Nieky Holzken won the vacant World Welterweight Championship at GLORY 23 LAS VEGAS in August with a stoppage win over Raymond ‘Real Deal’ Daniels. The title previously belonged to ‘Bazooka’ Joe Valtellini but when a health issue forced the Canadian to take a prolonged break from competition, he chose to vacate the belt rather than see the division become stagnant.
In December Holzken will make his first defense of the belt, fighting in the co-main event of GLORY 26 AMSTERDAM. His challenger will be determined at GLORY 25 MILAN on Friday November 6; the Welterweight Contender Tournament winner will be the one who goes forward to face him. It’s a crucial tournament for the division, so let’s take a look at the line-up.
First we have Karim Ghajji of France. He hasn’t fought for us since GLORY 13 TOKYO when he lost to Aleksander Stetcurenko. That defeat followed losses to Nieky Holzken and Joe Valtellini, the current and former champion, and saw him return to the French circuit. He has since gone on a seven-fight win streak, including a win over Stetcurenko in a rematch, and now makes his GLORY return in Milan.
There is no shame in losses to Holzken and Valtellini, especially as they were both very close fights, he was not outclassed in any way. You can’t say anything bad about Ghajji’s quality because of those fights and in fact he is probably the strongest fighter in the tournament right now. His confidence is high and he is chasing a rematch with Holzken, which he gets if he wins this tournament. Ghajii is the #1 at this weight in France, as underlined by the fact he has two wins over Yohann Lidon, who is also a contender for France's #1 spot. Ghajji is 2-1 over Lidon in their three fights so far and he won the last two encounters, the most recent being in 2013. Actually Lidon may be invited to test his skills in GLORY next year so we may see a rematch in France. Keep an eye on the GLORY news streams for developments there.
Nicola Gallo is a wildcard entry because of the locality. Under GLORY rules, one spot in a tournament can go to a local fighter. If you look at past form and rankings, really he is the biggest underdog of the tournament, but maybe the home soil advantage will have an effect.
He fought Jonathan Oliveira at GLORY 5 LONDON and was surprised in the first round with two knockdowns. He actually came back from that to dominate the final two rounds of the fight, but he wasn’t able to overcome the points disadvantage from being knocked down twice.
There has been some heat between Murthel Groenhart and Holzken so it will be cool for the fans if Groenhart wins the tournament. He is from Amsterdam and his team Mike’s Gym are there, facing Holzken in Amsterdam would be a big thing for him. It would be a hard fight with a good build-up.
Groenhart has Gallo in the first stage of the tournament so he has a more favorable start than the other guys but at the same time you cannot underestimate Gallo. Groenhart’s performance against Sugden in Las Vegas was not so impressive and his form has been very inconsistent lately so he really needs this win. This is a very important fight for his career I think.
Yoann Kongolo is a newcomer but he looked good in France and seems to have the right quality so this is really an opportunity for him to break out and show people what he is about. He has been putting some nice wins together. He has trained hard for this tournament. He has spent time in Las Vegas, USA working with professional boxers - he is also a professional boxer as well as kickboxer - and for the last month has been at Mike's Gym in Amsterdam for hard kickboxing sparring. Actually he sparred with Groenhart there, so it will be interesting if they meet in the final.
So, for this tournament I think that Ghajii has to be considered the favorite and then I think Kongolo is the second favorite. Whoever wins their fight in the semi-finals has a strong chance to win the tournament, though it depends how much damage they take in the process. Groenhart is favored to beat Gallo but his latest fights he’s been a little off, for some reason he seems to be hesitant about pulling the trigger and letting his shots go, so if Gallo really works hard and puts the pressure on him maybe that is a way for him to take control of the fight.
As for names not in the tournament: Raymond Daniels is still up there in the rankings but he lost to Holzken twice now and the latest fight was only in August so it made no sense for him to take a spot here. Chad Sugden would have been in there but he is healing an injury right now.
Karapet Karapetyan is also eligible but didn’t fight for a long time - he has been busy being a lawyer - and said he wouldn’t be ready, so he is on the Amsterdam card instead. Aleksander Stetcurenko was also eligible but he was in the last contender tournament so for this one for I thought we would give him a miss in favor of Ghajii. And we are back in France again soon, early in 2016, so it will be good for Ghajii to have that momentum - if he wins.