On the same night that Murthel Groenhart won the world welterweight championship from Cedric Doumbé in Chicago, Harut Grigorian won the Welterweight Contender Tournament.
The win puts him in line for a title shot and thereby a rematch of one of the most controversial fights in kickboxing history. Their GLORY 42 encounter, which ended in the second round by way of a controversial blow thrown (legally) from behind, resulted in a chaotic ring invasion, the video of which went viral worldwide.
That incident took place in June. Grigorian could have been forgiven wanting to sit the rest of the year out after suffering such a brutal finish; instead he put himself forward for the GLORY 44 CHICAGO tournament.
Any doubts about the effect Paris may have had on him were quickly dispelled. Grigorian entered the ring in superb physical condition, having channeled his frustrations and energies into his training and then his fight-night performance.
Tournaments are grueling; hard on the mind and hard on the body. Tournament tactics require fighters to give consideration to their condition for the next fight as well as the one underway.
Usually, tournament fighters will go for a quick finish in the semi-finals. But if that doesn't materialize, they will often begin fighting a little more conservatively in order to save energy and avoid taking damage which could hinder them in the final.
Sensible strategy it may be, but it’s not one for Harut Grigorian.
He went to war with Karim Benmansour in the semi-finals, going three of the hardest rounds of full-power fighting that the GLORY ring has ever witnessed. Benmansour was under attack from the opening bell and though he gamely defended himself, Grigorian’s onslaught was just relentless.
Grigorian’s nine-minute assault on Benmansour was balanced against nine minutes of all-out counter-attack from Grigorian. Both fighters ended the bout wearing blood spatters and grazes, Benmansour more so than Grigorian, and the judges’ decision was unanimous in the Armenian’s favor.
In the other bracket, Antoine Pinto - born in Thailand but raised in France - met with Zach Bunnell of Nevada, USA, who entered the tournament on two weeks’ notice following the withdrawal of Casey Greene due to injury.
Both fighters are Muay Thai stylists and on paper it should have been a favorable fight for the vastly more experienced Pinto. But Bunnell was not there just to make up the numbers; he gave Pinto problems and made a competitive fight of it, although Pinto’s performance did suggest he had his mind on damage-avoidance.
And so the tournament final consisted of Grigorian and Pinto, contrasting Grigorian’s battering-ram style with Pinto’s balletic finesse. If the semi-final had taxed Grigorian he showed no sign of it, setting about Pinto with the same wild abandon with which he had berated Benmansour a few minutes earlier.
The contrast in styles was apparent, Grigorian being a heavy puncher who hardly ever kicks and Pinto being primarily a kicker, albeit one who uses his hands much more than Grigorian ever uses his kicks.
Grigorian set about him with trademark ferocity, showing no indication of fatigue from his earlier war with Benmansour. The fight went at a frantic pace and Pinto was fighting on the back foot for most it, trying to counter Grigorian’s forward pressure with kicks.
Some heavy kicks were landed but Grigorian simply ploughed on through them and went to work. Bombs rained down on Pinto repeatedly and if he proved any one thing about himself in this fight, it is that he has a rock-solid chin; many fighters have been felled by the same shots he absorbed from Grigorian.
In the third and final round Grigorian clicked things up a gear. The crowd were brought to their feet by an astonishing toe-to-toe barrage of hooks a minute into the round and again sixty seconds later by a superman punch which came out of the blue and made Pinto lose balance.
When the final bell sounded both fighters raised their arms in the air, but the decision was a foregone conclusion: Grigorian had bounced back from his GLORY 42 disappointment with a career-best performance to win the tournament.
After winning the tournament he returned to the arena to watch Murthel Groenhart take the belt from Cedric Doumbé. Grigorian returns to his home in Holland with the tournament winners’ trophy, armed with a title shot and thinking how doubly sweet the revenge would be if he can take the title from Groenhart when they next meet.
Harut Grigorian def. Antoine Pinto , Unanimous Decision, R3 (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Antoine Pinto def. Zach Bunnell,, Unanimous Decision, R3 (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Harut Grigoran def. Karim Benmansour, Unanimous Decision, R3 (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)