When the GLORY team were in the process of establishing the organization as the world’s premier kickboxing league, there were certain goals in mind.
One was making sure that all the best fighters were under contract and would face each other several times a year. Another was a commitment to finding young talent and rising stars from around the world. A third was the implementing of a formal ranking system which would see fighters move up and down with each event.
Young light-heavyweight prospect Michael Duut is one of the earliest beneficiaries of the GLORY structure. This time last year he was a relative unknown. Now, thanks to consecutive wins and his hyper-aggressive style, he has cracked the Top 5 of the light-heavyweight rankings and has a spot in the upcoming GLORY 9 tournament in New York.
It is surprising to learn that Duut is only 22 years old. He has a large frame and huge hands, but in conversation he still has traces of the youngster in him. Despite his youth he is a surprisingly complex character. He has been married to his childhood sweetheart for nearly five years and they have two children.
“We knew each other from when we were really young and we got married and had two children. So I am 22 years old now and I have a three year-old and the youngest is one and a half. It’s for them that I am fighting for,” he nods.
“I love my kids and I want to give them the best life that I can give them. Everyone who stands opposite me in the ring opposite is trying to get in the way of that, and I can’t let them.”
Young family aside, it is also clear that his father played - and still plays - a huge role in his persona as a fighter.
“When I was about ten years old I had a fight outside the house, out in the street, and I got beaten,” reveals Duut, leaning forward and looking into the middle distance as he recalls the incident which would turn out to literally shape his life.
“The kid was about 14 years old. He gave me a bloody nose and I went in the house crying and making a load of noise. Well! My father went crazy at me. He said I cannot come home like this, because the kid would never leave me alone again. My father was really angry at me; he took me back out into the street to fight the kid again.
“I was still crying but this time I was really mad too. I just started to punch him; I hit him with my right hand and he went down and he didn’t want to fight any more. That was really the start of it. That was the first time I knocked someone down.
“After that, my father took me to the local kickboxing club. He made me take training seriously; I had to run in the mornings before school, after school would be training and then I would go home and do my homework. Often I wasn’t allowed out to play with my friends or go somewhere. It was all training.”
Nowadays, Duut’s father has an intense pride in his son’s career and that is only growing as Duut makes his way up the rankings. But he hasn’t yet been able to see his son fight at a GLORY show. “He can’t really travel. He’s sick; he’s not a well man,” says Duut sadly. “But I think for New York he will come. I hope he can.”
For someone who is flying up the rankings so fast, it is amusing to see Duut’s reaction when people start talking about the ranks to him.
In Milan an interviewer began recounting the names from #1 down to Duut’s then #7 ranking. He got about three names in before Duut literally cried out and put his fingers in his ears so that he could not hear any more of it. The recitation duly stopped and Duut was asked to explain his reaction.
“I don’t care about it,” he snaps. “I don’t want to hear any of it because it will only make me mad. Gah! Rankings are only numbers - Danyo Ilunga is ranked at number one, but is he really the best in the world at this weight? I’m not really that impressed by him… we will see.”
Duut might get his chance to see what Ilunga is made of next month. Ilunga is taking part in the GLORY 9 NEW YORK light-heavyweight tournament; he and Duut could meet, but only in the final. Duut’s first opponent in the tournament is the outstanding Tyrone Spong, a very tall order. But Duut’s GLORY career has been characterized by tall orders, starting with a late-notice fight against Dustin Jacoby in London.
Jacoby stopped three opponents in one night to win the inaugural Road to Glory tournament and earn a spot on the London card. Duut knocked him down three times in one round to end their fight and break the American’s heart. Two months later Duut stepped up on late notice again, this time to fight the multi-time international Muay Thai champion Steve McKinnon at GLORY 7 MILAN.
That was a fierce, gritty fight. Over three rounds Duut tried to take McKinnon’s head off while McKinnon returned the favor by kicking Duut’s legs and body over and over. It was a close fight too; the judge’s decision came in for Duut and the crowd disagreed, probably swayed by McKinnon’s total dominance of the third round.
But fights are not won on single rounds and afterwards Duut could not believe the reaction. “Why were they booing? Did they think I didn’t win the fight, really? What fight were they watching!? I was making the fight! I was going forward all the time, hitting him in the head all the time,” he fumed backstage.
“He was making kicks to the body but I blocked everything on my arms. So that doesn’t count. It would score points in Muay Thai but not in kickboxing. I don’t understand what they were booing. The first two rounds I won. Round three I would give to him, OK, but that’s only one round. That doesn’t win him the fight.”
Duut is right about that; McKinnon’s body-kicking would certainly have racked up points under Muay Thai rules. The native martial art of Thailand looks similar to kickboxing, to the untrained eye, but there are big differences in scoring. McKinnon knows a lot about it, having held several world titles in Muay Thai, but Duut had never heard of him.
In fact, he never even bothered looking him up until he got back to the fighter’s hotel after the event and started messing around on the internet in the lobby. Adrenaline from the fight was still surging through him and he couldn’t sleep.
“Wow, he is really something eh? I just looked him up now. I never really look at my opponents before the fight, actually I didn’t even know his name properly. I had to search for him just now,” he said as he scrolled through McKinnon’s Wikipedia entry.
“He’s won some serious titles… and I see he has a win over Paul Slowinski. Hmm, OK… Well, he was good. He was very tough. Now I know why!”
Later that same night Duut is back in the lobby and is being interviewed. Between answers he sits playing with his mobile phone, browsing what appears to be an extensive library of dubious video content and showing it off with the infectious enthusiasm of a schoolboy. But the smile fades instantly the second he is asked what his goals are in the sport.
He puts the phone down and fixes the interviewer with a hard unblinking stare as he ticks them off. “I want to be the champion. I want to be the best. I want the title belt. I want the number one spot, and I want the money. And for that I would do anything,” he says.