I never understood why Muay Thai or Kickboxing never took off in America with the UFC. It’s not uncommon to hear boos at the local sports bar when the fights hit the ground. Clearly people want to see a kickboxing match. One of the most common critiques for one of MMA’s greatest champions, Georges St. Pierre, is basically that he wrestles too much.
When a fight stays on the feet it stays exciting. Anything can happen at any moment. It’s almost stressful it’s so exciting. It’s beautiful to watch a person navigate the uncertainty of split second timing and stay calm while another equally skilled killer throws haymakers and head kicks at them with malicious intent. It seems obvious that most American combat sports fans would agree.
MMA and the UFC have certainly helped to increase popularity in the striking-specific combat sports and have done a lot of the footwork in creating a fan base for combat sports outside of boxing. However, until recently, these highly exciting fights never seemed to take on American viewership, there seemed to be something missing.
In June 2013 this started to change when common combat sports fans all over America started to notice the excitement of Glory Kickboxing. Glory World Series brought some the baddest men from all over the planet to New York to showcase some of the highest-level kickboxing in the world live on Spike TV. Since Glory 9, the first Glory event in America, American viewership for sport Kickboxing has steadily increased with each event. According to MMApayout.com, Glory 11 saw 381,000 viewers on Spike TV. Glory 12 had 476,000 viewers, Glory 13 had 659,000 viewers and the last Glory card in Denver, Glory 16, peaked at 815,000 viewers.
So what’s changed? What was missing before that they seem to have put together now? How can we keep Glory growing? Eric Haycraft is a talent agent for Glory and one of the best Dutch style kickboxing coaches in the world. He regularly goes out of his way to get information to the fans about Glory in any way he can. He found the time to answer some questions while waiting on a flight to Amsterdam where his wife, Lindsay Haycraft, and another one of his top-notch fighters, Adam Edgerton, will fight on Enfusion 18 this Sunday, May 25th.
(I was asked to spell/grammar check his responses because he was responding with his phone through Facebook Messenger while waiting in the terminal and I omitted the pleasantries because that’s just a waste of your time.)
Pure Muay Thai has never really taken off in the states like Glory has – what has Glory done differently?
Haycraft: Muay Thai historically has presented many issues with mainstream popularity. While it has a remarkable network around the globe, big events with substantial TV deals, big prize money has eluded that sport. If you take a look back to modern combat sports inception, 1993, the year both K-1 and UFC launched, you can how those sports out paced Muay Thai. I believe there are a few reasons.
First, the playing field was hard to crack into. The Thais are hands-down the best at their sport. The 90’s also saw Songchai (probably the largest international Thai promoter) really branch out into Thailand vs. the world events. Really amazing events, the Thais were just much better at their own game to keep a steady stream of top foreign fighters in line.
Next was the pace of most fights. Top-level Muay Thai fighters do so many subtle things that general fans miss or don’t understand which get lost in translation to international television audiences.
Lastly, and this is just my own personal theory, the sport was marketed too heavily on cultural points. Too much emphasis was placed on the wai kru and all the celebrated Thai customs. General sports fans pay the bills, not the hard-core base and I believe it was just too much for general sports fans to take in. The music, the mongkol, and the garlands, it’s just all very distracting for casual fans.
Coming back to Glory’s march into the US market, you can see first, a real budget to acquire the very best talent, and a production that TV can get behind. Another massive difference is timing. MMA really created a much larger fight fan base that had a better knowledge of kickboxing and even Muay Thai than ever before in the USA. While most fans may not know the bulk of our fighters, they can recognize a few, and most importantly, they have a pretty good idea what kickboxing is! Glory put the right talent, the right staff, and the right production team into play at the right time!
It’s still very early into this thing. Glory has a long way to go but there is no denying this is the biggest impact kickboxing has ever had on the US market.
It seems that the success of Glory was also aided by making some changes to the rules and the model of the fight itself, what changes where required to make this sport jump off in the united states in terms of rules?
Haycraft: Sports fans are pretty easy to please. They want fast paced, dangerous action. Through the 90’s kickboxing’s formula went through some changes, less clinching to speed up the pace and ultimately this increased the K.O. ratio. Five round fights dropped to three round fights to also put urgency on the fighters. Tournament formats also proved very popular.
Glory came in and tweaked these rules. One thing is bringing back MORE clinch and knee possibilities but demanding fighters use it to the fullest. The next thing you see is that, knockdowns aside, spectacular techniques that land are weighted heavy in scoring. This inspires Glory fighters to perfect and bring amazing moves to the ring.
It’s a real challenge to get folks from different kickboxing sports to fight the Glory “style” rather than just their style within the Glory rules set. But now it’s beginning to take hold!
Personally, I love tournaments, in one night a casual fan who knows nothing can really get to know a fighter in watching him fight twice in the same event as opposed to the typical one and done type of card. Do you think this format has helped as well?
Haycraft: Certainly. The four-man tournament format has allowed us to bring a tournament and amazing super fights along with world title fights to Spike TV time and time again. Fans have seen the challenges of a four-man tournament. June 21 we bring back our eight-man tournament format and the drama increases exponentially! It’s going to be amazing!
(June 21st is Glory’s first-ever pay-per-view event where they will have their first 8-man tournament, the winner of which will have to fight three times in one night. Glory: Last Man Standing)
What else can be considered to have helped Glory to find success in American markets?
Haycraft: The athletes. It’s no secret that kickboxing is much more popular internationally than in the USA. While young American kick boxers aspire to the level of the international stars, those same stars have all dreamed of fighting in the USA since they started their careers. The USA has always been one of the sports capitals of the world and the last frontier for our sport. These guys are laying it all on the line every single event to really show that this is the most exciting sport in the world.
How does glory keep growing? What can we do to help?
Haycraft: It takes time. Every event brings in new fans and more exposure. As long as more and more people keep tuning in and supporting the upcoming pay-per-view, Glory will keep expanding in the USA. It won’t take long once we are truly established and start having our own US stars playing in the big leagues. We have a few now but there will be a lot more!
Spread the word! Remind everyone of the June 21 live spike event followed by our first PPV event – arguably the best kickboxing card ever in the USA!