himself at the top of the food chain among kickboxing’s heavyweights. With a professional record of 43-7-1, Verhoeven has proven he belongs among kickboxing’s best. He is expected to face Daniel Ghita in the main event of GLORY 17: Los Angeles (the company’s first foray into pay-per-view) to determine the inaugural GLORY Heavyweight champion. Should he be unsuccessful, the young Dutchman should contemplate picking up MMA. He’s already demonstrated his striking is world class, and if he can learn the grappling aspect of the sport from high-level coaches there’s no reason he can’t be a complete force in MMA. For Rico Verhoeven, the sky really is the limit.