Elvis Gashi (L) and Josh Jauncey at GLORY 43. Photo: James Law/GLORY Sports International

GLORY 43 didn’t quite look the part on paper before the event was to take place on July 14 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. But the wild and unpredictable nature of combat sports will often yield surprises–and so the event became arguably one of the promotion’s most action-packed cards of the year.

There weren’t any true title fights on the card, but the GLORY 43 Superfight Series main event between Pave Zhuravlev and Saulo Cavalari–which was elevated to an interim light-heavyweight title fight three weeks before the card–saw another solid performance by Zhuravlev, who claimed the crown. And more importantly for the promotion, two new stars were born: Elvis Gashi, who dismantled No.5-ranked lightweight Josh Jauncey and Kevin Vannostrand, who won the night’s featherweight “Contender” tournament to capture the Ramon Dekkers memorial trophy.

The event was a near sellout, which was a huge accomplishment considering the lack of star power on both the main card and the Superfight Series. With the promotion expected to return to New York City in December, it’s safe to say you will see a few big matchups next time, as well as the return of Gashi, a Bronx resident with a big local following.

Let’s now take a look at some of the big moments that took place at GLORY 43 this past Friday, and some of the developing storylines heading into the upcoming GLORY 44 card on August 25.

Elvis has arrived

The debut of Elvis Gashi was easily the biggest moment of GLORY 43. The Bronx fighter, who was born in Kosovo, had one of the greatest debuts in the history of the promotion. His one-sided dismantling of No.5-ranked lightweight Josh Jauncey was a gigantic upset and the biggest victory of the undefeated fighter’s career.

At the weigh ins, Jauncey said he was going to make Elvis leave the building. While he was having fun by paying homage to the “Elvis has left the building” line used often decades ago when the late singer was at the peak of his popularity, it was clear he wasn’t taking Gashi too seriously.

“Yeah, he thought he would knock me out in first round or second round, but it didn’t go what [sic] he thinks [sic],” Gashi told reporters after the event. “So, I finished him in second round.”

Gashi, who took the fight on three-weeks notice, told MMA Plus what he was thinking after scoring the first knockdown:

“I knew the fight was mine. In the first round I hit him with my left, I knew he was shaking. I felt, ‘the fight is mine.’ I went to my corner after the first round and I told my corner, ‘We got this. Don’t worry. We got this.’ He said, ‘I believe in you.’ It was good.”

Photo: James Law/GLORY Sports International

Gashi had been fighting for Friday Night Fights prior to GLORY 43. The promotion’s president, Justin Blair, who is now Gashi’s agent, was confident in his fighter’s ability despite thoughts to the contrary.

“When we first made the fight, I got a lot of calls from friends and colleagues who thought I was leading Elvis to a devastating loss,” Blair told MMA Plus on Tuesday. “Many suggested that by making this match, I was cutting his career short. I got a lot of flack about it.

“His abilities were obvious but what was most noticeable was his drive and confidence, all of which he kept to himself. This, more than anything was what differentiated him from most athletes. He’s a total gentleman and a professional who lets his actions speak for themselves and I just felt it was the right move for him.”

Gashi told MMA Plus he had been waiting for two years to get a shot at fighting in GLORY. The win over Jauncey was “the biggest fight of my career,” he said. The Peje, Kosovo native, who has over 100 amateur wins, remains undefeated at 19-0.

Friday Night Fights, which has been around for over 20 years, has served as a springboard for several GLORY fighters, including former welterweight champion and current GLORY colour commentator “Bazooka” Joe Valtellini, current middleweight champion Simon Marcus, former GLORY featherweight champion Gabriel Varga and UFC veteran Donald Cerrone.

With Gashi exploding on the scene in his GLORY debut, I asked Blair if he feels that Friday Night Fights is often overlooked since the promotion has produced legitimate talent.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have worked with a lot of talented athletes and as a result, established great relationships with the best gyms,” Blair said. “The sport is still in its infancy here in the US so it’s up to all of us to step it up. That said, I think that those familiar with our industry recognise us as a strong developmental show.”

Blair said to keep an eye out for fellow Friday Night Fights up-and-comers Chris Lukusa, who lost to Bahtosz Botwina by majority decision on the local undercard at GLORY 43, and Pawel Zawistowski. In closing, Blair made a point to mention that the path to the top is far from an easy one, and Gashi earned his shot in GLORY because he is a special fighter.

“Any athlete that wants to achieve what Elvis has and will continue to, must be brutally honest with themselves, which can be very difficult,” he explained. “Many athletes are looking for easy wins or are more focused on whats happening externally rather than internally. If you’re constantly posting on social media about how hard your training, you’re not focused on the right things. Practically everyone counted Elvis out and he knew it but he truly believed in himself. That belief was his biggest driver. Elvis was greatly appreciative of the opportunity and brings humility to whatever he does, but in his heart, he knew he belonged in that ring and that he would win. A lot of athletes lack that true confidence and without it, I don’t see how they can compete at the highest level.”

On Gashi, I will say this: GLORY needs to capitalise on his win over Jauncey immediately. Put him on the next card, whether it be Superfight Series or main card and push him hard. He just upset the No.5-ranked lightweight, he’s undefeated, and his name is Elvis. This isn’t complicated folks.

The Garden of Upsets

It’s worth noting that both GLORY cards to take place at The Theatre in Madison Square Garden have produced some major upsets. At GLORY 12, which took place in November of 2013, Wayne Barrett upset Joe Schilling in the main event. And in the night’s one-night, four-man lightweight tournament, Andy Ristie shocked the kickboxing world by knocking out Giorgio Petrosyan in the opening round. He followed that up by knocking out Robin van Roosmalen in the tournament final.

What’s next for Josh Jauncey after GLORY 43?

There is no way around it, the loss to Gashi was as brutal and embarrassing as you could possibly imagine for Jauncey. In hindsight, Gashi was a ton better than anyone expected. His record is impressive, but you never know how a fighter is going to perform on the biggest stage. Had it been reversed and Jauncey routed Gashi, no one would’ve been surprised. But the fact that no one had really heard of him prior to the bout, and the fact that he took the fight on short notice against one of GLORY’s best lightweights, all signs pointed to Jauncey getting his hand raised. That’s what makes the loss such a devastating one for the Canadian fighter.

Jauncey’s GLORY record is now 6-5, but in his defense, his losses are against Giorgio Pertrosyan, who is one of the greatest kickboxers to ever live, current lightweight champion Sittichai Sitsongpeenong, No.2-ranked Christian Baya, and No.3-ranked Anatoly Moiseev. It’s not like he’s losing to bums.

I think GLORY needs to build him back up before throwing him back into the deep end of the pool again. He can certainly use some time off to regroup after the loss to Gashi, which saw him get knocked down three different times. Perhaps they will give him an opponent outside of the top 10 of the division so he can build up some confidence again. But then again, I would not be surprised to see him placed in a four-man “Contender” tournament either. We shall see.

Kevin Vannostrand earns a shot at RvR

Vannostrand looked awesome at GLORY 43 and his aggressive and unorthodox style of fighting was excitedly welcomed by the New York City crowd. The Syracuse native made quick work of Mo Abduraham–who filled in for the injured Matt Embree–in the semi-finals of the four-man “Contender” tournament, scoring a pair of knockdowns in the first round to earn the TKO victory. In the tournament final, he earned a unanimous decision over Giga Chikadze to avenge a prior loss, which secured him a future title shot at current champ Robin van Roosmalen.

“143 [pounds] that’s my weight class,” he told reporters after GLORY 43. “I’m here to stay. I’m coming for the title and I’m not going anywhere.”

Vannostrand, who is now 5-1 in GLORY and ranked fourth in the featherweight division, dropped Abduraham with a spinning-back fist for the first knockdown in his semi-final bout and then ended it with a straight left hand.

Vannostrand (R) Photo: James Law/GLORY Sports International

“Mo is young,” he said. “I’m sorry, but I’m a little seasoned and I know what to do. He definitely underestimated me. I took advantage of it. I jumped on it. I knew I had another fight after him. I had to make the first one quick and painless and I did.

Did the quick semi-final win boost his confidence?

“Oh yes. After seeing Giga injured, oh yeah. You feed off it like a lion. Once you know your prey is injured, it gives you more energy and that’s what I did.

Chikadze squeaked past Aleksei Ulianov by split decision in the opposing bracket, but unlike Vannostrand, he came into the final banged up from the opening round.

“Giga got injured because of Giga. That’s his fault. I came to do my job and that’s just how the dice rolled. So, you take it how it is.”

Vannostrand was thrilled to avenge the GLORY 28 loss to Chikadze, which is the lone blemish on his 16-1 record.

“I fought Giga before off of a three-week camp. Three weeks training for a fight? Not really [enough]. I came back. This fight was an eight-week camp. I had two fights. I did my job. That’s it.

“Me and Giga, it’s done and over with now. I got my revenge. I can say I’m undefeated now. He beat me after three weeks, but I came back after a full camp and got my revenge. So in my head I’m undefeated. I just want to let everyone know, Syracuse is on the map. Here I am GLORY. I’m here to stay.”

When any fighter wins the “Contender” tournament they usually earn a title shot, but that isn’t always the case. Should Vannostrand get the shot at van Roosmalen, though, he is predicting it will be an action-packed affair.

“Oh, it’s going to be a battle,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a war. Oh yeah, I’ll be ready. Give me a time and a place and it’s on.”

A tough Break for Mr. Gentleman and a big win for Guto

The GLORY 43 heavyweight main event between No.1-ranked contender Benny Adegbuyi and Guto Inocente had some big swings in momentum, but after three rounds it appeared as if “Mr. Gentleman” would get his hand raised on a 29-28 unanimous decision. But that was not the case as Inocente would get his hand raised via split decision.

Sitting ringside, I had the first and third rounds scored for Adegbuyi, and gave the second to Inocente, who had Adegbuyi badly hurt for nearly the entire round, but couldn’t score the knockdown. Adegbuyi had Inocente badly hurt in the opening moments of the fight after connecting with a huge left hook, but the Brazilian recovered nicely. Inocente looked dog-tired in the third and Adegbuyi had his moments once again, and it looked like he may have been able to get Inocente out of there, but he couldn’t land a big enough shot to drop him.

Adegbuyi (L) and Inocente at GLORY 43. Photo: James Law/GLORY Sports International

“I got a little tired because in the second round I tried to knock him out, but he hold [sic] me and I got a little tired there,” Inocente told MMA Plus after the card. “I knew I won the first and second round, then in the third round I was a little tired.”

On who he wants to face next, Inocente said: “I went Rico [Verhoeven] or [Jamal] Ben Saddik, but anyone that GLORY puts in my way I will beat them and get the belt sooner or later.”

It’s a tough loss for Adegbuyi, but one he can easily bounce back from. And I’m not ready to scream robbery on the outcome. In a 10-9 scoring system, a three-round fight can often have a round that many judges and referees disagree on. I have not seen the scorecards, but I imagine the first round was the one in question, while the second and third were pretty clear to score for each fighter.

It’s a huge win for Inocente, who jumps up from No.10 in the rankings to No.4. This opens things up in the heavyweight division a bit. With current heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven slated for GLORY’s inaugural trip to China in the fall and also for the promotion’s December card in Amsterdam where he will face Jamal Ben Saddik, Inocente won’t be getting a title shot anytime soon. Nor would Adegbuyi, who has already lost to Verhoeven twice, had he won at GLORY 43. A rematch between the two really makes sense in my opinion. Although, Adegbuyi isn’t quite sold on one because he feels he was the rightful winner. He told me on Sunday, “What for? I won.”

State of the union at the mid-year mark of 2017

A fight card like GLORY 43 was just what GLORY needed. The attendance for GLORY 43 was 4,034 for a configuration that holds roughly 4,800. That is a big win for the promotion because the card didn’t have one GLORY champion on it and truly lacked star power. And fans stayed throughout the entire evening too. There was no mass exodus after the local fighters fought on the Superfight Series, which can happen sometimes. That means that fans were into GLORY Kickboxing despite what names were or weren’t on the bill. That’s important for future shows going forward. The promotion certainly left a good impression on the city and if some big names are on the bill for the proposed December show, combined with another appearance by Gashi, they may sell the Theatre at MSG out.

“The trend in the rise of ticket sales in the U.S. is real and undeniable,” GLORY CEO Jon J. Franklin told MMA Plus. He mentioned the gate for GLORY 43 was nearly double what it was the last time they were in New York, which was GLORY 12. And, he said GLORY 38 in Chicago saw a 60 percent increase in ticket sales.

Franklin continues to steer the ship in a positive direction as evidenced by last week’s announcement the promotion hired MP & Silva as media rights distributor for North and South America. MP & Silva has handled media rights distribution for the biggest sports leagues in the U.S. including NFL, NBA, and MLS.

Since Franklin took over the reigns in 2014, GLORY has secured a deal with ESPN after the promotion’s deal with Spike TV ended, as well as one with the UFC for the Superfight Series to be broadcast on UFC Fight Pass. With plans to expand into China, Brazil and Canada, hiring a global sports agency such as MP & Silva should prove to be of great benefit to GLORY, which is currently broadcast in 175 countries.

Significant progress has been made just within the last year. GLORY 44, which takes place on August 25, will be GLORY’s eighth event in eight months. And GLORY will likely finish 2017 with at least 12 events having taken place. They held 10 events in 2016 (11 if you count GLORY: Collision and GLORY 36 separately). In 2015, they held eight events. In 2014, the year the promotion had a five-month lapse between GLORY 17 and GLORY 18, they held only five events. Averaging one event per month seemed unattainable at one point in time, but now it’s become the norm–that’s in large part due to Franklin.

GLORY 44 Chicago is up next in August. And a card in Amsterdam is expected for GLORY 45 in September. At the GLORY 43 weigh ins last week, GLORY vice-chairman Scott Rudmann announced the promotion’s first trip to China will take place in October in the city of Guangzhou, the third largest city in the country. I’m hearing that card will take place on October 14. The promotion already announced a year-end card for December in Amsterdam, and if they head back to New York City in that month also–which I reported could be happening–that means two cards will close out the last month of 2017, bringing the total number of fights cards for 2017 to 13.

The last hurdle GLORY is trying to clear in 2017 is Canada. They’ve been planning to hold an event in Toronto for some time now. Franklin and ISKA President Cory Schafer visited the city not too long ago to meet with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport to ensure they take the proper steps in order to host an event.

“They have everything that they asked for and now it’s up to them to say whether or not GLORY rules will be accepted,” Franklin told MMA Plus.

From my understanding, the promotion has a November date held. But should Toronto fall through, they will target another Canadian city, or head back to U.S. if Canada is ruled out altogether. After GLORY 43 and the expansion into China just two months away, GLORY continues to build momentum as they head to the finish line of what already looks to be a very successful 2017.