Three years away from the ring. Three years in which Remy Bonjasky had grown older while the new generation of prospects ripened and matured into the contenders of today. The question hanging over this fight was whether Bonjasky can hang with the prime young men of the heavyweight division - and the answer was "Yes."
Bonjasky hadn't been offered an easy comeback either. GLORY had welcomed him with open arms but only if he was willing to test himself against a rising star and prove that he could be competitive in what is by far the kickboxing world's toughest and most stacked division. And so Bonjasky found himself opposite Anderson 'Braddock' Silva, the man who nearly beat the very dangerous Badr Hari earlier this year, at Vorst Nationaal Arena.
Braddock's name may not be as big as Bonjasky's but, make no mistake, he is not someone who puts a lot of store in fame. A win over Bonjasky would have been enormous for his career and so he put his all into the bout. The pace was incredible from opening seconds, with both men hammering low kicks into each other repeatedly as they sought to slow the opposing man down.
There were extended leg-kick trades several times as the pair went back and forth, one for one, until one of them did something to break the cycle. But by the mid-point of round two it was plain to see that they were each feeling the hurt from the strikes they had taken on the thighs, strikes which would have rendered a normal man unable to walk.
The tremendous pace of the fight meant that by the second half of the final round both of them were showing signs of fatigue. But they did not slow down for a moment - Braddock wanted the big win on his record, Bonjasky wanted to prove that he was back as a contender and not just a marquee name. So when the third round ended, the judges had it neck and neck. An extra round was ordered.
Bonjasky won it via superior cardio. He was marginally less tired than Braddock and he was able to be busier. It was a close-run thing but in the judge's eyes Bonjasky had done enough to earn the decision victory. Braddock didn't agree - he was certain he had won the final frame - but most observers felt he had run out of gas before Bonjasky had.
"I'm glad to be back," Bonjasky said afterwards. "I had to overcome many obstacles to get into this fight. Not only was it my first fight in nearly three years but just a few weeks ago I tore both hamstrings in training and was stuck in bed for a few days. I was actually going to pull out but I have a superb physiotherapist who was able to get me through it.
"It feels great to be back. Braddock is what, 25 or 26? He is ten years younger than me and is coming into his prime. But we had a great fight and I think I showed that I am still relevant. Now I am going to prepare for the GLORY Grand Slam event in Tokyo this December. It's the biggest tournament kickboxing has ever seen and its going to be harder than any tournament I have ever taken part in. I can't wait."
A dejected Braddock afterwards took solace in the fact that he had faced a living legend. "When I was young I used to watch Remy on the TV, he inspired me to start fighting. So for me to face him in the ring is a dream, and I am happy with my performance.
"Actually I think I won the final round and I think I won the fight but the judges didn't so, what can you do? I will enter the Grand Slam in December and between now and then I will have done a lot of work to fix some things."
Pierre Andurand, Chairman of GLORY Sports International, saluted both Bonjasky and Braddock after the match. "We deliberately gave Remy a tough comeback fight because we wanted to see immediately that he was still able to compete at the highest level.
"And he showed tonight that he can; Braddock is a very tough opponent and has now given two of the top names in the sport some of their hardest career fights. He lost the fight tonight but he gained a lot of fans and a lot of respect. He has nothing to be ashamed of."
You could have cut the tension in the air with a knife as Gokhan Saki and Mourad Bouzidi squared off in the co-main event. Saki has a legion of devoted followers thanks to his all-action style and his no-nonsense, almost macho attitude. Bouzidi is more measured in personality but also has a large fanbase and so the air crackled with anticipation.
Nobody knew what would happen, except that blows of incredible power would be exchanged. Both have serious knockout power in their hands. Saki has a superb left hook, powered by a compact body that lets him drive all his energy and mass into the shot. There is more than a little of Mike Tyson in Saki: small for a heavyweight but with masses of power and a beautifully fluid style.
Bouzidi isn't as fluid or as fast as Saki but he is capable of knocking a brick wall out with one punch. It was a just a question of getting to land one, as Saki was in the driving seat very early on and had no intention of sharing. Indeed once Saki landed an earth-shattering left in the second, the fight became more about whether Bouzidi could survive being knocked out.
There are no words to describe the onslaught that he endured for much of the middle period of the fight. Saki had a rabid crowd urging him on and Bouzidi was on wobbly legs. Wedged against the ropes, Bouzidi was eating full-force Saki left and right hands, uppercuts and body kicks as the Turkish-Dutchman hunted for the finish. Willpower and strength alone saved Bouzidi from being ended early and his display of heart won over even the Saki fans, who warmly applauded him as he left the ring having lost a unanimous decision.
Nieky Holzken had his work cut out for him. Not only was he facing a legend, he was doing it in front of that legend's home crowd. Murat Direcki had a hugely successful career and fought a who's who of lightweight kickboxers before recently announcing his retirement to concentrate on running his school and training the next generation of fighters.
But the call of the ring proved too much and when he heard that GLORY was planning to visit Turkey - his familial homeland - he had to be part of the company's roster. So the gloves went back on and he agreed to meet Holzken in a 78kilo welterweight fight. Holzken has serious momentum building up, not least thanks to his body-shot KO win at the April event GLORY: Stockholm in his last outing.
The fight was everything it promised to be, a meeting of two masters who were an equal match in setting and answering questions for one another. Combinations, blocks and counters were in abundance as the energy flowed back and forth in what was probably Fight of the Night. Such was their proximity to one another that they repeatedly bumped heads, though not maliciously.
Durecki was bleeding badly from the scalp by the end of the second round and that prompted the doctor to wave the fight off in the interval before the third round. It was a shame that such a glorious fight ended that way but Durecki did himself proud. After the fight he confirmed that he will be back to training full-time in hopes of appearing on a rumoured 'GLORY: Istanbul' card.
They call Murthel Groenhart 'The Pretty Boy' and on the basis of tonight's showing, it's not just for his good looks. His nickname used to be The Predator, borne of his dreadlocks and the mask he wore on the way to the ring. But since shedding mask and mane, Groenhart has looked beautiful in more ways than one.
His opponent was Marc de Bonte, well-known to the Muay Thai cognoscenti in Europe for his technical precision and good number of knockouts. De Bonte recently decided to concentrate on kickboxing in order to make both big money and a big name for himself and this was his coming out party.
Round one was superb. With a lot on the line, both men were ready to give it their all and the exchanges were fierce. But Groenhart's brain was working like a computer and when he spotted a flaw in De Bonte's defence - he sometimes dropped his left hand when throwing his right - it was stored away for future reference.
In round two, the research came to fruition. De Bonte went to throw a huge right hand that would have caused chaos had it landed. Instead it barely got halfway - Groenhart launched a deadly knee improbably high, pulling De Bonte onto it as he did so. Jaw and knee met with a considerable thud and De Bonte dropped instantly. He lay with a bemused expression as the referee gave him the full ten count then called the fight off.
Croatian heavyweight Igor Jurkovic considers Mirko 'CroCop' Filipovic to be his personal hero. Having trained occasionally with the kickboxing legend, Jurkovic knows he has a lot to live up to if he is to emulate his countryman's exploits on the world stage. His opponent Gregory Tony was making a return to kickboxing after a sojourn as a professional boxer and so heavy hands were the order of the day for both.
It was clear very early that the power advantage lay with Jurkovic, who was quick to close the distance and let go with massive hooks which rattled Gregory even through his guard. Gregory fired back when he could but his workrate was noticeably lower than Jurkovic's. Afterwards it transpired he has a fracture in his right hand, an old injury which reopened.
That takes nothing away from Jurkovic however. His power punches were too much for his French opponent to handle and when he started delivering full power to the body, Gregory began to crumble. He was dropped three times in quick succession by punches to the body, causing the referee to step in and end the fight in round two.
It was a mixed night for Japan as Koichi Pettas stopped the American veteran Mark 'Fight Shark' Miller in the second round with a superb right hand that capped off an impressive GLORY debut for him. Fellow heavyweight Fabiano 'Cyclone'Aoki wasn't so lucky. Aoki - who is half-Brazilian and lives in the same town as Lyoto Machida, who he knows personally - was up against the solid prospect Filip Verlinden.
Verlinden is known for a high standard of boxing and he demonstrated this with superior hands, head movement and footwork as he out pointed Aoki over the course of three rounds. The Brazilian-Japanese fighter made a fight of it but Verlinden was landing the cleaner strikes and was ahead on all the judges' scorecards at the end.
Jhonata Diniz hails from Curitiba, Brazil. It's the same city that produced Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua and Jose Pele Landi-Jons and if you know any of them then you will have a fair idea of Diniz's fighting style. This was his European debut, having been picked up by Glory's international scouting network earlier this year.
He faced the experienced Sebastian van Thielen and passed his high-pressure test with flying colours. Even experienced pundits were looking round at each other with raised eyebrows as Diniz got to work in the first round. The meaty thuds were audible round the arena as he hammered kicks into Thielen and while he wasn't able to get the finish he definitely did his home city proud and earned some new fans in the process.
Jamal Ben Saddik turned 22 just three days before this fight yet was the biggest and heaviest man on the main card. His height and reach have had him likened to a 'Moroccan Semmy Schilt' - although his fighting style is very different to the Dutch legend's. Ben Saddik has all the impetuousness of youth and was in a clear hurry to put Wilnis away early.
The first round brought some spectacular moments from the youngster, including a 360-degree spinning head kick effort known in some circles as a Tornado Kick. But Wilnis - vastly more experienced - proved a tough nut to crack and Ben Saddik's lack of conditioning cost him dear over the duration of the bout. By the third round he was being comprehensively outworked and, while his potential remains vast, he has to address the shortfall in his fitness for his next fight.
Alex Vogel took the fight against Marat Grigorian on short notice after original opponent Mohamed 'Mootje' Kamal was forced out. But he always stays fighting fit and so he was able to make it a hard night for Grigorian over the nearly three rounds that the fight lasted. The two had ferocious exchanges at close quarters and Vogel was hacking away at Grigorian's left leg with low kicks that were having obvious effect.
But nothing could stop Grigorian coming forward and he repeatedly forced himself into inside-fighting range where he could let a barrage of hooks go. Vogel is nicknamed 'Iron Head' for good reason and it was remarkable that he stood up to as much as he did, but late in the third Grigorian was able to pile on the pressure and even Vogel's legendarily rock skull couldn't cope. He went down hard and he stayed down, giving Grigorian a huge KO win in front of his ecstatic countrymen.
Danyo Ilunga trains under Remy Bonjasky and says that he tries to emulate his mentor's clean technical style as much as possible. Ali Cenik is from Turkey and says that he most strongly admires the explosive power of his fellow Turkish-descent heavyweight Gokhan Saki. And so the match looked set to be a clash of styles.
Instead it saw both men go toe to toe for the full duration of the bout, exchanging huge power shots and looking for a big highlight-reel knockout. Ilunga kept reminding himself to keep it technical and when he did so he looked superior, imposing his distance and flowing into nice combinations. But Cenik kept surging forward with power-shots and asking Ilunga for war, to which Ilunga acceded.
Both had given and taken damage going into the third and the pace was frenetic. In the final frame Ilunga's superior condition began to tell and he was able to land more cleanly and more frequently than the tiring Cenik. The judges returned a unanimous decision for Ilunga and while he is happy with the result, he said afterwards that he is unhappy that he allowed himself to be drawn into trading power shots. "I have many things to work on," he laughed.
Andy Ristie was the picture of impassivity as he got to work in the first fight of the Glory 2: Brussels main card. He had Nordin Ben Moh moving backwards almost immediately and was putting him on the end of long jabs and push kicks to gauge his range for the power shots that were coming shortly afterwards.
It took Van Noh several minutes to relax and get into the fight; when he did, he landed a nice jumping left switch-kick to Ristie's jaw. That earned him little more than a little nod and an indication to bring more of the same. But when Ben Moh duly obliged moments later, Ristie put a huge hook onto his chin; Ben Moh fell hard from mid-air and was out before he hit the deck.
Undercard fights - Glory 2: Brussels starts with a bang
There was explosive action on the undercard of Glory 2: Brussels, with three kickboxing matches and two MMA fights starting the Belgina capital off in style. Lightweights Dries Geerts and Nafi Bilalovski were first up and set the pace in style with a no-stop back and forth fight that ended with a decision for Geerts.
Next was a heavyweight clash pitting the enormous Thomas Van Este against the smaller but much more technical Daniel Jodro. Weighing in yesterday at a whopping 105 kilos, Van Este used his weight to his advantage with heavy forward pressure that smothered his more mobile opponent. Jodro was busier but the effort of constant movement was tiring for him and - despite knocking Van Este down with a head kick in round two - he lost a unanimous decision and looked noticeably fatigued next to the still relatively fresh Van Este.
Following them were two lightweights taking their first steps onto a major platform. Lefterio Perego and Kenneth van Eesvelde got straight to work. It was Van Eesvelde who got the result first, landing a left hook that staggered Perego. A huge flurry from Van Eesvelde followed and while Perego held on bravely, he couldn't cope with the three knees to the head that were landed on him in quick succession. He went down and stayed down for a ten-count, handing Van Eesvelde the first KO win of the evening.
The MMA fights both featured Japanese fighters. Tatsuya Mizuno faced Jason Jones and was outworked and outgunned on the way to a unanimous decision loss, while DEEP champion Yuya Shirai faced the Belgian standout submission artist Tommy Depret. The fight nearly ended with a rear-naked choke win for Depret but Shirai hung on, only to be taken out via TKO in the third round after Depret battered him through the ropes.
- HW: Remy Bonjasky def. Anderson "Braddock" Silva by Majority Decision (4-1) in an extra round.
- HW: Gokhan Saki def. Mourad Bouzidi by unanimous decision.
- 78kg: Nieky Holzken def. Murat Direkci by TKO (Cut) in Round 2.
- HW: Filip Verlinden def. Fabiano Cyclone Aoki by unanimous decision.
- 79kg: Murthel Groenhart def. Marc de Bonte by KO (Knee) in Round 2.
- HW: Igor Jurkovic def. Gregory Tony by TKO (3 Knockdowns/Liver Shot) in Round 2.
- HW: Koichi Pettas def. Mark Miller by KO (Right Cross) in Round 2.
- HW: Jhonata Diniz def. Sebastian van Thielen by unanimous decision.
- HW: Jahfarr Wilnis def. Jamal Ben Saddik by unanimous decision.
- 71kg: Marat Grigorian def. Alex Vogel by TKO (Right Low Kick) in Round 2.
- 97kg: Danyo Ilunga def. Ali Cenik by decision.
- 70kg: Andy Ristie def. Nordin Benmoh by KO (Left Hook) in Round 1.