ROSEMONT Ill.–Christian Baya (60-5-1) has been eyeing Sitthichai Sitsongpeenong, the current GLORY lightweight champion, ever since he began fighting in the promotion.
“I knew from the beginning, that’s the top guy in my weight division, so I had to keep an eye on him to see what he’s all about,” Baya told MMA Plus, shortly after weighing in on Thursday morning inside the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Hotel. The No.2-ranked GLORY lightweight was sitting quietly in the back with his girlfriend of five years, Naomi, awaiting a rules meeting.
Since joining GLORY, “Bad News” has plowed through his competition, winning four straight fights, including the GLORY 42 lightweight “Contender” tournament, to earn his shot at the title.
He’s grateful for every positive step he’s taken along the way.
“I appreciate every moment,” said Baya. From the first fight at GLORY, the second one, the tournament, and now the title fight. I appreciate everything.”
Born in Germany, Baya, 26, is Angolan and fights out of the Netherlands. He represents Angola when he fights because “it represents my mom,” he said. And winning the GLORY title as an Angolan fighter “would really mean a lot,” he added.
Training among the many talented fighters at Mike’s Gym under the tutelage of the world renowned trainer Mike Passenier, Baya had to be patient until his time arrived.
“Well, I always told Christian when he just came to me and we spent quite some time together, I said, ‘Listen, I’ve got kind of a plan for you,” Passenier told MMA Plus. “Just let me do my thing, you do your thing, and we will be fine.’ And my thing with Christian was he needed a lot of fights.”
Baya began fighting in the King of Kings promotion, and Passenier said in one of his first years coaching him that “Bad News” fought 16 times, and lost only once. “That’s how he made his rounds, his experience,” said Passenier.
“I just had to be patient, and it paid off,” said Baya. “I kept training hard and now I’m here.”
Baya will have his hands full with Sitthichai, who is on a six-fight winning streak and now 7-1 in GLORY. The champion has been extremely difficult for his opponents to figure out, and his left round kick is one of the best weapons in all of kickboxing. And so are his knee strikes. Sittichai finished Dylan Salvador with a crushing knee to the body in his last fight with GLORY at GLORY 39 last March.
Baya was asked why Sitthichai has been so successful.
“I think because he’s got very good eyes,” he said. “He sees a lot of things coming and he has good footwork. He’s a smart fighter. That’s it.”
“He’s always got a good game plan laid out by his trainers,” said Passenier. “And he sticks to that plan. It’s worked for a long time now. He’s very consistent in the things he’s doing. That’s what has made him a good fighter so far.”
What is Baya’s path to victory?
“Just get him out of his comfort zone,” Passenier said. “You want to fight with him because everybody–especially the last couple of fights he had–everybody was adjusting to his fight, to Sitthichai’s fight. So, we are going to do that differently.”
Said Baya: “Put the pressure on him. Keep the pressure on him”
“If you wait for him, if you play his game, the Thai people are very known [for that], they’ve done it longer than everybody else, this kickboxing game,” said Passenier. “If you wait for that, you are never going to win.”
As for Baya’s attributes, he has incredible punching power for the weight class, as evidenced by his one-sided thrashing of Samo Petje at GLORY 49.
“His biggest asset is the quickness of his eye and the power behind it,” said Passenier. “When you are in an altercation you see a little opening, boom, it’s there. And he hits hard like he has a stone in his glove or something. Everybody hits a little bit hard and he’s hitting extremely hard at that weight category.”
In addition to his power, Baya says he has a “bit of everything,” and that he will need it all in order to beat Sitthichai.
“It takes more than just power to defeat a guy like Sitthichai,” he said. “You have to be smart about it as well, and use all of your weapons.”
Baya’s girlfriend Naomi said she is “always” nervous before watching her boyfriend fight. But he is anything but that and was just sitting calm and cool ahead of the biggest fight of his career.
He shared the keys to his mental game.
“Just go for it. Don’t doubt myself and keep believing in myself that I can beat him.”